Teachers’ personalities are vital for shaping effective relationships with children. The ability to convey knowledge and to relate to children is the foundation for a successful teacher. It is not an easy job, however, for a teacher to cope with the demands of the educational system and with children’s own needs, with the difficult situations children and parents find themselves together in, such as abuse and poverty. On the eve of Teachers' Day, celebrated both in Moldova and internationally on October 5, we discuss with Mrs. Ana ANTONCIUC the challenges that teachers face in their daily work in needing to both understand and meet the interests and needs of every child. Ana ANTONCIUC works as a teacher at the “Ion Creanga” Theoretical Lyceum in the town of Falesti and she has also participated in several Terre des hommes Moldova projects.
Let’s start with a couple of brief questions about your experience as a teacher. How long have you been teaching and what subjects do you teach?
I became a teacher in 2005, which means I have been teaching chemistry at the "Ion Creanga" Theoretical Lyceum in Falesti for 12 years now. During this period, I went through a requalification process and since receiving a master’s degree in Psychology several years ago I have been mixing the teaching work with my psychology practice. What helps me to be successful in both of these professions is my love for children, my love of work, the confidence in what I do, and my everyday enthusiasm and dedication. I take pride in performing my duties with tolerance, firmness, intellectual balance, and curiosity, a keen sense of observation, lucidity and critical spirit.
Being a teacher means needing to strive for personal development, to learn new things, to continually improve yourself both personally and professionally. I am always looking to acquire new knowledge and experience. I believe that up until now I have fully met the demands of my work as best I could, and with no regrets. As my parents once said, "In life, you must be a human being first, whilst everything else you can achieve with hard work and dedication".
Now, let’s address the subject of teaching in Moldova. It is not a secret that the profession is one of the less remunerated in the country and therefore less attractive. In these conditions, what motivated you to become a teacher, and then to continue in this field? What brings you professional satisfaction? When did you first feel that the job was worth the effort?
It was an event back when I was at school that really inspired me to become a teacher ...This happened while I was in the 7th grade at the gymnasium in Calugar village, Falesti, where I was lucky enough to meet Mrs. Zinaida Dobanda, a teacher there at the time. Two things impressed me most about Mrs. Zinaida Dobanda, her beautiful soul and her fantastic skill in teaching chemistry. In addition, she was my class-master. My attitude towards school changed suddenly from that moment. My teacher conveyed so much positive energy to me over the course of the lessons and all the years of studies that I became sure that my future would be related to chemistry.
Now I can say with certainty that my choice was the right one and I’m very happy about it. I love my profession and every day I do my very best to learn the modern rigors of teaching and to maintain my level as a contemporary teacher. For me, being a teacher is an opportunity to express myself and act positively, to be a source of knowledge to those around me. My daily work brings me lots of fulfilment: I feel very satisfied that I have managed up to this point to achieve all my goals.
It makes me incredibly happy to see two sad eyes finally smile at me, when together we successfully overcome a difficult situation, when a pupil approaches me and whispers: "Thank you for the great lesson, teacher..."
To tell the truth, one of the happiest moments in my life so far was the day when I got together with my first class of students to celebrate their 10th year after school graduation. I can still remember their joy, as they shared memories, and seeing them having accomplished so much really filled my soul.
I suppose that teachers and students live many emotions and experiences alongside each other; these little drops of happiness children share everyday with their mentors are what make a teacher happy.
What are the daily challenges you face at work? How do you deal with them?
First of all, we must take into account the fact that in our society there are events that children cannot influence, but which influence them very much, events such as parents' migration, poverty, different types of abuse, changes in the value system, and many other things. Children therefore need greater support in understanding and coping with these phenomena. I think that this is the biggest challenge. If we, as adults, fail to help these children initially, later we will have to intervene and help when students develop difficult behaviour.
I have noticed that, as a rule, children with difficult behaviour are those who have been deprived of the love of their parents. As a result, I try to organize my work in such a way as to facilitate the participation of these children in the same activities as the other children, and to have their peers act as role models for them. I also try as much as possible to involve children in fighting against some effects of poverty, by encouraging them to make donations and participate in any other way in order to help their classmates, all this with the consent of their parents of course. Sometimes parents are willing to help as well and this is very nice of them. I embrace these challenges and do my best to help and I also encourage others to get involved. In this regard, the support of Terre des hommes has been very helpful.
You have participated in several Tdh projects. Can you name some please? What project activities do you want to highlight in particular? How did they influence you personally and professionally?
For 4 years I have been involved in several Tdh projects. The purpose of these projects is to prevent or reduce the negative effects of migration on children, to combat gender stereotypes and violence, and to involve fathers in the education and protection of children in order to promote positive parenting. We also implemented a program in our school aimed at preventing deviant behaviour amongst children.
But I especially want to highlight the activities carried out during the project "Making the school a child friendly environment for Roma families". This project offered children the opportunity to attend the new Toy Library in the school, which was equipped with many games and teaching resources. Due to the philosophy and the activities of this project, the dropout rates and the level of chronic absenteeism among school children have been reduced. Now, children attend school with much more interest and they are more enthusiastic about everything that happens at school. The project activities have contributed greatly to the development of the teacher-student-parent partnership and relationship. The needs of Roma school students were successfully identified and met in order to help with integrating them and the school provided a safe environment for children and their parents. Here, they can spend time together and participate in different activities, such as psychosocial activities, which help children to improve their self-confidence and overcome difficult situations through games and communication.
Throughout all the projects I participated in, I received training and continuous support, and gained enormous experience. In the school, I help with the functioning of the Toy Library; I organize thematic activities with children and parents, and different special events.
In your work, what approaches and methods have you identified as efficient in working with children? And what is the secret for a healthy teacher-student relationship?
During my activities, I tend to combine classical/traditional and modern methods in working with children. A very efficient method is to capture the attention of children, by making the classroom a relaxing and caring environment in which children feel more confident in their ability to absorb knowledge. I really enjoy talking to children and finding out what their needs are. During the conversations they loosen up, feel more uninhibited and express themselves more openly, and they like to joke around. Once relaxed, children can be more easily involved in the learning process and in other exciting and useful activities. During a conversation with a teacher, children gain confidence and want to show their positive qualities.
In my opinion, the secret for a healthy teacher-student relationship is that the teacher must act as an example. We are not just another source of knowledge about chemistry or any other subject, but we also promote values, attitudes, we offer children a sense of belief in their own abilities and a sense of initiative.
How do you approach the relationship with the children's parents? What kind of activities do you organize with them? What recommendations do you give to parents?
In addition to the sessions during which the general requirements for high school and some class issues are addressed, in recent years I have been organizing thematic activities with parents and meetings involving parents and children together. The thematic activities are more interactive and require the active participation of parents. During these we discuss different important topics such as effective communication with children, positive discipline, children's age peculiarities, the effects of violence on children, and managing children’s difficult behaviour. These meetings are something relatively new for parents and I am very pleased that more and more parents are interested in participating in them.
The sessions involving parents and children together are also very interesting - parents have reacted positively as the sessions give them the chance to get to know their children in a new light. Often parents become more open during the sessions, they do not hesitate to ask difficult questions and to share ideas – things they would not normally do in other circumstances.
I strongly recommend parents to have patience in educating their children and to avoid authoritarian parenting.
You mentioned that you are participating in a project on gender equality and promoting fathers' involvement in child protection. How have these ideas been received in the community? How did you try to engage fathers?
In traditional families, fathers generally have the final word with regard to the education of children, or any other issues involving children. Luckily, it was relatively easy for me to involve children’s fathers in school activities. For example, during the activity "I want to be like my father" children talked about their fathers’ work, and, in turn, fathers spoke about their children’s abilities and talents. These activities are interactive and create better ties of trust between participants. This way, children have a chance to better understand their parents and vice versa, and the teacher acts as a liaison between them.
Children from several ethnic groups, including Roma children, attend the school where you work. These children are often victims of discrimination, which makes it difficult for them to stay in the education system. In your view, what would be the most effective method to facilitate the participation of Roma children in the education system and their social integration?
I think that it is very important for teachers to closely observe children’s behaviour, to understand their needs, and to invest in their capacities so they feel they are appreciated and can express themselves freely. Taking into account the fact that most Roma have great musical and choreographic skills, I try to develop their talent. When we organize different events, we involve Roma and non-Roma parents in the preparation of costumes and in writing the script, so everyone can enjoy contributing together. Small initiatives like this inspire and promote inclusion and mutual appreciation. In addition, I encourage children to strive hard and I am confident that they can get good results in other areas as well. I am patient, and provide them with all the additional support they need. Also, as mentioned above, the Toy Library is a special space for children, where they can play and learn together without being separated into categories – Roma and non-Roma. The mutual respect between children is there, and it is really rewarding to see them communicate and collaborate in a friendly manner.
How do you act in difficult cases when you notice that a child is suffering?
Regretfully, I have to admit that there have been several cases when children with tears in their eyes told me about the abuse and neglect they were subjected to in the family or in the community. I don’t overlook these kinds of situations and immediately refer them to the guardianship authority and then attend all the stages of the cases. At a certain stage, I can help by making home visits to have a better understanding of why children are treated in such a way and of how to improve their situation. In some cases, I go together with the community police officer, the social assistant and other professionals.
What would you recommend to other teachers? – What should a teacher NOT be?
A teacher must have the right professional skills and abilities and must act by example for his/her students; he or she must be able to teach in a way that is interesting for children, must show great compassion and understanding and must nurture their children with positivity and encouragement. And last but not least, a teacher must never be indifferent!
I wish all the best to teachers and to those who want to become one, it is an interesting journey!