The new school year begins on Thursday, September 1. What about you and this date, as you remember it from your school years?
For me, almost decades are associated with rest. Every summer since I was little, I worked in my dad’s family business, where I was always there until the last moment, and the start of school was a way to calm down.
We think that the teacher goes to school on September 1st, but it’s not like that, we always have a preparation week. But for me, it is connected with optimism and a new beginning, and I would like everyone to be able to perceive it that way. It’s an opportunity to start over, to learn something new.
Schools are facing big challenges this year. Integration of Ukrainian children, rising energy prices and related problems. And maybe another wave of the pandemic. How hard will it be to face these challenges?
I am very happy that I work at a school in a district where there is good cooperation between the principal and the founder. As a result, we as teachers are much less affected by the problems that happen.
The founder will support the director, who in turn will support us. I can very naively say that I don’t know. The integration of Ukrainian children will certainly be a challenge, but it is nothing to be afraid of. I believe we are ready for it and we can handle it.
Will he still know the impact of covid in the new school year, or…
(interrupts) Undoubtedly! The only certainty we have is that we will keep uncovering what it did to the children. It’s a whole new experience and unfortunately, from what we know about children’s deteriorating mental health, it appears that they will be recovering from it for a long time. And the work of a teacher is all the more important to me, because he is a person who, above all others, can help a lot.
It can identify a child at risk of domestic violence or anything else. When I see that the child, who is usually lively and cheerful, starts to withdraw, then do not push him and do not impose on him, but let him know that I care about him and if he wants, I am there for him.
How do you work with children to make them feel good and able to work with their feelings?
My colleague and I talk about the fact that it’s okay not to be okay. It seems fair to me if even the teacher admits at the beginning of the lesson that he is dealing with something personal. Not necessarily to blame his problems on the children, but to apologize that he is not in good shape and ask that they somehow manage it together.
My experience is that when I open up to children like this and admit weakness, they respond well. He knows that when they experience something similar, they can come to confide.
We openly discuss what depression is and what mental difficulties are in class. With former ninth graders, we talked about how to work with stress. That a person is in trouble before admissions. Or that it is almost not at all, both are normal and can be worked with.
It seems to me that if you ask honestly and spend a few minutes at the beginning to find out how the children are doing, what they are going through… it will help the rest of the class and the building of mutual relationships.
So the key is to open up to students and show them you’re on their side?
I think there are more keys and I don’t want to say I have a recipe that works. But for me, openness and admitting a mistake is the way. I will also admit to the students that I am coming up with something new. I don’t know how it will turn out, but I know we can do it together. Normalize that it is normal to make mistakes and learn from them.
You do the school podcast Conversations from the cabinet. Is it therapy, or do you want to show that teachers are also people and bring their stories closer?
It annoyed me that when looking at Czech education in the media, it would seem like Mordor. Then there are private schools and occasionally schools in big cities that are doing well. But I knew from various schools that this was not the case. I wanted to show the colorfulness of Czech education through the stories of specific teachers from all grades.
We often hear that Czech education is in bad shape. Aging and burnt out teachers, lack of money, outdated methods. How do you perceive it from your position?
I think it depends on what data we look at and what we compare ourselves to. What has been said here can be said about Czech education. And at the same time, we could say the opposite about him, and it would still be true. Our problem is a high rate of teacher burnout. We’ve been seeing this since 2019 when there was research on it and the numbers aren’t getting any better.
At the same time, my children and I went through covid and everything it brought. Suddenly the reason why we teach was missing, the experience of teaching was completely different and it left traces on the children that we are yet to discover. We know that the number of suicides and mental problems among children has increased significantly. Our education system is not in perfect condition, that is definitely true. But if it is heard that our education is like under Maria Theresa, then I need to defend it. Not our work, but our condition as a whole, that we are better off.
In what, for example?
If we look at the cross-section of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) in the children’s educational results section, they are around the average. When we look at education spending as a percentage of GDP, it is well below average. We can say with a strong exaggeration that we make quite a lot of music for very little money. I feel that covid took a lot from us, taught us a lot. A number of teachers took this as an opportunity to rethink what is essential and what we want to teach.
In one interview you mentioned that you were in the Philippines and visited the schools there. Did something about their education system interest you?
With the director there, we got to the point of inclusion, or joint education. Just the fact that I raised the question left her in complete awe and she asked me how I could ask about how they do things here. That it’s completely normal.
She couldn’t imagine they should do it any other way. And that was a school on the island of Palawan with thousands of children. We think of the Philippines as a virgin forest, and yet they have solved something that we are still solving.