Written by: Camelia Budisteanu, Lecturer of English,
‘Alex. Ioan Cuza’, Police Academy
I am an actress.
My stage is my classroom.
Can I really act?
Should I really act?
Teaching cadets of a Police School is like teaching any other adults if you can consider young people between 18 and 25 adults. That particular age means: impatience, eagerness, anxiousness, sometimes concern for the family and friends they left at home, fear, incertitude, lability. But also (good news!): adaptability.
Teaching the students of the Police Academy is no easy task. At first sight it may seem easier than teaching ordinary pupils, because they are always there, being comprised within a military framework. Yes, that’s true; you have the discipline – meaning that all of them are physically present. But are they mentally present too? Well, that’s the very problem.
All of my students – boys and girls alike face special problems among which there are:
- spatial - the distance from their native places. The students of the Police Academy come from all over the country.
- social – they come from all walks of life. And from all kinds of families. Some of their families are rich, others average, others poor.
- motivation – most of the students who come to police Academy are motivated by the fact that the Academy offer them double majors: lawyers and police officers. Sad as it is we must admit that the majority of our students come for their future possibility of becoming lawyers. They dream about leaving the Police Force and becoming renowned prosecutors, judges and the like. The other category is that of young men, and women, who dream about being a policeman – American fashion: fast cars, intelligent weapons etc.
The students of our Academy – except from those at the Engineering Faculty (the Firefighters) – consider they are students of law – pure and simple. They just do forget their major as police officers. Hence the real problems. Like any other young people, they compare things. In Romania there is a multitude of Law Faculties – a state one, as well as many private ones. As soon as they have passed the entrance examination, their motivation for the future work of police diminishes tremendously. And in that case why should they study English? ‘Does a lawyer need English or any other foreign language?’ ‘No, he doesn’t’, they decide.
On the other hand, yes, of course, a policeman needs to know at least one foreign language – that’s an extra tool in one’s work. Unfortunately a very small percentage of the cadets are aware of this aspect.
Above all this, there are so many subjects to memorize for the exams in school, for all kinds of ‘laws’, so that when the English lesson comes – once a week only – ‘the poor guys’ are exhausted and seek relaxation.
The English course in the Academy is meant to maintain their knowledge acquired during high school. But is there any knowledge to maintain? The entrance examination comprises a test at English/French/German or Russian, which is not that easy. Then where goes that knowledge? That’s an interesting phenomenon worth mentioning. The fact is: there is no real, solid knowledge of English there, or there is but only a tiny-weeny amount of it, because the candidate has prepared for his/her entrance examination in a kind of ‘bulk’ style learning. Hence, off course nothing has been internalized. Add the new life they find in school plus the ‘stress’ of the military drilling and discipline and you’ll have the answer to their language incompetence.
Then … what is there to be done?
What I manage to do:
Apart from traditional manuals, grammar books etc.
For the 1st and 2nd years of the Faculty of Law – police, border police and gendarmes I bring them texts of more general interests never forgetting the grammar exercises.
For the 3rd and 4th years purposeful texts have to be prepared – some in original, some adapted. They contain cases and simulation of cases and again grammar – either in its plain, raw form or in contextualized examples. What I’ve found out is the fact that most of my students ask for strict grammar rules and exercises for one or another grammar issues. They seem to need to systematize to clarify grammar facts.
The Difficulties I’ve continuously encountered are real ones, but they are stimulants at the same time. One can never get bored in a class of police cadets. There’s always something new. A new case of robbery or drug smuggling or a nasty traffic accident.
Now, I’m not going to make a list of methods of arousing students’ interest and keeping their motivation alive. Yet I’ll mention a few things that were rewarding in terms of interest.
Books for example is one of them. I present a book I especially enjoyed or intrigued me and encourage students to read it. Of course only a rare category of young people still read nowadays. After reading it I always encourage that particular student to talk about it. So we exchange ideas and critics on the book.
Video films is another. Students love to watch films and they may make a solid basis of talk and improvement in terms of English. Short, original – not translated – versions are best. They may be introduced in a few words, then discussed. If they are shot enough they can be rewound and stopped at different moments.
This year I’ve also asked the students in the final year to translate individual papers along a certain period of time. I chose texts and papers of policing interest so that they could learn something from them.
With border police students I also use as a basis for discussion in class long covenants or agreements – broken into pieces. I asked them to read them carefully and present in class for an open discussion.
Lately I’ve begun to use Internet as a means of information and inspiration, together with the more classical means of teaching (newspapers, cassettes, video). I must admit I accessed and used it more on a personal, private basis – because of the lack of general access and no access in school, red tape and students’ inability (technical and equip-mental).I’ve found it most rewarding in terms of pieces of the latest news (which I use as warming ups) and lots of information about similar schools in the world.
Creating the possibility to listen to native speakers has been a constant concern, which we could accomplish when international visitors delivered lectures on subjects of interests or just visited the Academy.
Recently, thanks to Professor Mark Roberts from the British Council, some of the Police Academy students have had the opportunity to be taught by a native English speaker in person.
To conclude, I’d say Convincing is the KEY WORD for teaching police cadets: To convince them to study and being convincing as a teacher.