Mentoring and the Internet, by Ted Nellen
Me as a Mentor
During the time I was coordinating mentors for my classes, I became a mentor myself. I am a mentor to student teachers, other teachers' students, and to other teachers.
I assisted two student teachers. One was a California elementary school teacher, Candice Elliot, in Suzanne Sullivan's class and the other was Raul Robarte, in Sandie Lee Walser's class in West Texas. I carried on an extensive correspondence with Ms. Elliot. She was concerned about using the Internet in her fourth grade classroom. As a neophyte to computers she seemed apprehensive to this whole concept. As the term progressed she became more accustomed to the Internet and computers and, in my opinion, very independent. She began apprehensively and finished up with a very positive attitude. I found, as her mentor, that many of the questions she raised were the same questions raised by my colleagues about the Internet. This distant correspondence helped me to attune myself better to my colleagues' and Candy's needs. She attributed her growth to our correspondence just as I was seeing my students grow with their mentors.
My other student teacher pupil, Mr. Robarte, was new to computers and to the Internet. His concerns were in the area of Mexican immigrants into Texas gaining the quickest access to education possible. I was able to direct him to both Spanish and educational sites. During our correspondence I used some of my Spanish-speaking students to assist. They took over the conversation. One of my students continued to correspond with Mr. Robarte after his class with Ms. Walser ended. Using teachers as mentors in a teacher education program is indeed very useful and fruitful.
As a mentor to other teachers' students, I was able to enjoy a mentoring relationship with a number of young people from Arkansas who were using the Internet for the first time and provided some great correspondence. One young lad seemed totally bored and uninspired. One day he wrote that he liked my cartwheeling men in my signature file and asked how to make them. He tried and gave up quickly. I gave him a hint and requested a golfer hitting a ball as golf was his favorite sport. He sent back a beautiful ASCII golfer hitting a long one and another stick man jumping for joy. He was proud of his success.
From this same Arkansas group, I also worked with teachers creating Web pages for the first time, who were doing research for courses they planned to teach in the fall. Their first correspondence was of awe about the Internet. This awe was replaced by a general understanding and respect for the power of the Web. They asked the right questions and applied their new-found tool appropriately as I guided them through this exciting new territory.
I have been fortunate enough to be a mentor to teachers from Spain and Japan as well as from the United States. A teacher in Spain, Victor, began our correspondence after spending some time viewing our school Web site. He wanted to set up a site similar to ours at his school in Spain. I told him how I had gone to a local provider for assistance. I explained that if I had gone through our Board of Education, we would still be waiting. I received email from him a week later in which he told me how he took my advice and was able to secure a connection to the Internet from a local provider.
During our correspondence, I answered his questions, and he acted on them. He started a listserv, EDULIST; started an Internet Club which solicited the students to learn and write HTML; and he began writing a curriculum for the following school year. He and some students inaugurated their Web site in June of 1996. Victor asked me to write a piece about my Web site which he translated into Spanish and posted on his list. I received many emails from Europe about our site because of that piece. One particular exchange was from Ramon Sala who inquired about our mentoring program. He was very much interested in setting up a similar arrangement between his science classes and local scientists.
In another hemishpere, our Japanese project had grown from being our school and one Japanese school to include three Japanese schools, three Japanese citizens as mentors and the promise of an another American school in September of 1996. The mentors in this project are Japanese citizens. The use of mentors in this bi-cultral collaboration is crucial. A teacher from one of the Japanese schools wrote and explained how he was planning to use our school site as a chapter in his book. He explained how our site would serve as a model for some Japanese teachers.
Back in the United States, I had the pleasure of presenting our Web site to participants of the Spring96 Boston NCTE conference. At the conference I met many teachers who asked to correspond with me once they began their school Web sites. As our school year was drawing to a close I received email from a teacher who was in the process of setting up his school's site and he stumbled upon ours. His email started a fruitful and powerful relationship.
Working with other teachers, students, and student teachers has provided me further insight into my work and into its implications in education. These cyber friends have expanded my horizons just as they claim I have expanded theirs. But what these correspondences do, which is most important to me, is to validate what I am doing at my school. We do not have models upon which to base our theories and practices. That someone else sees value in my work makes my effort and work credible. The Internet has allowed me to get out of my isolated, little cubicle that I call a classroom and expand my school walls in the true spirit of education. I am in other teachers' classrooms just as they are in mine. We are not alone.