Lejla Sarić: Teachers, especially English teachers, can do so much more for this country than politicians.

SCELTELTForum.sk, eltforum.sk 2013, Interviews, Main, Teacher Training

An interview with eltforum.sk presenter: Lejla Sarić

 An Interview by Martina Bednáriková

There is simply nothing that can prevent a group of enthusiastic teachers from establishing their own association, even in a country with a very complicated political and educational system. The Tuzla English Teachers’ Association, the first of its kind in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has definitely contributed to a change in its own world. Lejla Sarić, one of 3 TETA presenters at the ELTForum in Bratislava next weekend, shares how it came about. Prepare to be inspired. 

SCET: Tell us more about TETA. What’s behind the abbreviation? How did TETA start and what does it do?

Lejla: Well, TETA is a unique association born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but more precisely in a town called Tuzla, situated in the northeast Bosnia. TETA stands for the Tuzla English Teachers’ Association, but also means ‘auntie’ in Bosnian [in Slovak and Czech as well, Ed. note]. A handful of enthusiastic young and not-so-young (but young at heart) teachers had a vision: to unite teachers from their own town, their own canton [region, Ed. note], and finally their own country into an association that would show that teachers, especially English teachers, could do so much more for this country than politicians. TETA’s first Assembly was held in 2011, but it was officially established and registered in 2012 thanks to many administrative tricks. So, we are a very young, but nevertheless quite experienced association.

SCET: What are TETA’s main goals? How do you work in order to achieve these goals in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Lejla: I have to admit that we are a truly visionary organisation. TETA’s larger goal is to dialogue towards a future BiH-wide English Teachers’ Association, either by encouraging the formation of smaller, local ELT networks or through the expansion of TETA. TETA addresses the immediate reality that there is no state-level English Teachers’ Association currently functioning in BiH. This new association would work hard in pushing and destroying the boundaries created by the war. Also, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of CPD (Continual Professional Development) even in these challenging times when everything is based on enthusiasm. Thanks to Lisa Hundley ELF, we realised that we could achieve so much. She opened our eyes and gave us a huge dose of necessary enthusiasm, told us that we could achieve anything only if we wanted it, and pointed out how to raise money through good solid projects.

SCET: What are TETA’s most recent projects?

Lejla: To date, TETA has been involved in the organization of several events, including workshops and seminars for teachers in the Tuzla Canton, participation in international conferences, and establishing partnerships with other English language teachers’ associations in the region. All of this has been accomplished in quite a short period of time and on a very limited budget.

On January 16, 2013, TETA organised a seminar for English teachers at the Catholic Education Center ‘St. Francis’ in Tuzla.
About 103 teachers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia attended the seminar entitled ‘How to Embrace Continuing Professional Development (CPD)?’ Lecturers came from Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the US.

In April, TETA carried out its 2013 American Corners Tour which was the first part of a two-phase project to promote collaboration, networking and organization of English language teachers in BiH.  We met at the eight American Corners offices in BiH (except Tuzla’s) to address continuing professional development and promote TETA and the 2nd phase of our project:  TETA’s first international ELT conference. ‘ELT Classroom Challenges: Addressing Individual Students’ Needs’ will be held at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Tuzla on June 15-16, 2013.

SCET: Where do you see Bosnia-Herzegovina’s educational system in ten years’ time? Which direction would you like it to go? And what do you think are the most important and acute steps that the government needs to take?

Lejla: I have to admit that I’m very apolitical but it is impossible to avoid it if you live in Bosnia. We are the country with a very complicated political system, and the educational system is no simpler. A national ministry of education does not exist. Instead, there are thirteen, one representing each of the two entities of Bosnia & Herzegovina, i.e. the Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, one representing Brčko District, plus ten more ministries at the cantonal level in the Federation, each with a high degree of autonomy. In this scenario, previous teachers’ associations, organized at the entity level in an attempt to bring together teachers from different cantons, proved to be dysfunctional. I see TETA as the only driving force towards a brighter future.

You can’t change everything right now, but you can set a goal for yourself and try to achieve it.  As I’m a true optimist, I really believe that the situation in our country will only get better.

SCET: How was TETA born? How did you get involved and what do you do for the association?

Lejla: During the war I lived in the UK where I obtained BACS degree in English and History from Southampton University. I always wanted to come back and to somehow help to re-build my country, so as soon as I came back in 1997, I got involved with everything to do with teaching and English. Summer University 1998 was the first step; later I got involved with British Council projects and held a workshop in our town.

During that time, a few teachers with a lot of enthusiasm came forward. After a couple of years, we stopped waiting for someone else to do something for us; we took destiny into our own hands and called for the first Assembly in 2011. I was chosen by my colleagues to become a member of TETA’s Presidency, which was a great honour. It took us a long time to register the Association but during that time we organised three workshops and during that time had a lot of fun, too. We are usually in charge of different tasks, but I personally like presenting the most.

Left to right: Azra Muhedinović [the best PR in the world, Lejla’s note], Lejla Sarić, Lisa Hundley [the best ELF ever, Lejla’s note], and TETA Vice President Dijana Marković-Hajdarhodžić [the brain of our organisation, Lejla’s note].

SCET: How do your cultural heritage, identity and the notion of living in Bosnia and Herzegovina influence your teaching… or does it?

Lejla: Although I absolutely love travelling and discovering new cultures, I adore my Bosnia and its people, especially the teenagers I teach. I feel I can influence their lives towards giving their best and trying to achieve the impossible. As I lived in England for 5 years, I feel that experience has enhanced me as a teacher and as a human being more than anything. Teaching teens to be tolerant, open-minded, and flexible through English and English experience has offered me great satisfaction. On the other hand, I love my cultural heritage, the way of life and the way of caring for people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I sincerely feel that I got the best of both worlds.

Lejla Sarić has been a teacher since 1997 – the year she returned to Bosnia. That was a crucial year as she fell in love with teaching at first sight. Previous to her return, she had lived in the UK for 5 years, obtaining a BACS English/European History degree at Southampton University. During her studies, she worked for Cosmopolitan and Sarajevo’s Oslobođenje. From the moment she became a teacher, Lejla got involved with everything to do with teaching, the British Council, various educational institutions and now is a very active member of TETA (Tuzla English Teachers Association). She enjoys giving presentations and workshops as they help her bring her improve her own teaching.

Lejla’s workshop: I have prepared a fun workshop filled with many readymade activities, activities that every teacher needs. Most of these activities do not demand copying or any type of preparation in advance, basically they are lessons from nothing, and most of them are for mixed ability classes (as most classes are mixed ability classes, aren’t they?). I’m going to start with activities designed for getting to know each other in fun, new ways. Later come activities with a soft ball, pictures, letters, numbers, auction game, and newspapers.