“We have the impression that our path is mapped out, but we have to give ourselves the means and work, not just dream”

If for some, math is a simple formality, for others it is more of a pet peeve. To prevent students from remaining stuck with this failure, sometimes since primary school, Amina Kellil turned her back on a brilliant career as an energy engineer to set up her private lessons business.

The young woman, who describes her school career as “rather clic”, obtained her bac S, then advanced maths and special maths in the North, a master’s degree in physics at Saclay and finally an Arts and Crafts diploma. We met her for the release of her book so she could tell us how she manages to get high school students back into school. And why you should never give up when you have a dream.

You thought a lot about your direction… and you refused to join an engineering school after the competitive exams to switch to a magistère at Saclay. For what ?

After the five big weeks of competition, I wanted to take a break. The competition period was very complicated, I did four, I didn’t attempt the X. The penultimate day, I fainted on the train platform in Lille. I could no longer decide whether I wanted an engineering school out of desire or because, during two years of prep, we were told again and again that we had to go to school. I was reaching the end of something and I told myself that I needed to breathe and get back on my feet.

I went to see what was happening elsewhere and I studied physics at Saclay: it didn’t close the door to an engineering school for me afterwards if I wanted to.

What memories do you have of these years in Saclay?

These years were the best years of study of my entire schooling, the teachers were truly pionate, who wanted to p on to us disciplines that they loved, which is not the case with the prep school, responsible for preparing us for the competition. There is a form of exchange and when you speak with pionate people, things happen. In first grade, I got pregnant with my daughter and she was born in July, which allowed me to return to school in September.

At the end of the lecture, I had to ask myself a question, the path of reason or that of the heart. The reason was to go to a good engineering school, so I took the competitive exams again and got Arts and Crafts. My son was born in August 2015, two months after I graduated.

Is that when you said to yourself that you had to find your way?

I had finished my studies, I had two children, I wanted to take advantage of them. The first months were great! I had done my final internship at EDF, great internship and great team, but my heart did not want to return to this type of system. I said to myself ‘well, I studied for that, but I don’t want to go there’, all my clmates were getting hired and I wondered what I was going to do… I really liked teaching, but I didn’t want to be a teacher. National Education, I didn’t feel it.

Which didn’t stop you from giving private lessons…

Yes, and I tell myself that ‘this is exactly what I need’! But private lessons weren’t a real job, for me or for people. When I came home, I was very happy, I thought, it activated my brain. I met my former internship supervisor again, we were able to discuss things outside of a normal course and he told me ‘if you want to join EDF, your CV is on top of the pile’.

On the way back, at the Plaine Saint-Denis station, the mother of one of my students calls me and thanks me. I thank her in turn and she replies that it is not just about her daughter’s lessons, but that for the first time she was able to have breakfast with her, far from all the tensions that they had before. It changed at that moment. EDF and company projects? Next!

You took the plunge but what you do is still thoughtful!

Yes, everything I do is structured: I had my children while I was a student, I got married at 19, it’s crazy when you think about it, but when I felt that I wanted, I was going there. Only it’s not just about listening to yourself, it’s also about giving yourself the means: I lived in Drancy, I went to Orsay and I took the entire RER B. I was so determined that I didn’t experienced it as a constraint.

We have to listen to ourselves because at every moment we have the impression that there are established paths and that getting out of them is not easy, but we have no choice, we have to give ourselves the means and the determination. And the work that goes with it, you shouldn’t just dream!

Is this also valid for your orientation?

When you’re a pretty good student, in your final year, it’s prep, medicine or business school. I wasn’t attracted to medicine and business schools are much too expensive – I grew up in Pas de Calais with parents from a rather modest background and when you see the price of schools it’s complicated.

Engineering schools have the remarkable side that the best are hyper-accessible, like Centrale. Back then, it just cost tuition. I told myself that by continuing to be a good student, an engineering school is possible. I explain a lot to my students that what is important, at least for me, is to have a good diploma because current French society judges you on that.

How do you help your students understand it?

We show them that everything is possible and that’s why I like to use math: it doesn’t seem like anything but to someone who tells themselves they’re worthless, when we show them that he manages to do things, it’s also a way of talking to them about life.

The impact of maths is powerful on students, more so than physics and chemistry, because maths is the bane, at school and in society. When you work on math, even if you don’t do much at first, aligning two or three sentences can quickly break down a number of barriers. When they realize this, they integrate this type of reasoning into their lives. What was impossible is no longer impossible.

And I try to be consistent between what I say and what I do: I manage to write books, I create a school… but basically, my mother is a stay-at-home mother and my father is a worker at Metaleurop! What should have been impossible, in fact, is not. Everyone needs to understand that nothing is impossible.

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