10 Aug 2008

Mentoring & Learning

When Bill emailed and asked if I knew of anyone who could offer a materials development internship for one of his MATESOL candidates, I racked my brain and came up with one or two lame possibilities. Bill politely mused on my suggestions and showed his characteristic patience and humour while I stumbled into the most obvious solution and the real reason Bill had asked me at all. Me.

While mentoring or sponsoring an intern or practicum student is a great opportunity to guide a new, enthusiastic soul through the maze of your profession (and also, hopefully, your passion), it is also a journey of self-exploration. Such a journey, as most of us know, is both inspiring and painful. My inspiration came in the form of a young woman named Rachael, an enthusiastic and creative intern. Inspiring because she came equipped with the newest in language pedagogy...a side of PD veterans often let slide in the pursuit of "teaching"...and the excited energy of one discovering her niche in the world. Painful because, in order to be a worthwhile and purposeful mentor to her, each choice, suggestion, or path I offered had to be supported by something meaningful and legitimate. In other words, not only was it necessary for me to re-evaluate my teaching philosophy, but I had to hit the books myself, again...

Over the four or so months we worked together, using email, Skype, IM, and (egads!) the telephone to cobble together our individual and collective visions, I learned a great deal about my strengths and my limitations. Most significantly, Rachael reminded me of how hard one will work, and overcome, to show she has got what it takes. Hats off to you Rachael!

Some sponsors or mentors might imagine an internship in which the student is like a little bird, mouth open and wings atwitter, ready to swallow whatever bologne you feed it or fly off to complete whatever goofy task you assign it. A mentor may see his or her efforts as glorious acts of noblesse oblige, or perhaps a colossal waste of time. The reality of mentorship is quite different. It is not something grand or self-sacrificing, nor is it fruitless or futile. It is not the dawn of something new, nor is it a continuing of the status quo. It is a hybrid; it is a negotiation; it is a compromise. It is a relationship.