August 7, 2012

Making an Impact in Tunisia

English Language Specialist Program - Jason Levine

“Having built friendships with a small group of Tunisian teachers on Facebook, I arrived in the country optimistic that my program would be well-received,” says Jason Levin, of the Teacher-Training Program in Tunisia.

“Nothing, however, could have prepared me for how quickly and powerfully I was able to form close bonds with students, teachers, teacher trainers, inspectors, members of the Ministry of Education, and officials at various levels of the Tunisian and American governments. During the twelve-day program, I was interviewed twice for radio and once for television; I was approached in hotels by Tunisians who had heard of my work and wanted to thank me; students printed my picture and asked for my autograph; several teachers traveled more than four hours to attend my workshops; many teachers changed their schedules so that they could attend a second or even a third time. Needless to say, I am awed and humbled by this experience.” 

“Professionally, this program is, without question, my crowning achievement. Though I had hoped to spread far and wide my messages of increased exposure to target language, teaching through collocations, learning through music, learner and teacher autonomy, and, especially, the benefits of teaching and learning through having fun in the classroom, I hadn't expected to articulate them as well as I did nor run workshops as effectively. I attribute this success to the extraordinarily well-designed and executed program of Hafedh Zanina and Thomas Kral and the enthusiasm Tunisian teachers and students have for embracing change in their classrooms. Their desire to promote communicative and academic competence in EFL gave me boundless energy! I became better at getting teachers to relax and participate in workshops and found a comfortable balance between presentation and practice.”

“Academically speaking, this program has inspired in me countless ideas for new materials and ways to adapt my materials to suit teachers and students abroad. I look forward to communicating even more with the teachers and students I met in Tunisia in order to grow as a writer, teacher, and trainer. What I learned about the teacher education system and Ministry of Education during my visit will be of benefit to me as well.”

The Teacher-Training Program helped positively impact Jason’s interactions with Tunisian teachers. If I had to describe in one sentence the impact I believe this program had, I would say that it gave them hope that a more progressive, learner-centered approach in Tunisian classrooms is not only possible in the near future but will be encouraged, from the Ministry on down. Indeed, the Ministry of Education pledged its support for the program and sent an official representative to meet with me.

“Among Tunisian teachers I raised awareness of the many benefits of engaging classroom activities based on repetitive input of collocations through music,” explains Jason. “We had lively, and I feel, highly productive discussions about how to raise proficiency levels in a communicative classroom by offering teachers more autonomy to engage learners using materials and approach that students identify with.

“Happily, wherever I went, my ColloTunes, videos, and accompanying materials were well-received, and many teachers were introduced to them for the first time. Shortly before my departure, a group of very active Tunisian teachers created a new Facebook group called 'You have it in you!' The name comes from one of my songs, which urges teachers of English to be more creative and innovative in the classroom.”

“Among Tunisian students, I believe the greatest impact I had was to affirm their belief that English learning can be fun and even exciting! They see this side of learning the language from the media that more and more of them engage with every day. Most of the students I met, male or female, poor or well-off, felt connected to this world of learning English through Facebook. The fact that I was a teacher from the U.S. and only there for a short stay did not alienate them in any way; on the contrary, they felt empowered by the fact that they already knew who I was from media and that when I left they could stay connected to me in the very same way!”

“Of most lasting impact will likely be the song and video "Hey, Tunisia!" which I wrote and recorded with Hafedh Zanina in a local hip hop studio in Sousse. As of this writing, the video has received nearly 3,000 views on YouTube and upwards of 10,000 views on Facebook.”