* Gyanendra Kumar Yadav
Mentoring is gaining momentum in the teaching field as a means for teacher professional development throughout the globe. However, it seems a new approach to professional enhancement for language teachers in the Nepalese context; though, it has been in practice in other fields such as nursing, business and military. This paper attempts at analyzing the importance of mentoring for professional development of EFL teachers in Nepal. The paper is divided into three parts: first, it presents writer’s personal narrative of professional journey focusing on how a mentor shaped his life; next, it tries to define mentoring, its process and reasons behind it; and finally, it seeks to sheds light on the importance of mentoring in the Nepalese EFL context before going to conclusion.
Key words: coaching, mentoring, novice teacher, teacher development,support
I did my schooling from a governmental school in Nepal, where the medium of instruction was the Nepali language. Throughout my schooling, I got little exposure to the English language since there used to be only one period for English subject and even that would be taught in the mother tongue. As a result, I did not have a good proficiency in English even after completing my schooling. I could neither speak fluently nor write even a couple of paragraphs properly. Those days are still fresh in my memory when I would speak a sentence and struggle to frame other sentences to add further. It was not easy for me to do major in English. Above all, I had nothing except a dream to be an English teacher and strong passion to pursue it.
I met my mentor in the intermediate level, who taught me English for nearly a half decade. During this period, he helped me to enhance English language proficiency and guided me to achieve the best I could. After completing the intermediate level, I started teaching in a private school, while continuing my study side- by- side. During the early period of my teaching career, I had a tough time to balance both my study and teaching. No matter how much I tried, the tired body and mind, as a result of the whole day’s teaching, would refuse to pay attention to the college lectures at night. This bitter experience of teaching the whole day and attending college at night can hardly be understood by them who do not have such an experience. Sometimes, I would just think of quitting the job. During this critical period of my life when I had no hope for my career, my mentor was the one and only person to encourage, inspire and support me.
My mentor advised me to be a life member of Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA) for my professional development. Joining NELTA happened to be a significant step in my professional career. It not only connected me with the wider ELT community but also gave me opportunities to meet ELT scholars from home and abroad during training and conferences. As a result, I got exposure to advanced ELT trends, approaches, methods and techniques. These assisted me immensely in my early period of teaching career.
Likewise, my mentor’s suggestion of doing master’s degree proved to be a turning point in my professional life. It was really a tough decision for me to join Kathmandu University in terms of economy; fortunately I got a scholarship which made my journey a bit easier. Then, my guru believed that a day would come when I would be teaching together with him as an independent professional. Now, having earned my master’s degree, I think I am ready to teach with him as he expected. In fact, I feel that the dream, which I had nurtured long ago in my heart and mind came to be true because of his supervision and mentoring.
From my story narrated above, it can be easily noticed that my professional life has been shaped by my mentor. It is the mentor who transformed me from an average student to an independent professional by guiding, coaching, inspiring, encouraging, and supporting me throughout my professional career. Similarly, there are many students and novice teachers having problem in their professional lives, and are waiting for their mentors. Thus, mentoring can be a better option for professional development of EFL teachers in Nepal. Though mentoring has been in practice from centuries in different fields, it seems to be a new concept in teaching, and has not been practiced yet in the EFL classrooms of Nepal. Therefore, this paper is an attempt to introduce mentoring, its process, and the rationale for using it. It also seeks to explore the need and importance of mentoring for the professional development of EFL teachers in Nepal.
Mentoring seems to be commonly used in a day to day life such as a father helping his son to learn his occupation and a mother coaching the daughter in household works. Meanwhile, the younger ones observe and learn the skills by imitating the seniors and become able to do the tasks successfully. Likewise, it can also be seen in nursing and military fields, where novice nurses and soldiers work with experienced doctor or military personnel for a certain period of time before entering the fields. Relating mentoring to education, Fagan and Walter (1982) opine that mentoring is nothing new but an ancient practice that makes a lot of sense in today’s world where education along with the rest of the modern world is criticized for becoming impersonal and for lowering its standards. Perhaps a new look at mentoring will give these critics less to talk about.
Nowadays, the notion of mentoring seems to be gaining momentum into the teaching field too (Maggioli, 2004). Mentoring in teacher development can be defined as a process where an experienced teacher guides a less experienced or novice teacher to learn the skills and knowledge of teaching required to adjust in a school and develop professionally. Shannon (1988) defines mentoring as a nurturing process in which an experienced person befriends a less experienced or skilled person for the purpose of promoting his/her personal and professional development (as cited in Peterson & Williams, 1998).
Mentoring is often confused with coaching; however, coaching is only a part of mentoring. A coach has certain agenda which he wants to fulfill in the process of coaching. Unlike coaching, mentoring is a bottom up approach where a mentor works for a mentee’s agenda and tries to help him (sic) fulfill it through support and guidance. On mentoring and coaching, Bubb (2005) express that mentoring provides wide ranges of learning opportunities for the professional, whereas coaching is confined to develop specific skills and knowledge required in teaching and learning. Likewise, Cedric (2006) refuses to consider mentoring as a means for the mentor to achieve his or her personal goals by indulging and exposing the mentor’s own ideas or activities.
Above all, it can be concluded that mentoring is designed for the growth and development of an individual that includes many forms of support for his professional development. Mentoring relationships are personal and reciprocal, and it is done with mentee, not to mentee.
Teaching is a challenging job for a novice teacher. There are a number of obstacles to adjust. Generally, new teachers are expected to rely on their own resources, and they are left in ‘sink or swim’ situation (Fagan & Walter, 1982). As new comers, they have to cope with school environment and culture besides teaching and dealing with students and their parents. This is really tough for the novice teachers to perform so many roles at once and therefore they need someone who could guide and support them. In this line, Ur (2005) states that early year of teaching can be very stressful especially to those who teach large heterogeneous classes. It causes new teachers to leave the professions, but it can be stopped by leading them on the path of continuous professional development (Ur, 2005). This will surely decrease the possibility of burn out in teaching profession.
Mentoring, in this context, can be a suitable way to decrease the pain that novice teachers face in teaching. Crisp and Cruz (2009) reviewed studies conducted between 1990 and 2007 and opined that mentoring has positive impacts on indicators of students’ success. It gives the teacher psychological and emotional support to adjust and to develop professionally, which in return may help in students’ progress. By the same token, Harmer (2007) states that teaching is not an easy job; however, it can be very rewarding when we find our students’ progress because of our effort. Thus, teaching can be made a less challenging profession through mentoring especially for the new comers who face difficulty in performing multiple responsibilities in the beginning.
Generally, mentoring in teacher development is done when a teacher joins a school. In this regard, Maggioli (2003) states that mentoring is particularly suited to beginning teachers, who need to understand issues such as school culture and climate and their impact on students’ learning. The mentee works with a senior English language teacher for a considerable period of time. In this process, the former one plays the role of ‘speaker’ and the latter that of ‘understander’ respectively. This process of getting novice teacher paired with experienced one is also known as peer mentoring. The goals behind peer mentoring include giving new mentee individualized attention and encouragement and, at the same time, strengthening their teaching skills (Yanoshak, 2007 as cited in Murray, 2010).
During peer mentoring, first the mentor introduces the new teacher with the school culture and makes him/ her aware of his role in the school. Then, the mentor guides mentee in the teaching learning process. In this course, first, he plays a dominant role by planning the lesson, delivering it, and letting the mentee observe it minutely. “When a new technique is introduced, it is usually demonstrated, so that teachers can see how it works” (Doff, 1995, p.3). This principle best works with novice teachers in peer mentoring. Next, they work together to plan the lesson and the mentee delivers the lesson, where the mentor observes and helps mentee to reflect on it. Later on, the mentor goes on decreasing his role to let the mentee understand his/ her roles fully. In this way, the mentor becomes able to make the mentee aware of the principles behind his/ her behavior.
Maggioli (2004) mentions three different models of mentoring: the craft model, the competency based model and the reflective model. Basically the craft model is for novice teachers as mentioned above who serve as apprentices to their mentors and learn by watching mentor’s practice. Likewise, the second model seeks to develop discrete competencies in the mentee, and third one helps the teachers to reflect on their behaviors and find the reason behind them.
When we analyze the context of ELT in Nepal, we find that most EFL teachers are dissatisfied with their profession. They are found to be working hard for the whole day, but are getting very less return in comparison to their work. Due to work load, they hardly get time to prepare lesson, manage teaching materials and reflect on their classroom teaching. This has led to a ritualized teaching situation where teachers are not found to be aware of the principles behind their teaching behavior. In other words, they seem to have developed the habit of going to the class, delivering content, giving assignments and checking them. In fact, they even lack time to reflect on why they do what they do in the classroom.
Mentoring can be a significant approach to make teachers aware of the rationale behind teaching practice. As a part of mentoring, the mentor plays the role of an observer, and makes them think and reflect on their behavior in order to let them explore the connection between teaching principles and practices. On the role of observer, Maingay (1988) states that the mentor observes ritual teaching and makes teachers aware of the principle behind it in order to lead them away from ritual behavior to principled behavior (As cited in Head & Taylor, 1997).
Moreover, EFL teachers both from government and private schools in the Nepalese context have their own problems. In the government schools, teachers are found to be sharing problems less; they fear of losing their face in sharing their problems to others. In this line, Ur (2005) opines, “There is, unfortunately, a sense of shame or inhibition, a fear of losing face, that sometimes prevents some teachers from admitting the existence of teaching problem to others; but once this is overcome, the results are usually rewarding” (p. 320). In this situation, mentoring, as it is more supportive than evaluative, can overcome the problems of sharing and will help them in professional development.
The challenges in private schools are even tougher. First, teaching profession here gets less payment than other professions, and private schools’ teachers seem to get the lowest salary of all. Besides, they are also found to fear of losing the job. The reason seems to be very simple that they need the job more than the job needs them. As a result, we can notice a number of young and energetic teachers developing frustration in teaching. Through mentoring, they can be transformed into better professionals who can solve their problems themselves. In this line, Andrews (1987) claims that the experiential activities like observation, counseling, and coaching done in the process of mentoring assist in staff development as well as tutor’s growth as professional (as cited in Semeniuk& Worrall, 2000).
In this context, mentoring can be a turning point for EFL teachers in their professional development. It will help them develop professionally, which in return will build up their self-esteem, and they may get better salary if they prove themselves professionally strong. Meanwhile, mentors will also develop a better insight on how psychological and emotional supports affect teachers’ professional lives. In this line, Kafle (2008) mentions a number of advantages of mentoring such as: collaborative problem solving, emotional support, demonstration and modeling, motivation and encouragement, providing information and suggestions, learning subject, content and use of appropriate instructional methods.
However, there are some limitations of using mentoring as an approach of professional development. First, it may be difficult to find qualified and experienced mentors who can successfully guide novice teachers. As mentors, they need to have a number of skills to help the mentee effectively. Next, mentoring must be done to help the mentee instead of evaluating them. When mentoring becomes evaluative rather than supportive, it may bring tension and threat to the mentee. The mentor must be honest and matured enough to guide the mentee on the path of professional development; unprofessional and immature mentoring can be more harmful than beneficial for the novice teachers (Kafle, 2008). Therefore, we need to be conscious that mentoring may not have positive impact on the mentee if the mentor is not qualified and if he uses it as a tool to judge teachers.
While reflecting back on the journey that I have passed through, I realized that my professional life has been shaped by my mentor. He guided me when I missed my way, supported me when I faced obstacle, inspired me when I lost my hope for future and finally led me to be an independent leader in my professional life. Likewise, mentoring can make a difference in the professional lives of teachers like me in the Nepalese context. Therefore, mentoring can be an effective approach for professional development of EFL teachers in Nepal who are facing a number of challenges. Through mentoring, especially novice teachers can be helped to adjust and sustain in the teaching field which can surely lead to better professional development of the teachers.
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(Mr. Gyanendra Kumar Yadav is a lecturer of English at a community college in Lalitpur. Recently, he is pursuing his M. Phil. in English Language Education from Kathmandu University, School of Education. He is also a life member of NELTA, and has published journal articles and presented papers in NELTA conferences. His areas of interest include teaching English through literature, teachers’ professional development, and critical pedagogy.)