Sudden and scattered thoughts on one of my mentors

I have written before about some of my mentors.
I have written about PLNs, or at least mine, a few times (like here and here and here).

I have written about my teaching context from January 2007 to December 2008 quite a few times.

However, if memory serves, I’ve never written about one of the most influential colleagues from that time. Actually, the person I am writing about was one of my most influential colleagues ever. I feel compelled to share a few thoughts tonight, so here goes.

When we met in 2007 she had been teaching for nearly 40 years.
I guess she was around 30 years older than me.

I think she started as a math teacher and taught math in her native country as well as in international schools around the world for quite some time before coming to Korea. We worked together in a language school attached to a university and taught intensive immersion type courses.

Her evaluation scores were off the charts.
Students loved her and were fiercely loyal to her.

I was very interested materials-light teaching. She was not.
She exploited the crap out that textbook. I think she used every page at least once.

I was afraid of the dreaded Teacher Talking Time.
She didn’t give a shit about that. She’d talk as much as she felt she needed to.

I was uncomfortable putting students on the spot without thinking time.
She kept students on their toes and frequently asked students to speak out in front of the whole class.

I was a bit uncomfortable with direct error correction in front of the whole class.
She told students when they got something wrong and had other students jump in to help and correct.

To combine the previous two points, one of her most common activities was to to have one student answer a question and to have the rest of the students decide by vote if it the answer was grammatically correct or not.

I thought fluency was where it was at and she was seemingly more focused on accuracy.

I was a fly by the seat of my pants sort of guy and she was so bloody organized.

I was probably overly concerned about students’ feelings while she was more concerned about their learning. I was focused on fun and variety and she was focused on ensuring that the students were learning.

I was a bit negative on drilling. She saw the benefits in it and used drills often in order to give students chances to practice.

One thing that always sticks out in my mind is even with all those differences (especially related to experience) she was always respectful of the choices other teachers made. She might disagree with the methods and techniques other teachers used. She chose to teach her class the way she thought best. I admired how she handled the differences between teaching styles and philosophies and all. She never seemed superior or preachy about it but just went out and taught how she knew best and in accordance with her beliefs. Nearly 10 years later this is still every impressive to me.

During the time we worked together we had so many discussions about teaching and learning. I fondly remember standing chatting (and ostensibly planning) after classes almost daily while she sat at her desk and actually prepared for the next day. Those discussions on teaching and learning as well as techniques and methodology combined to form one of my best learning experiences and I didn’t have to pay a dime or single won for it. In those talks, she was certainly respectful of differences of opinion but she was also not afraid to tell me I was fucking crazy if she felt that way.

We had a lot in common even with all the major philosophical differences stated above. We both loved a good joke and didn’t shy away from some off color humor. What a great sense of humor! She is in the semi-exclusive club of those who have made me blush. We liked the occasional adult beverage. We had our issues with management and at times spoke out when we felt it was necessary. We both cared about the students and did our best to ensure they learned and got a lot out of the experience. She was passionate about teaching and learning. I fear in my portrayal above I did not accurately capture how kind, caring, fun, and loving she was.

It’s time for the very scattered thoughts portion of this post:

  • I was just thinking about her the other day when I remembered how she once praised me when I said, “If I were you I’d…” rather than “If I was you I’d…” as she thought the latter was more common among those of us who use American English.
  • I always think about her when I think about student evaluations because she received 5 out of 5 from every student in a class for timeliness when this admittedly was not her strong suit or even her concern. I think this tells us a lot about human nature and the validity of some specific questions on student evaluation sheets. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t actually on time. Students didn’t care about that because they were thrilled with the lessons.
  • Today while thinking about her I shed some tears right there in the middle of a coffee shop. I then had a big chuckle as I figured she’d think I was being a sentimental fool.
  • Back in 2010 she wrote a  lovely and touching recommendation for me when I applied to get trained up as a teacher trainer. I  was moved and flattered when I read such nice words from someone who was such an inspiration to me.

And now, for the abrupt end. Dear reader, I thank you for reading. I thank her for being such a great colleague, mentor, role-model and friend and I thank the universe for giving me the chance to laugh and learn with her.

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4 comments

  1. mariatheologidou

    Thank you, Mike for writing this post – I’m sure she will be moved beyond words if/when she reads it. From the way you describe her, she is the type of mentor, teacher and person I’d love to meet and learn from. Thank you once again!

  2. laurasoracco

    What a beautiful post, Mike! You’re lucky to have someone like her as a mentor 🙂

    I have been thinking a lot about the role of mentors lately. In the past few months, I’ve gotten way more involved in English teaching outside of our ESOL area, and the concept of mentors comes up a lot. It made me realize I’ve never really thought of having a specific mentor, even if I do have people I look up to professionally and might consider asking for advice (you included!).

  3. M. Makino

    I’ve always been envious of teachers who seem to be able to bring students along, fully engaged, on clearly teacher-led classes. I wonder though if such teachers are good role models for people like me who are not quite so charismatic.

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