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Teacher for Russia Today and Tomorrow

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Teacher for Russia Today and Tomorrow

17.11.2017

Anna Genova

[Photo: choosetoteach.ru]

The idea for the Teacher for Russia program originated with two graduates from Saint Petersburg State University, Alena Makovich and Elena Yarmanova after they came across Teach for All, a major international network of nongovernmental social enterprises. Four years have passed since then, and this year the Russian program celebrated its first graduating class.

In this interview, the program’s founders and staff tell Russkiy Mir how to put into practice the postulate, “All children will become the authors of their own lives.” The cofounders of the Teacher for Russia program, Alena Markovich (responsible for enacting the program) and Elena Iarmanova (in charge of tracking and evaluating its results), admissions coordinator Aleksei Stoliarov, Olga Fogelson (coaching support for participants and the prgorams Summer Institute), and Veronika Sergeeva (responsible for working with graduates) all shared their thoughts.


What is the point behind Teach for All? How did the Russian version come about?

Veronika Sergeeva: Heres the essence of our model: Graduates from prestigious universities, who go through professional training and win a contest to participate, spend two years as teachers in ordinary schools, where children are especially in need of inspiring teachers and the staff requires new personnel. The schools where these new teachers teach are selected on the basis of their level of performance on academic indicators (usually, on the low side) and with a view toward the surrounding social-economic context (generally, unfavorable). A teachers task in such situations is to help the students find motivation for their studies, to help them believe in themselves, and to raise their interest in their schooling, which brings about immediate results. Throughout these two years, teachers receive methodological and fellowship support from the program, and once this period is over they can continue their pedagogical careers or develop the educational sector from a different career path.

The Teach for All programs currently in operation in 45 countries are intended to provide children from the most varied backgrounds with equal educational opportunities. Put more simply, we need to make sure that the place where a child is born doesnt become a limiting factor for this persons professional direction, dreams, and ambitions. In turn, the program gives new teachers the opportunity to start a career in education, demonstrate their leadership qualities, and develop their own projects, which can have a systemic impact on education.

Alena Markovich: When I learned that a program existed in many countries worldwide that led the graduates of the best universities—for whom all doors were opento choose to devote two years to working at a school, this idea seemed to me totally incompatible with the reality in Russia… and as a result it was very attractive. This model strikes at the root of many problems existing in our society: first and foremost, it has the potential to change the unjustifiably low status that the profession of teacher occupies for many people. One of our most important objectives is to rebrand this profession and to make sure that it is perceived not only as noble, but also as prestigious.


What is the Teacher for Russia program all about?

Alena Markovich: The program team searches out and selects those recent graduates from the leading Russian institutions of higher education and those already-established specialists who have leadership qualities, want to work with children, and are capable of teaching the program of school subjects at a high level. The participants who make it through our many-staged process become teachers at large Russian schools, where children especially need contemporary, talented, and motivated pedagogues. In 90% of cases, participation in this program requires one to move to small population center: a city, town, or village. In addition to the standard school salary, teachers in the program receive a stipend of 35,000 rubles. These payments allow the participants to rent housing in their new region, work full-time (18 hours or more), and helps them to concentrate fully on teaching and training. The length of the program is two years. In parallel with their work, each teacher attends monthly meetings and seminars and takes a distance course in the program of professional retraining developed by us in collaboration with the Institute of Education at the Higher School of Economics.

Teacher for Russia is a social project founded by a cohort of talented specialists who have studied the Russian educational system from within and are capable of providing an impulse for its renewal and development. The program serves as a catalyst for developing Russias large-scale schools, where the majority of our countrys children study and the future of Russia society takes form.

The programs philosophy is encapsulated in the formula: All children will become the authors of their own lives. By authorship we mean the ability to see the whole horizon of ones abilities, to know ones strong and weak sides, to make decisions responsibly, to believe in oneself, and to take pleasure in being oneself.


The program lasts two years and is carried out in cooperation with the Higher School of Economics. Was it difficult to come to an agreement with one of the countrys most prestigious universities?

Elena Yarmanova: It wasnt difficult to come to an agreement with them. Before the program was launched we took part in the Institute of Educations innovation contest and were among the finalists. Aleksandr Sidorkin, then director of the Institute of Education, was well acquainted with our project model and supported us both during the competition and when we started speaking about a possible partnership in the sphere of organizing an educational program.


One of the program participants said in an interview: there is no universal criterion that defines a good teacher. So how do you select teachers?

Alexei Stoliarov: In a certain sense, one really might agree that there exists no single universal criterion that automatically determines a good teacher. Certainly, neither pedagogical training nor a certain abstract love for children is such a criterion. One cannot be successful working at school on the basis of only very strong motivation or energy. Any good teacher is a whole amalgamation of factors, habits, skills, knowledge, and character traits. Quite often they are one of a kind, and every time they are mixed in different proportions.


What criteria do you employ when selecting teachers?

Aleksei Stoliarov: The most important criteria in our selection are motivation, energy, and knowledge of ones subject matter. But we also pay attention to stress management, originality, communicative habits, acceptance of difference, and recognition of ones strengths and weaknesses. Within the program, we have defined minimal acceptable levels for each of the criteria mentioned. But on the whole, as we said before, they can be combined in varying proportions.


Before setting off into space, the participants undergo a five-week intensive summer course. What do your graduating teachers learn there?

Olga Fogelson: Training in our Summer Institute lasts five week. Classes run for twelve hours a day, almost without days off, and they end right before the first day of work at school. The course consists of three large blocks, the first of which is getting to know oneself. This consists of a cycle of training sessions: voice training, theatrical craft, and business games. The second major stage is creating several parallel platforms for encountering children. We organize several urban camps that allow students at our partner schools to study interesting subjects in the summer and see their schools from the other side. And the final, and most important, stage is working with specialists and speakers on the syllabus, subject matter, and legislative system concerning primary education.

Nonetheless, the Summer Institute is only the beginning of their training. When the teachers start working in their schools, we continue to work with them, often troubleshooting, since everyone has some difficult moments. This also involves working with a personal coach, with the best active teachers in the country, with school directors, and with experts, as well as a general two-day training workshop every month and continuing online support in the form of weekly webinars and the opportunity to call ones mentor at any time. In terms of hours, this workload amounts to a real masters course. At the end of two years, our teachers receive a diploma from the Higher School of Economics testifying that they passed a program of professional training in pedagogy.


Over the two years of the programs operation, there have surely been some concrete benefits. How would you evaluate them?

Elena Yarmanova: We have already had some successes. We regularly conduct a Tripod survey that gauges the atmosphere in a particular teachers classroom. Im happy to say that every time participants have shown quite high results according to various parameters (ability to structure a lesson interesting to students, ability to broaden the childrens ability to express their own thoughts and points of view, inclusion in dialogue and discussion, ability to explain material in a variety of ways).

100% of those who have completed the program have remained working the field of education. A community is starting to form of people with common work experience in the system, who are fervid about their projects and the teaching profession.

Its quite wonderful that the majority of current and former members (more than 95%) respond that they would very likely recommend that their friends participate in the program.


Those are good results. Could you give some concrete examples of how things have worked out for people who completed your program?

Veronika Sergeeva: There are many such stories. I will tell you one that greatly affected me personally. One member of our first cohort, Marina Kudasova, taught English for two years in school No. 30 in the city of Voronezh. The class was difficult and the students know a very low level of English, but Marina achieved incredible results through her patience and individual approach, while also instilling wonderful good will among the class. At the end of her time in our program, Marina left the school, and during the final classes she held various contests and lotteries where she gave out presents to the children as a way of saying goodbye. Marina decided to award a certain little boythe only one who managed to improve from a C- to an A-student in English in two yearswith a special trophy for the most mind-boggling progress, which she communicated to the class. In response, the children started applauding loudly and crying out to himthis little boy who just one year before thought he was a good-for-nothingWay to go! The boy didnt manage to move to get his trophy, but just started crying, and the class applauded him for about five minutes. Marina just put the trophy down beside him.


Will you have to change anything in the program going forward?

Elena Yarmanova: Changes are happening all the time. We grow, move into new districts, and select new candidates with differing characters and attitudes. Were always having to smooth out parts of the process. As a result, we are paying a lot of attention this year to internal reviewsinvestigations directed toward systemic work on various parts of the program, from recruiting and selection to marketing and the training curriculum.

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