Coincidentally, there hasn’t been a shortage of self-guidance books available since I decided to pursue my dream of teaching English abroad.
A common theme in most of these books is finding a mentor. And I've learned from my personal experience that having a mentor will definitely help you tackle everyday hurdles or personal projects during your contract overseas.
So here are three essential qualities I wanted my mentor to have.
1. Mentors are confident
A confident mentor can be many things – passionate, driven, personal, but the real core of confidence is one’s positivity in the face adversity. There is something subtle, yet bold with the ability to look back on any situation with a grin.
Whether it was a nightmare school, a terrible boss, TESOL certification to pass or improvised class that would make new teachers sweat. When a confident person reflects on the past for guidance, it will invigorate and inspire rather than dissuade and deaden. And that is the kind of inspiration that you want your mentor to pass on to you.
The past is fundamental to character building and leadership capability. One’s ability to draw strength from history is what separates the confident from the pretenders.
So, keep an eye out for confident mentors during your career.
2. Mentors are good people
An often overlooked yet essential aspect of any mentor. These guys aren’t the ones flashing their money or bragging about their latest contract.
They listen to their environments and tune into the cultures and personalities around them. Often soft-spoken, mentors create a certain vibe around them, which is reflected in the lifestyle they lead and the goals they pursue.
There are a lot of fakers out there and finding decent people won’t be a walk in the park. There will be a lot of people seeking orbiters or even the quick buck if you’re foolish enough.
Focus on the people who are always wanting to get better. Aren’t scared of responsibility, and even swim against the current for the right reasons.
3. Mentors are honest
During my first year of teaching, my manager sat me down after what I thought was a great class. Although complimenting parental satisfaction, she tore my overall teaching style apart.
She highlighted that some schools in China will allow foreigners to get by on appearance alone. I could continue just playing games and yelling at students if they misbehaved. However, if I really cared for people, there must be a purpose to each activity, each lesson, and each student. Classroom respect is earned and never built on loudest voice.
I was slightly shocked hearing this from the only other foreigner in our small town, but it did force me to reevaluate myself. The next few classes I focused on what she mentioned and improved exponentially.
Years later, I found myself in multiple senior positions around the country.
The moral of the story here isn’t to “structure your lessons” or have “class discipline”.
It’s developing a genuine care for what you do. My manager could have kept quiet and let me continue to “teach” my classes. With useless games and unbeknownst parents clapping while money-orientated bosses counted enrollment.
Instead, she gave me her honest opinion where I should improve myself in order to try and make a difference. This same mentor ended up being a lifetime friend and someone who I still keep in touch with today.
There are so many misconceptions about what great mentors are. Most of western society thinks financial success, relationships, and material gain is correlated with what makes a good mentor and they couldn't be more wrong.
Before looking at new ESL jobs, take some time to find out what you think makes a good mentor. What lifestyle will you lead as you try and make a difference in a classroom overseas?