Tiktoker and music school owner Štěpánka “Štěkánka” Cimlová and enthusiastic English teacher and dyslexic Bronislav “Broňa” Sobotka confided about their traumas from the approach from their days of study. “I came to grammar school and was not prepared for the onslaught of pure, rough memorization. For the first paper in history, we had to learn six pages of A4 extracts. I’m simply not capable of that,” says Štěkánka about her “dark period”.
On the other hand, Broňa talked about his struggle with learning disabilities. “When I went to school, they told me if I was stupid and why I didn’t write normally. I started to think that I was just an idiot. My strategy was to simply learn to live with it,” recalls Broňa
Waking up from her dream was a trip to Canada to study, for him a backbreaking job in a failing knitting machine factory. But even for YouTuber-mathematician Marek Valášek and multicultural class teacher Tereza Jadrná, school was not associated with positivity. In fact, they both decided not to teach at all.
The creator of the educational portals LearnTube and Mathematicator Valášek originally wanted to be a physical scientist, and Tereza Jadrná, after studying at two pedagogical schools, discovered that the Czech education system did not suit her and wanted to find her own way.
“I am concerned not only with learning as such, but also with the creation of materials, content and popularization of a profession that people in the Czech Republic do not like. That path is to teach even in a state school the way I would like to be taught,” says Jadrná, who shows the life of a teacher on Instagram.
However, Marek Valášek did not graduate from the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics. It was a bad choice of focus. He therefore threw himself fully into tutoring and later started explaining mathematics in videos on the Internet. His mission is to teach this subject to the Czech nation.
“A good teacher should be able to answer the question: ‘What good will it do for us?'” says Valášek clearly, because “every piece of mathematics in primary and secondary school has a practical use, and we as teachers either cannot tell the children, or we do not know it ourselves .” The winner of the Zlatý Ámos prize begins the new material by explaining its practical use.
The nominee of the aforementioned award, Broňa Sobotka, emphasizes practice. It uses the approach of experiential pedagogy. “English suddenly becomes not an end, but a means. You have a task, for example, to figure something out, and language only helps you to fulfill it. It’s much closer to real life. It won’t happen that someone will come to you and give you an exercise to complete,” outlines Sobotka.
At the beginning of his teaching career, he led classes like scout camps, Broňa even interacts with the students, just like Štěkánka. “A teacher is not a friend or an authority figure. I like the designation that ScioŠkoly leads – the guide. My approach is that we interact with the students. I guide them through the subject and give them advice in the process of thinking, learning, working with emotions and information. I must be a partner, not an authority. Otherwise, they won’t reveal their inner processes to me,” he explains.
The bet on individuality pays off for all four, and especially Jadrná, whose class is made up of half of foreign-speaking pupils from Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine or Vietnam. According to her, some people find it difficult to put together a Czech sentence.
“Third grade is about listed words, which are quite specific, so it requires a much slower pace,” says Jadrná. Therefore, it produces its own teaching materials, which it sells at a minimum price through the Učitelnice portal.
It is abundantly clear that many of the problems in education stem from a lack of money. “I think that the state should align its priorities and really drastically increase funding. A teacher should not only have 130 percent of the average salary, but double it. What else do we have but smart people? We are terribly clever and creative in a global context, I can confirm that,” says Cimlová, who received a private audience with the Dalai Lama during her travels.
The moderators of the Context asked all four the same questions that are now resonating in the Czech education system. And surprisingly, teachers didn’t always take notes. We asked, for example, what they say about starting school at nine. “Yes, and I think that we should not look at the school as a place where we can look after our children the cheapest, but as a place that should be as pleasant as possible for children. It is proven that teaching from the age of nine benefits children,” says Sobotka.
Jadrná comes with an opposite view. “When I read it, I shook my head. Certainly not. It would mean that children would learn longer. Studies say that children have certain phases in which they can concentrate the most, and if they study until three in the afternoon, the little ones simply drop out,” he explains. This is where experiences from first grade and high school collide.
Where there is agreement, however, is the preference for verbal assessment and also for the compulsory high school diploma in mathematics, where the math teacher Valášek is the most forceful, saying: “No way!”
Sobotk’s sharp look was then reflected in the question about the worst behavior of teachers. “It’s the desire to always comment on something, to say something. The more space the teacher takes up in the lesson, the less space is left for the students. Time is not inflatable and you have to learn to be silent and listen,” he explains.
“We have a need to talk about everything and give advice. Even at home. And fixing people. Sometimes I feel like my friends check their grammar more when they text me. And we also have an opinion on everything,” laughs Jadrná.
You can listen to what else the interviewed teachers had in mind about Czech education in the Kontext podcast and on Spotify, Apple or Google podcasts.