A PGDLT alumna shares her experiences of being part of a mentorship programme and her more recent experiences of trying to collaborate in a new workplace
There is a famous African Proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. What does it mean? African culture recognizes that parenting is a shared responsibility – a communal affair – not just the concern of parents or grandparents, but of the extended family. Uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours and friends can all be involved and all have a part to play.
My experience as a first time parent were somewhat different. When I became a mother, bringing up my two children was never a communal affair for me – I craved for a guide or a support who could advise and help me to hold the strings together. I dealt with it all; singlehandedly. I can say I managed the show well; well almost!
When IAAT happened, I stepped into a world of learning. A space where I learnt as well as unlearnt. A space that was new to me. I had worked with children and youth of almost all age groups. However, being a teacher was a new milestone for me. I stepped into a learning space with a mentor by my side. I was literally handed over to her.
Inside a classroom, observing the mentor teacher is one of the most powerful and insightful experience a mentee can go through. I experienced that magic! To be able to engage 32 odd eight year olds in learning. You comprehend a lot, merely by observing.
I took my first Maths lesson in Grade 2 with my collaborating teacher and mentor teacher observing me. I made mistakes conceptually because of the fear of the subject. However, my mentor stood watching and gradually and discreetly she transitioned into the lesson without affecting the lesson as well as the students. It helped me to learn and understand her approach towards the situation. She imagined herself being in my shoes (a teacher feeling challenged) as well as being in the children’s shoes (a class looking confused). As a mentor as well as a teacher, she could empathize and had strategies at hand to take charge and make learning happen.
It is extremely crucial that the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is of two learners. People who are striving to learn from each other. My mentor was receptive to my questions and curiosities while I was receptive to her feedback and insights. There were times when I did not feel confident about taking a particular class and I was encouraged to go ahead and do it even if I made mistakes. It was heartening to know that I was allowed to make mistakes and my mentor was there to support and rectify. I also learnt that the mentor and mentee have a shared responsibility towards the students’ learning in a classroom.
Having graduated from PGDLT, as a new teacher, I have a vision to make my classroom a collaborative community. A space where children are allowed to make mistakes while learning and eventually learn from the feedback from each other as well as the teacher. It is an uphill task which looks far-fetched but definitely not impossible. What may work is to be able to identify situations where children collaborate naturally and use them as simulations.
I have experienced that collaboration happens effectively when the individuals involved are treated as ‘equals’. When there are no power struggles between two adults or even between a child and an adult (a typical situation between a parent-child and sometimes even a teacher-student). Each one of us has different talents, so it helps to work with each other rather than work by ourselves. These are opportunities for close collaboration, shared challenges and the sense of achievement that comes from successfully working through such challenges. Collaboration and mentoring works brilliantly when planning engaging lessons for the students. It helps to improve our professional knowledge and skills when several minds and experiences are put together.
However, a challenge that is faced by many of us here is the lack of structures that aid collaboration. Schools and organizations strongly believe in collaborating but fall short of providing support and opportunities for the same. Reasons can be many, however, we as people who impact children’s lives need to ensure this diligently with no compromise. Here I would like to quote Einstein, ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’ And before I end I want to leave you with a quote by Steve Jobs, “The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.”