Every teacher wants to make a difference and add value in their students’ lives. I’ve found that when it comes to teaching in vocational education, this desire is particularly strong. At my public school, the students are on their last chance for an education.
I teach at the vocational training centre, Bach Hamba, in Tunisia, and most of my pupils are between 15- and 16-years-old. They’ve decided – willingly or unwillingly – to give up mainstream elementary education and opt for something practical.
Our two-year courses train these young people to be everything from mechanics and electricians to accountants and paramedics. As well as the technical aspects of the curriculum, our pupils also have to learn French and English, as well as how to work with technology.
Each day is a long and unpredictable menu of events. Most of the time (depending on traffic and my own children), I get to school 15 minutes before the classes start. This gives me enough time to get things ready before the students arrive at 8am.
Classes with new students are always the most challenging for me. The majority of the students come with a phobia of learning a language: many left elementary education to escape from theoretical subjects. To find themselves in English and French lessons again is a nightmare for them.
The importance of English
As an English teacher, I spend a lot of my time persuading them about the importance of speaking English for their future careers. There are lots of absences from class, as well as indiscipline and a lack of interest from those who refuse to see this.
That aside, the most challenging part of our job is to do the best we can to be creative and present things differently to raise the learners’ interest and motivation. It’s not always an easy task, but as we are the last chance for many of our pupils, it’s worth giving it our all and trying everything possible.
I’ve tried to make my English classroom an escape from the outside world: it’s very different from the other classrooms in school. I want my pupils to be in a pleasant and comfortable studying environment as soon as they arrive, so I have set up seating arrangements that are flexible and encourage collaboration. They also each have a personal computer with internet access to encourage independent and personalised work. TVs and DVD players are provided and students enjoy studying in a non-conventional environment.
Unfortunately, not all the schools in Tunisia have the same privileges that we have here. At most vocational schools, learning English comes secondary to other skills and therefore has little, or even no, impact. In this sense, we’re really lucky. But, even though the decision-makers know the importance of teaching languages, they make very little effort to change other things for the better.
I believe in fighting for your pupils as a teacher, and ensuring that they get the very best. If you – as the person they learn from, are inspired by and come to for help – don’t support them against all odds, then no one else will care.
This job is a mission. It is our responsibility to give added value and enhance our teaching, whatever the obstacles. Personally, despite all the difficulties, I would not change my job for the world. Teaching is my life and I will carry on shaping the lives of my students the best I can.
Adel Ali is an English teacher at Bach Hamba vocational Training Centre, Sfax, Tunisia