It Scares Me

It Scares Me

It Scares Me

Reflections on the Direction of Vocational Education and the Survival of Trades

Linnéa. / Pixabay 

License Creative Commons


Antoni Hernández-Fernández


It scares me. I’m in one of those calm-before-the-storm Sundays, moments of tranquillity before the end of the school year, with nothing to mark just yet but with the looming prospect of hundreds of pages on the horizon. I relax. Everything will come in due course. Then I bump into a colleague, a new teacher this year. After thirty years of industry experience, he’s been recruited to teach his trade. I hadn’t seen him since he took the plunge. We had a drink.

For personal reasons, which are relevant but I won’t disclose, he needed some extra cash. That’s why he’s still with the company, but he has spent a few afternoons each week this term teaching his profession. He tells me they’ve been lenient regarding qualifications. A hard-to-fill position. Or a very hard-to-fill one, I should say. They couldn’t find anyone to teach that crucial workshop in the trade. I then wondered whether the administration was ready to raise the requirements for access to teaching, especially in some branches of vocational education and training (VET). There’s a lot of noise in the media, but then they just get whoever is reasonably suitable and that’s it.

Initially, once the problem was solved, he was reprimanded by the management for his unorthodox methods. He didn’t use the virtual campus, nor did he set theory papers: he explained the theory in the workshop, used Kahoot! (because he learned it in a course and saw that it motivated them more than doing tests on paper) for them to review the theoretical part of the exam, and 90% of the time—and the assessment—was devoted to practical exercises. To the craft.

Nor did he understand why, seeing him in the workshop in the afternoon, he was criticised for not replying to e-mails sent outside his office hours that same afternoon, for example: “Why don’t you come to the workshop, which is twenty metres from the office, and tell me anything, especially if it’s ‘urgent’? It’s just not our way of working,” they replied. “Nor are e-mails my way,” he retorted.

He humbly offered his resignation to the management team. Maybe it’s my fault, he thought. You can’t teach this profession online. But since they had no one else, they had no choice but to let him continue. Just as well.

It wasn’t all bad. They were honest. His workshop was the only one without absenteeism. Some students started off a bit erratic, missing classes when their football team lost, because they’d spent the night playing video games, or because they had arranged to go out. It was all part of the afternoon classes, especially on Fridays, for over-age teenagers. And he cut their salary, like in the workshop where he works, that is, their grade. “If you’re not there, you can’t accumulate practice hours”. He’s more streetwise than they are and has more experience.

The kids were all of them difficult boys. He got to know them from the start. And he made a pact with them. He set his conditions (punctuality, hygiene, and respect, he summarised for me) and they set theirs. Guess what? The pupils also asked for respect, that he shouldn’t mock them if they didn’t know something because, in their own words, they’d already been mocked enough. And then, of course, they asked him to teach them the trade. Practice. It was a deal. “But you have to attend class”.

When they didn’t know something, even if it was very basic (measuring with a ruler, multiplying, changing units…), he explained it to them. He didn’t say, “You should already know that” or “They should have explained it to you in primary or secondary school”.

In the first test, he told me, they all failed. They didn’t know how to do the exercises, the basics of the trade, which he had explained to them in previous sessions. He gave them more than enough time: several hours to execute what someone experienced would spend less than twenty minutes doing. They laughed at first because they didn’t know what to do with so much time. They were joking. Then they sweated and struggled. All the pieces came out defective.

They complained afterwards that they had too little time. That it was impossible. He didn’t reply: he gave them the exam in fifteen minutes flat. Authority. He then proposed two options: to retake the test, taking it seriously, or to pass the marks on to the form tutor. What happens in the workshop stays in the workshop. He explained to each of them the mistakes they had made in executing each piece. Formative assessment. And in the retake, they all passed. “I didn’t make them pass; they earned it”, he emphasised.

He also had to deal with YouTubers. Some students, eager to show off, came to him with YouTube videos explaining procedures differently from how he had taught them in class. He liked it because that digital interest showed they were already motivated. That they liked the profession. He told them two things, depending on the case: “yes, you can do it like this, but for that, you need much more practice, first learn to write, then you can make poems”; or “can’t you see the video is edited, that it’s fake, that they’re deceiving you?” Experience and honesty. Encouraging critical thinking and professional judgement.

The school year is over. Except for two students, the rest of the group has learned the trade. They will be promoted. “They lack experience”, he tells me, “but who doesn’t at their age?” The management team are considering if he continues with the employment. New times and reforms in VET are on the horizon. He doesn’t have the qualifications, although he masters the trade like no one else. And maybe others do. He doesn’t use the virtual platform. He prefers talking to reading emails. It scares me.

Source: educational EVIDENCE

Rights: Creative Commons

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