It was the last year of my bachelor's degree, the really end of it. I was wondered what should I do, where should I start working, because, you know, we want to have our own money. I had plans to get a master's degree, perhaps a Phd. But that was more or less a dream. Then I saw advertising on TV about a project, it was something like “Teach for All”. We have a very similar here, call Renkuosi Mokyti, the translation is something like "I choose to teach." They look for students who are finishing college (as was my case) who want to go to schools and work at least for two years. After these two years of experience, they give you a teaching certificate and you can work as a teacher. When I saw the message on television, I thought: 'Oh, that's me!’. It’s a very useful project, a very important one, starting directly in practice, not in theory anymore. I found myself in that advertising and I decided to apply and I succeeded.
I remember being nervous on my first day as a teacher. I remember not only my first day, but my first feeling. I was going to the school and I used to think: ‘Oh, I’ll teach everybody! They will all know Chemistry so well!’
In my first year, although I’m chemist, I taugh Math for children in fifth grade.
I thought: 'Okay, small kids, I’ll teach them Math. It will be easy. '
But during the first tests I realized how they were different from each other. I prepared the questions and some of them couldn’t finish it in time, others have ended it in ten minutes. This was really shocking to me.
I would say that I'm a maximalist, I want the best results. I would say that this was the first step of my training: to recognize the differences between them. The second step was to tell the difference between the needs of each one.
You can try to get teach everything you know.
But some child may refuse this knowledge you have to offer.
Then the second step was getting to know the background priorities and ambitions of each student and try to combine my knowledge with these needs. Trying to throw some light and attract their attention, to understand mathematics better.
When I was a kid, there was a sort of annual ritual in relation to the classes. In September, when classes began, I thought: Finally. I didn’t like holidays and vacation. I enjoyed them, but would rather be in school. I used to do all the homework. I was a really good student. Today, I want my students feel the same pleasure. I tell them, 'I hope you are able to achieve great goals.’ It saddens me when I see a child thinking
'That's not for me'. I don’t usually put high standards for them, I want them to do it themselves, accepting no less than the best they can be.
In my years of high school, my chemistry teacher was an inspiration. We are still in touch. Now, I help her, I send her some materials, exchanging information on methodologies and innovations in education. Sometimes, I send some special questions to work with students. I ask my colleagues and we set up some interesting activities together. I send everything to her. I also remember my Lithuanian Language teacher and my Mathematics teacher. They were very important to me. I think that my Chemistry teacher inspired me because she was always very professional. She was an expert. She knew all about the subjects and about teaching. She was very strict. Many of my school friends were afraid of her. And I thought, 'I don’t know why you're afraid of her. She's a good teacher!'
She was always very honest with us. If we were doing bad, she would say that to us, explaining that wasn’t what she expected of us and how we could change. I loved it. The rules, the discipline. She put a lot of extra effort to teach, extra things like preparing us for the competitions and things like that. I would say that when I started teaching I was more easy going than her. But over the years, I’ve become more like her in the way she used to teach. I often ask her for advices and I think I can say that, more or less, we have the same way of teaching.
I always remember a story. I was on the bank or something like that. I had to fill my profession in some paper. When I said that I was a teacher, the girl who was filling my file looked up and said, 'You're so young to be a teacher!'. It was a funny thing. But I like that. Being a teacher isn’t a very "popular" profession here in Lithuania because the colleges that make teacher training are also not very popular. If you say you're a teacher, everyone thinks 'poor boy!'. But I don’t feel that way.
When I say that I’m a lecturer is a little different.
But I think the secondary teachers are better known. There are many children in schools. I think the teachers are known for this 'bad side' of being a teacher and so many people looking at us with that look of pity.
The feeling of being 'guilty' for the failure of our students can be good or bad. If you analyze and understand what could you do in a different way, then it's a good feeling, learning and improving your teaching skills. But if you hang in guilt, there is a paralysis that is not good either for the teacher or the students. We have the 'open school' days, where parents and teachers can talk about students. The fact that the parents come and ask questions to the teachers about their children shows that they want to hear what we have to say. Last time, about thirty parents sought me. In these conversations, the mood is peaceful, there is no blaming or anything like that. But it always depends on the family. Some parents like to discuss strategies. One of the parents want to think of ways to improve the child's grades. I asked how his son was in other disciplines and he said the grades were more or less the same. I asked what was the favorite subject of the student and he said it was IT. Well, he had great grades in this subject. I encouraged them to invest in it, help him to develop this area, get involved with projects, perhaps a job in which he can experience it in practice. They accept what we have to say.
There is a teacher stereotype of teachers here in Lithuania. If you see someone on the street and think that she or he is a teacher, it will probably be a woman (because almost 90% of the teachers here are female) will appear to be an older person and will look like she is tired and angry. I hope this changes. I don’t fit this stereotype and hope it's over soon.
One of the good features of the educational system here is that it’s changing. There are lots of new teachers who want go to the classrooms. I think that's very good. They go to schools with many new ideas, methodologies and strategies. The problem of our educational system is tired people. Tired and discouraged teachers are the hardest part. And they are many. I believe they are tired of the same environment every day. The same classrooms, the same teacher’s rooms. And that's it.
I’m responsible for two international Olympiads: Chemistry and Mathematics. They are European competitions. So I travel for two weeks, twice a year. I get to know other teachers, talk to them. It is a rest, refreshment. When I come back, I'm completely full of energy, enthusiastic and excited. But as the months go by, two or three months later, I again feel the fatigue of this repetition. There is a need to change the environment, feel more positive energy. So I think the tiredness of the vast majority of teachers are attached to this repetitive environment, and a lack of challenges.
We have some groups to discuss methodologies and we meet regularly, to exchange information and experiences. There are also associations for different disciplines, such as the Chemistry Teachers Association, Physics and so on, to discuss more specific topics. You can also join communities who study general subjects. But all this depends largely on the group and the ability to bring people together. If you want a space to study collectively, it exists. It depends on the teacher seek out these spaces. Many of them aren’t interested.
We have many events, many teachers meetings. Where we make good contacts with people from other cities. In the discussions which I have participated, we discussed the need for teachers to improve themselves. It should be compulsory to learn English or another language, learn something Informatics and uses of technology. I think this is the first step to create an international network really efficient, because the vast majority of teachers here wouldn’t benefit from an online network, for example. They don’t know other languages, or know how to use the internet properly. We can only enjoy knowing all the teachers from other countries and everything they could teach us if we are prepared to interact.
I hope that my students have a different future, in which they can choose.
Sometimes I see my students are going badly in Chemistry, with bad results in the ratings, but I realize that they are becoming good people, people I can trust, honest guys. And you can see that they are growing good people who do well in the subjects they love. I get very sad when I meet a student who is lost, that don’t like anything.
My biggest challenge as a teacher is the personalization of education. Identifying and dealing with small groups inside the classrooms. These huge differences between them, between their ways of learning and find ways to challenge them all, this is my greatest difficulty. Figuring out how to do that is what makes me wake up every day and work. Teachers, don’t give up. Ever! One day we’ll be succeed.
Success is a change. It's a transformation.
I had some successful experiences: a girl who always had a regular performance. One day she raised her hand and made a perfect, well-aimed question. She caught the whole idea of class. Other times, you see a progression their grades, or a child who doesn’t understand anything, beginning to understand. One of my students, for example, used to sit in the back. After a while he moved, he began to sit in the front and ask lots of questions and be interested in the lessons. These changes are my success.