The Prague Post Endowment Fund (PPEF), a Prague-based nonprofit organization that has been active in promoting English-language teaching in the Czech Republic since 1992, recently announced the Top 3 picks for its Best Teacher of English Award, which is handed out every year around springtime. Whether deliberate or not, the timing is very appropriate, as the teachers being rewarded are the ones who nurture the talents of their students and help them grow from colorful blossoms to sturdy speakers of the language.
The BTE Awards have been running since 2007, and this year’s three prizewinners were picked from a field of some 50 teachers (from across the country) nominated by backers that included their colleagues, students and supervisors, among others.
The three individuals who received the awards this year are Carolyn Brown (Sunny Canadian International School Prague), Eliška Dordová (High School of Gastronomy, Clothing and Services, Frýdek-Místek) and Lindsay Kawecki (Elementary School Angel, Prague).
Brown and Kawecki are originally from the United States (from the states of Nebraska and Michigan, respectively), and Dordová hails from the Czech Republic’s Moravian-Silesian region in the country’s northeast.
Kawecki first came to Prague about five years ago, shortly after finishing her university studies (she studied English, education and psychology), calling the decision a “no-brainer.”
“I always knew I wanted to live abroad. I think since the first time I found out what Europe was, I was like, “Mom, I’m going to Europe!”
She completed a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Course in July 2010 and says she thought she would only be in Prague for a year. However, like so many others who had come before her, she ended up staying (“Prague stuck its claws in me,” she admits) and calls her current post at the bilingual Elementary School Angel in Prague’s Vinohrady district her “dream job.”
While some of her students come from families in which two languages are spoken at home, the majority of the children in class are native Czech speakers, and Kawecki says she is primarily concerned with helping them gain the confidence to communicate in English by using what they have learned in the classroom.
“By giving a really personal approach, and talking about what’s important to them, and by gearing topics toward their interests,” she says she guides the students along the path that leads them to feel confident using a language that they are exposed to on a regular basis through movies, television and music.
For Carolyn Brown, who while busy with her bachelor’s degree in education in the United States also spent some time studying in the Czech Republic thanks to a full scholarship from the Czech Education, Youth and Sports Ministry, communication is key, and she says she works hard to get all of her students to speak in English as much as possible.
Brown says it is a terrible feeling to hear from anyone, especially her students, that they learned something, be it vocabulary or grammar, and never got a chance to use it. She makes a point of asking her students whether the exercises and activities are working for them or whether they should be modified in any way to maintain everyone’s attention.
There is no doubt that Brown’s ebullient personality keeps the class full of energy, and she says she was drawn to teaching at a very young age, in no small part because she was raised in a family full of teachers.
Brown has also found language in general an appealing field of study, and besides her intensive study of the Czech language, she focused on language development, specifically speech language pathology, in her studies. But she says English was always her favorite subject, “ever since I was little, and I guess I knew that I wanted to specialize in something [rather than be a full classroom teacher],” and even though she never did a TEFL course, her interest in teaching English prevailed.
Having spent the past three and a half years at Sunny Canadian International School Prague in the capital’s southeastern suburb of Jesenice, Brown is now eyeing a master’s degree in elementary education with an endorsement in teaching English. She says her personal connection to the Czech Republic plays a very important role in her being here (she has Czech ancestry and was very involved in Czech groups when she lived in Nebraska), and for the moment she calls both Prague and her hometown of Omaha “home.”
The Czech-born recipient of the BTE Award this year is Eliška Dordová. She attended school in the United States as a 10-year-old and says she sees it as an advantage that she, as a Czech speaker, is teaching English to Czech students. “I believe it is quite an advantage to have the ability to expect what [the students] may think about, and what problems they may have during the [language-learning] process.”
Dordová, who is also an artist, having studied fine arts in Prague and in Patras, Greece, and had her work displayed in solo and group exhibits in Europe and the United States, teaches at the Secondary School of Gastronomy, Clothing and Services in Frýdek-Místek. She says there is a deliberate effort to pull the courses together by concentrating on the specialized vocabulary that the students encounter in Czech in their many other courses, which range from clothing design and cosmetics to tourism, economics and management.
In a similar vein, Kawecki uses regular “workshops” at her school, in collaboration with the respective teachers of the students’ other disciplines, to drill down into the English vocabulary of the topics currently being tackled in the rest of their subjects.
According to Dordová, being a teacher is akin to having a mission in life. “I feel I am actually doing something for the future, and I love it,” she says and suggests that caring about the future is a guiding principle in her own life, as she is also the mother of three children.
“Both art and teaching are not so much jobs as they are missions. They are both needed to feed humans’ hunger for goodness, knowledge and pleasure.”
In a press release, the PPEF Project Manager Bibiána Cunningham explains that during “the evaluation, we focused on progressive teaching methods such as communicative language teaching or total physical response, as well as the ways in which the teachers maintain and further develop their professional language expertise, how they take part in the creation of the curriculum, their concrete targets for the current school year, the student evaluation program and their extramural school activities.”
All three women say they are both inspired and humbled by the recognition of their work. “Sometimes people think, ‘Oh, you just teach English,’ but there is a lot more to it,” Kawecki says. “[The award] makes me feel more excited. ... It is something I will always remember, and it will be really helpful in the future for what I want to do.”
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