The Impossible Has Never Been Tunisian

Faten RomdhaniThe Impossible Has Never Been Tunisian

Faten Romdhani

 

Working conditions for teachers vary from one place to another. Like all developing countries, Tunisia aspires to provide better working conditions for its teachers. By this, I mean all variables that affect the quality of the work of the teacher, such as workload, schedule, working environment, classrooms, continuous professional development opportunities…

Yet, the question that pops up in my mind is this: Which is more important – the teacher, the quality of teaching, or the conditions the teacher is working in?

The answer would depend on the angle from which we are looking at the issue. For a better future for all (teachers, students, and the overall state of education), teacher quality, as well as working conditions are of equal importance. However, from a more personal perspective, teacher quality should be allotted much more importance and be the overriding concern of all stakeholders. Regular CPD opportunities such as exchange programs need to be available to every language teacher. Indeed, the major positive twist that could occur in the career of every professional could be possible through taking part in such programs and free courses for teachers (whether online or face-to-face) that could offer total immersion in English. At the same time, working conditions should also be given their due value, because teachers need to work at ease. Once they have alleviated schedules, connected classrooms, opportunities to upgrade their tech skills and to pursue learning, they will beat out all conundrums.

It’s all about leadership 

It should be pointed out that good working conditions are not directly related to whether the school is located in an urban or rural area. You can find very well-refurbished classrooms, perfect working conditions coupled with collaborative staff in a rural school in a remote place, as well as in the centre of a big city.

Among many factors, this can be true mainly due to the exceptional leadership skills the school principal has and the ease with which he/she manages the load of administrative work. Provided that he/she creates a stress-free environment for the teachers, the students, and the whole staff, he/she then smoothes the way towards a notable success.

It’s all about professionalism 

Teachers’ professional assets, such as knowledge, flexibility, and creativity, are by far much more impactful and substantially more important than the most basic infrastructure and primal equipment. A professional teacher is a teacher who defies the impossible and turns every difficulty into a possibility. This might seem like a utopian vision, however, it is something I do believe in. I think that teachers’ hidden (or unhidden) powers to propel positive change are beyond any measure. What a teacher needs is a growth mindset, a passionate character for teaching, a forward-looking and forward-thinking team to work with. I have witnessed many times how teachers come up trumps with far-reaching goals, just because they did not give in when they had every reason to give up.

Don’t tell me this kind of a “superhero” teacher does not exist! They exist, and they are making a huge difference not only in remote and underprivileged areas in my country, Tunisia, but also in crowded suburbs of many big towns.

Teachers are superheroes 

To be born to be a teacher is to be a superhero. Teachers do work, more work than the official schedules administered to them. They sacrifice their family gatherings, evenings, and holidays for the sake of planning, grading, and piling up resources. What is more, they do feel their work is undervalued by the vast majority of society. Teachers are envied for having long summer holidays, though these holidays are only a small part of the unnerving load of year-long work. And any human being needs some well-earned rest after toiling and draining all energy. Nevertheless, I know some teachers who do carry on planning and reading professionally during the summer break lest they feel stale.

The impossible has never been Tunisian 

Despite all constraints, teachers find it gratifying that they defy all challenges and succeed in making a difference in the schooling of their students. The day their students graduate is the day they feel that the seeds they have been planting are now in full bloom, they feel utterly proud to see the fruit of all their work. Not only this, but even those who do fail come back to their teachers to seek comfort and consolation. Teachers are change makers, visionaries, and their journey towards professionalism gains momentum, particularly if they are accompanied by far-sighted mentors. Such mentors are the ones who can help teachers attain much of their undiscovered potential.

 iTDiers, You Make Me Aim Higher

Faten Romdhani

iTDiers, You Make Me Aim Higher
by Faten Romdhani.

 

I do not know where to start or what to say to voice out the unvoiced and give a shout out to the amazing founders of iTDi, because whatever I say or I write, I cannot fully express in the exact words the gratitude that you deserve.

My CPD journey started to gain momentum as soon as I became familiar with learning technologies and got connected with the iTDi community. Back to 2013… I still remember the thrilling moment that was a turning point in my professional growth. As a matter of fact, I was nominated as an Ed Inspiree among other professionals from around the world and I made the acquaintance of the Ed Guru of iTDi Chuck Sandy. What a memorable day! Being present in a webinar by Shelly Terrell and being asked to express my feelings along with Chuck, who was also nominated as an Ed Inspiree 2013. I still remember those “virtual moments” as very influential ones. What really amazed me is the humble characters of both Chuck and Shelly. Their openness is unique and both of these Ed Gurus enthused me with much passion to my professional experience. To be true, those days had a lasting impact on my unstoppable quest for a professional identity. Furthermore, the fact that I felt I was surrounded with inspiring high-caliber professionals made me recognise the strong impetus I had for continuing professional development. To crown it all, being a member in iTDi fostered my strong belief that physical boundaries between professionals in ELT exist only in maps.

iTDi community, or family, with all its members from all corners of the world, adds a culturally rich aspect to its audience. Thus, iTDi, despite all the differences amongst its members, manages as a strong community to empower teachers to be the best versions of themselves, no matter where they are teaching, even in low-resourced areas or classrooms.

Receiving regular e-mails from the community directors, especially Barb, the most compassionate and diligent ELT professional I know, bolstered my community sense and reminded me of the special bond I have tied with this community of creative teachers and writers. It also harnessed my will to start penning down my reflections for iTDi and, as usual, this community of wondrous professionals reignited the spark of writing. I did not only try my pen but also satisfied my thirst for innovative ideas by reading the many inspiring writers of iTDi.

To add to this, I may assert that belonging to iTDi gave me wings to fly on my own and boosted my self-confidence. Networking, collaborating online are part and parcel of today’s CPD. Teachers who enrol in this rewarding experience gain years of professional maturity just by connecting with like-minded professionals. Thus, the impact of such experiences could be visible and take shape in the teachers’ classroom practices. Such networking, if seeded with well-devised goals, will do wonders not only to teachers on a small-scale, but also leverage the whole classroom culture and upgrade the whole educational sphere.

Heartily, I thank you all and wish you more success to come, more inspiring and creative ideas to bring richness to your classes. Let me now end on a high note with these lines that might tell you more about my feelings:

I’m thankful to all of you for the immense help you show

Thanks, are not enough, yet, to make you see how

 Deep you are intertwined in my CPD

I’m proud I belong to you, my bigger family. Peace.

We are Hopemongers

Faten Romdhaniby Faten Romdhani

The whole educational scene has been altered by the digital age and it has affected the teaching and learning processes, to a very large extent in some “developed” areas and to a very small scale in some “developing” areas of the globe. The challenges facing English language teachers nowadays in the developing world are becoming more visible, especially when we can see a wave of tablets invading classrooms as official, school supplied learning devices…classrooms in which ours seem like the only exception. The setting where I and my coworkers teach is not following the same trends as those in “developed” areas. Have our classrooms been furbished to suit the hopes of the “screenagers” or “Gen Y”? The answer is absolutely NO. The space, the classrooms, the whole setting of the learning experience is pretty much the same as the setting in the early years of the 20th century.

We crave, as teachers and as learners, for a “creative”, “innovative”, “dream-like” space, with the necessary equipment (easy access to data, posters, comfy and colourful seats). Though there are moments when we feel like we’re swimming against the tide,we are not giving up on our rosy dreams. If the space does not match the predilections of the screen-agers, then attending school will feel like a burden to many of our learners. So in my school, the teachers bring their own laptops to class so as to help meet the needs of the screen-agers and adopt a teaching style which leads to higher levels of engagement.

And then there is the challenge of how to make use of the mobile devices the learners themselves bring to school. There is staggering pressure to allow the use of these devices in class. At my school we know that mobile learning does indeed need to be part of the teachers’ action plans. If it’s not included, learning is hindered by the students’ desire to use these devices which they rely on outside of class. In my school, and in my classes, we use these mobile devices in ice-breaking, warm-ups, and shorter classroom activities. Unfortunately, once in the students’ hands, learners tend to use these mobile devices to check social media and other activities which hinder learning. We need to gain more expertise in dealing with these issues. We need to understand if and how our students’ multitasking skills can be used drawn upon to facilitate as opposed to undermine classroom learning.

All this said, the success of teaching does not depend upon wholly on an inspiring, high tech space. We are blessed with students of talent. But fostering their creativity and creating opportunities for students to share it with the class and the wider world takes a bit of courage on the part of the teacher. It is not easy to help learners discover their talents, empower them to be better learners, love the learning journey and ignite the spark in them. That is why, in spite of lack of technology and other difficulties, teachers in my country must be “hope mongers.” We must learn to grow the seeds of hope that rest in every student, even in hindering and frustrating situations. Throughout the years of my teaching, 16 years so far, many of the students who said they couldn’t write a few lines of poetry later proved themselves wrong and relished the experience of writing their own poem. From experiences like these, I’ve learned that the success of the teaching process, which is always relative, depends on the teacher-student partnership, a partnership which is only modified, but rarely fundamentally changed by the level of comfort or technology in the classroom. This relationship can be discovered through answering two questions: How well do the teachers and learners trust each other? Are the learners and teachers ready to partner in the learning-teaching process?

Trust should be mutual. If I trust you, I can understand you in your most difficult states, and I will have faith that you are doing your best to help me explore new lands. If I trust you, I know that no matter how tough it may feel, we will make progress on our intriguing journey of learning, a journey for both the teacher and the learners. With trust, both students and teachers can admit that failure is an inevitable stepping stone in the process of teaching/ learning. With trust, we can admit that the ability to fail and learn from failure is what distinguishes “warriors” from “mere passive recipients”, “dreamers” from “doers”, “builders” from “watchers.” But to make this happen, trust must also exist between teachers as well as between students and teacher. I strongly believe this trust allows teachers to collaborate more, and most importantly, to break free from the shackles of “outmoded” coursebooks. Collaboration and creativity is how we can engage our students and inspire them to aim higher.

“From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success.” Challenges are here to make us grow stronger and more determined. Challenges are invitation to dream bigger dreams. The majority of the students in my school are creative, caring and supportive. And what allows me to see and foster this beauty in my students even in our challenging environment, is the collaborative spirit I have with my fellow teachers. Everyone is willing to lend a hand when need be. We are a group of teachers, who despite all the challenges, do not fail to listen to each other’s worries, do not fail to suggest ideas. We continually trust in one another, trust that we can and will build stronger relationships and uplift each other’s morale when facing hardships. Despite all the challenges, the lack of equipment, ‘hope for a better tomorrow,’ is a motto for everyone in our school. And this is why most of the students and teachers do not fail to prove to be highly creative and innovative, if they are given the chance.

More Creative Writing – Faten

Sorry guys, Creative Writing is a Charming Woman
– Faten Romdhani

Fatten Romdhani
Creativity has always kept my mind busy and my heart engaged. It seems to me that creativity is a wild issue and no one can tame it. If creativity were a woman, I would have called her the mysterious woman with the smiling face, the tempting nature, the bright future and the unfathomable depth. Even the most mesmerizing looks could not bewitch her in any way. Creative Writing, or CW as I rename it, is The Charming Woman.

Sorry guys!

She escapes the strict rules of society and of teaching and is delighted with the inspiration she awakens in the poets’ and/or writers’ minds and hearts. She is a charming woman, a siren-like being, exalting in music and nature and luring the sailors with the most penetrative music, poems, stories and helping them in the journey of self-discovery.

She is  soulful woman with a deep, untamed nature, she hooks teachers and keeps them awake all night to get some sort of inspiration. Inspirational ideas how to teach, how to start in an uncommon way, how to engage learners emotionally and make them feel the lesson to the extent that they enthusiastically get inspired themselves and start writing creatively. If the teacher is not creative, then creativity could not step into the classroom. It will always stroll outside, in the green fields, in the wild, boundless nature. Creativity is a guest the teacher and the learners invite in –  provided that the teacher sets the appropriate scene.

How can teachers inspire if they do not model inspiration? How can learners be creative writers if teachers do not allow learners to think and write creatively? And what if the teachers do not have any predilection for creative writing? It’s desperate to see that some teachers have lost all flavor for creativity and think that’s none of their business to give vent to the students’ imagination.

One of the many reasons that keep teachers reluctant to invite creative writing to their classrooms is that CW is still a taboo in many course books.  Creative writing needs a lot of patience and is also  time-consuming for many teachers, yet is so very rewarding for the many who are  conscious (conscious of the various advantages of CW) and adventurous (adventurous enough to be willing to risk and do not mind feeling human,and weak in front of their students) and creative (a label that cannot be allotted to any teacher unless they  toss away the dull, gloomy activities in the textbooks and opt for a more fun, engaging way they think is closer to giving learners some space and time to think and  write creatively. Most of the students, if not all of them, are creative, but if we keep teaching them monotonously, creativity would quit them forever.

Creative writing helps teachers build a nice bridge with their learners. Personally, I think the more creative the teacher is, the closer the learners would be to their teacher’s heart and mind. How to teach creative writing and how to instill creativity in the students is demanding, but is so rewarding. The teacher knows, by then, his/ her students like the palm of his/her own hands. Creative writing engages learners and helps them gain a lot of confidence, on the condition that the teacher encourages them to write on a regular basis.

Creative writing should not be confined to a limited time. It should be planned as part and parcel of every lesson. Time should never be a hindrance. If the students are so engaged in writing they will always find time to write creatively and puzzle everyone.

One of the experiences that conjures to my mind is that learners never believe they are poets unless they start writing their poems and feel they can themselves aspire and inspire. Many of my learners dazzled me to the point that I burst into tears of joy. This happens at that moment when you feel that your students have such an amazing creativity that it leaves you in such a wondrous state.  You – and even  them –  never imagined they could write creatively.

One step towards creativity would help students attain more self-confidence, feel the joy of learning and start a self-discovery journey. I still remember those faces the learners have when I ask them to write poems (free poems or acrostic poems) or stories. They always start by some sarcastic comments: “we are no poets! We barely speak! We barely write! We have no time!” Most of the time, those who deny their talents are the ones who keep sending me their poems – even after they leave school for university. One pupil( Omar) is still sending me some of his lovely poems though he is studying medicine now.  I want to share this last untitled poem he sent to me.

“should I run ?! should I stay ?!

should I let go , watch it fade away ?!

should I stand up and fight ?!

should I  break down and drown ?!

 I’m taking my way to the unknown,

 through the night I’m walking all alone,

 just me and a sad lonely moon,

and a little cold wind blowing from the wood.

should I leave it all behind ?!

 should I slow down and make up my mind ?!

through all these thoughts,

 I’m going blind,

there is one way out I’ll have to find. “

I hope you liked the poem. If so, please do not hesitate to visit my class blog of poems and write some encouraging comments to my students. I started this blog long ago with my students and I publish their poems as a form of recognition. It’s true I’ve been neglecting it for a while after being submerged with work, but this is no excuse and I am convinced I should carry on publishing their poems in the blog. The idea of the blog is not mine.  I was inspired by my colleagues Mr. and Mrs. Hadji whose ICT Trainer Class Blog is an inspiration. Keeping an electronic platform for their creative pieces of writing will be of enormous importance to them and to us as teachers of different generations.

To end up my post, I would like to share this creative writing activity I implemented with my students. Here are the steps: I asked them to draw a circle, colour, describe it, and tell who would be with them in the circle. What are their feelings? Where would they like their circle to be?

The learners sit the way they like while listening to some soft music. Those moments are unforgettable for me because I felt an immense joy seeing them engage in writing about themselves, their inner thoughts, revealing their deep feelings and sharing their joys and sorrows.

Last but not least, nothing is more expressive as this quote by Don De Lillo:

“Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some under culture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.”

I’ll  let you enjoy reading some of my students’ thoughts and creative essays. These are students who have been learning English for more than 4 years. I am sharing their writings with you, the way they presented them with no “intrusion” whatsoever from my part.

http://mypupilsessays.blogspot.com/

http://fate09.blogspot.com/

Please see below for an example of my students’ work completely the task I describe in this post:

 

Connect with Faten and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.