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Is it a Challenge Teaching English to Students in Vocational Schools? by Marjorie Rosenberg
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This article appeared in the ELT News, Issue 42, October, 2000, published by Teachers of English in Austria/The British Council, Vienna

Having worked for the past 10 years in the training of vocational school teachers, I felt this question should be addressed in order to define appropriate methodology used to prepare teachers for their work in vocational schools. Training of teachers takes part at both the 'Berufspädogogishe Akademie' (BPA) and the 'Pädagogisches Institut', implying the necessity to discover which methods should be incorporated into a training module at the BPA. Unlike other educational facilities in Austria for modern secondary schools and grammar schools, there is no clear definition of pre-service and in-service training for the vocational school teachers who teach English. Because vocational school teachers are not actually 'English teachers', the majority of teachers who attend the 'Vorbereitungslehrgang' at the BPA had already had some experience in teaching English although most of them have not received any formal training as English teachers.

Therefore with the beginning of a new 'Lehrgang', we decided to make some changes in our goals and subsequently the structure of the training module in order to bring the training more in line with the reality of the school day. In order to find out what happens in schools I interviewed several English teachers by asking them several questions. The questions and the answers I received are printed below.


1) Are your students motivated? How can you help their motivation?

• At the beginning of the year they were not motivated. I tried to motivate them by answering the question, 'Why should I learn a foreign language at all?'

• English is fun for most students; they see it as necessary to understand pop music and for their holidays. I motivate them by using authentic situations that come up in shops or workshops. Part of the lessons are held in the 'training shop' at school and we teach some of the specialized subjects, such as sales techniques in English.

• Most students are not motivated. We can motivate them by teaching only general topics because they feel this is the English they need.

• Older students who have already completed an apprenticeship in another field ask for more job-related topics in English.

2) How do you teach to different levels of students?

• Sometimes I divide the group into beginners and advanced students (if there are about 50% in each group).

• We form mixed ability groups - we provide different tasks for different levels.

• We give advanced students extra work and have them help the beginners.

• We prepare the topics differently for different levels.

• I use almost the same methods, but gear them to different levels. For example, a game can be used to teach various grammar structures or vocabulary to different levels of students.

3) Do you teach differently to different learner types?

• We try to prepare our lessons so that every type of learner is involved.

• We have been aware for a long time that each pupil learns differently and we create lessons to accommodate these differences.

• I try to offer different types of learners (visual, auditory and kinesthetic types) a chance to understand the material in the form in which they prefer it.

4) Is there support for English from school authorities, companies, the BPA and the PI?

• Teachers must be pro-active, take advantage of courses, seminars, offers, etc.

• Teachers must be ready to make suggestions as well.

• Yes, there is a little help from the P.I.

• We get help from our colleagues.

5) What types of teaching materials are available in your school? Do you need a lot of supplementary material or do you have what you need?

• Most schools have a budget for materials - teachers can make recommendations concerning what should be bought for the school.

• We have a library and a collection of grammar materials.

• We have videos, songs, cooperative games
SThe supplementary material we use are magazines, the internet, material we collected on trips to the U.K.

6) What would you say is one of the most challenging things about your job?

• Motivating my students.

• Making sure that students enjoy learning.

• Most of the students don't want to be in school. It is our task to make them understand the importance of what they learn with us and how it can help them to be successful in their future careers.

When looking directly at the problems faced in this field, it is clear that we teacher trainers have an even greater challenge to face. It is absolutely necessary for us to present more possibilities and materials which teachers can use, give teachers ideas which they can adapt to their particular teaching situation and work on helping teachers build their own self-confidence.

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