“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns, driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy.” So begins The Odyssey, the most famous of the Ancient Greek epics poems, thought to have been written nearly 3,000 years ago and assumed to have been written by Hómēros (Homer in English). The 12,000-line poem tells the tale of the Greek hero, Odysseus, and his 10-year journey.
In 2018, a poll conducted by the BBC found that Homer’s Odyssey topped their poll of “100 Stories that Shaped the World.” However, Hómēros might be surprised to know that it is not his epic male hero, Odysseus, but the goddess Athena’s character that is most often referred to today, as she disguised herself as Odysseus’ guide, called simply “Mentor.”
Since then, interest in professional mentoring has grown exponentially, as shown by a recent (July 2021) search of amazon.ca, which found more than 10,000 published titles using the phrase “leadership mentoring.”
And interest on the academic side has grown too, with two journals dedicated to this area, Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning (since 1993) and the International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education (since 2012). However, in the 500-plus articles published in those two journals over the last 30 years, very few have been about leadership mentoring in language education. That is where TESOL International Association comes into the picture.
According to the association’s records, their Leadership Mentoring Program (LMP) Award was initiated in 2000, making this year the 21st anniversary of the LMP, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was one of first people to ever receive the LMP Award—just after becoming a new member. Fortunately for me, Kathi Bailey (TESOL International Association President, 1998–1999) was my LMP mentor, as she was for many early LMP awardees, including Desma Johnson and Fernando Fleurquin in 2001. Fernando, originally from Uruguay, is now—20 years later—coteaching the association’s ELT Leadership Management Certificate Program. As my dear, departed Mum used to say: “What goes around, comes around”: in this case, as a positive cycle, from mentee to mentor.
And to show just how long these LMP relationships can last, more than two decades later, Kathi and I are still working together. Seven years after receiving the LMP Award, I joined the association’s Board of Directors, on which I served from 2007–2010. And 5 years after that, in 2015, I served as the association’s 50th president. The second future-president of the association received her LMP Award in 2003—Deena Boraie, who is currently vice president for student life at the American University in Cairo. Deena, who served as TESOL president from 2013–2014, was the first Egyptian president of the association.
The list of LMP awardees includes many past and present—and maybe even future—presidents and board members, not only of TESOL International Association, but also of other language education organizations. One of the 2005 LMP awardees was Luciana de Oliveira, who went on to become the first Latina president of the association in 2018. The list even includes the current association president, Gabriela Kleckova, based in the Czech Republic, who received her LMP Award in 2006, as well as current association board member, Ayanna Cooper, who was a 2008 LMP awardee and who joined the board in 2020.
To be clear, the LMP is not designed solely to prepare future board members and presidents of TESOL International Association, or of any other association. There are many ways to lead and many pathways to leadership. But there is a clear pattern of LMP mentees eventually taking on major leadership positions in language teaching organizations around the world. Eligibility for the LMP Award is extremely broad, as stated on the website: “TESOL members who are interested in becoming more involved in the work of TESOL International Association.” In other words, anyone who is a member of the association can apply.
A key aspect of the program is the fact that “Preference is given to individuals from underrepresented groups within TESOL” and that the program “pairs selected individuals with TESOL leaders who mentor recipients throughout the year.” It is possible that the phrase “underrepresented groups within TESOL”—which is the original wording from 21 years ago—may need to be revisited. For example, all four members of the current executive committee of the association are women, and of the 12 members of the current board of directors, nine are women and three are men, making a 3:1 female to male ratio. What, then, it means to be “underrepresented” in an association like ours is a question worth considering for the future.
At the present time, the four criteria for evaluating applications to the LMP are as follows:
- Membership in an underrepresented group in TESOL
- Organizational experience, such as involvement in an affiliate of TESOL International Association
- Service to the profession
- Potential for TESOL International Association involvement and leadership
A one-page statement of interest, an account of your education/professional history, and one letter of support are all that is required. Applications opened on 1 July and will close on 30 October—so you have lots of time! And in return, successful applicants receive the following:
- Basic registration to the annual TESOL International Convention & English Language Expo
- A mentoring relationship with a TESOL leader
- A waived registration fee for participation in TESOL’s Leadership Development Certificate Program.
But, I will conclude with a couple of caveats. Applications for the LMP Award are far greater than the number of places in the program, so you if you need help with your application, allow time for that. Also, if your initial application is not successful (as mine was not), then keep applying—as I did. You never know where it may lead…