• July 30, 2014
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Teodor Linkiewicz: „The future of Polish schools depends on parents”

The 29th July was the last day of work for Teodor Linkiewicz, senior specialist in the Department of Education of the local government in the Trakai District Municipality. He worked for almost 40 years as a teacher, a headmaster, the Head, Deputy Head and a specialist in the Department of Education and now he retires. Teodor Linkiewicz, having gathered a lot of experience throughout years of work, looks back in time and talks with us about education, how did it change, what is the role of a teacher and what is the future of Polish schools in Lithuania.

Let us start with a traditional question: How did it all begin?

When I finished the Secondary School in Lentvaris, I worked for a year in a factory producing carpets, then was the Vilnius Technical School, only then the Vilnius Pedagogical Institute. I loved history, I thought a little about studying Law, but finally I have chosen history, I was the only Pole in my group among Lithuanian students. I was allowed to take the entrance exams in Russian language, which then was the official one, but from the very beginning I tried to take all exams in Lithuanian. After the first year I had excellent grades and an increased educational grant. My work as an educator began in the Secondary School in Grigiškės, I have spent there five years. Then, for a year, I worked again as a history teacher in the school in Lentvaris. In 1981 I received an offer to take up an appointment as the Headmaster of a Polish-Russian secondary school. A mere five years later I was responsible for almost 90 educational institutions as the Head of the Education Department of the local government in Trakai District Municipality. It was a large region, from Grigiškės to Dusmenys. There was almost 14 thousand students (now about 4 thousand, author’s annotation).

In the 1990s a Pole could not be the Head of the Department of Education. You were offered the post of the Deputy Head.

The post of the Deputy Head was created. As a superintendent of schools I was responsible for all national minority schools. After one of the inspections carried out by famous at that time inspector Danguolė Sabienė the Polish schools were divided among other specialists working in the department. And so it continues to this day. After few years the posts of Deputy Heads were gradually eliminated. Then I was appointed a specialist in the Department. However, quite often, especially after political upheavals, I performed duties of the Head of the Department of Education, sometimes for a year, sometimes for half a year. I have never stood for election as the Head of the Department of Education. As a nonpartisan person in the Trakai region I would not stand a chance.

The local government is the owner of the schools in the region, the Department of Education should be the authority that monitors, supervises, supports and provides advice and guidance to the schools. Does it work in such a way?

The Department of Education consists only of few people who deal with paperwork preparing resolutions for the Council of the local government. The analysis of the schools’ work is done by newly established institutions costing schools a great deal of many which after an inspection will issue a routine statement. It must be changed. Changes in the schools in Lithuania proceed slowly. There were and unfortunately still are attempts to implement western educational systems to schools in Lithuania. I believe that changes in the system are needed, but we should take into consideration the specificity of our country, our mentality and the general standard of education. Few years ago a school applying for the gymnasium status should meet 270 requirements, few years later 180, now supposedly 60 is enough. However, when we compare percentage results of two Lithuanian schools in our region – the Secondary School in Aukštadvarisand and Vytauto Didžiojo Gymnasium in Trakai – the differences between them are unnoticeable, but the school in Aukštadvarisand is fighting for its existence. The Department of Education of the local government’s administration is today carrying out completely different functions. Our work is like the work of any other department of the local government, although only our department is responsible for other organizations. There is too few employees, visits and meetings at schools, the teachers’ work leaves a lot to be desired.

Recently Polish educational institutions in the Trakai region have been fighting with determination for their existence and parents want their children to be taught in Polish.

The future of Polish schools depends only on parents. If Poles living in the Trakai District are conscious of their identity, tradition and culture, the schools will survive. Every Polish school in the Trakai region has its strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps the schools should be more promoted, even by the means of advertising so that the students would be proud of their school and their achievements. Let’s not forget that not only teachers of Polish language should care about Polish language, every teacher should speak in Polish and require students to use Polish properly. The “Polishness” should be for a them a value to foster, to take care of.

Recently we have been facing not only migration of parents with children abroad, but also frequent changes of school even within the same region.

A change of school is a result of competition and lack of cooperation. The implementation of a system according to which the financing of a school is dependent on the number of students in the school has transformed schools into commercial companies where the client is always right. Of course, sometimes such change is the only solution to a complicated problem, but in most cases it is caused by ignorance and disagreement. The next school will be different, but not necessarily better. For few years now the Secondary School in Trakai organises regional teaching conference, but so far there are only declarations of cooperation. Because of the ongoing battle for a student constructive cooperation between school management and teachers in the schools in the Trakai region is impossible to achieve.

Who is a good teacher?

A teacher who is able to speak to the students. Maybe I am a Conservative, but I believe that a word of the teacher is the most powerful tool. Not a picture, device or an experiment, but a word should be the starting point. The motivation of students begins with the cooperation with the teacher. The result is the outcome of the cooperation. Today the employees of the Department of Education do not deal with lessons observation, teaching consultations are not held. The school’s administration is now responsible for those tasks, but it should concern not only demonstration lessons, it should affect the whole system, the work performed by the teacher every day during every lesson. There is too much ready materials available on the Internet resulting in little possibilities to develop creativity. Analysis of the subject Olympiads shows that often one child is representing a school in all subjects. Where is the rest? An exceptionally talented child is able to do that, but what about the work of a given teacher with a given child? The cause of such situation is often lack of financing, the teacher is paid for only one hour devoted for all competitions and subject Olympiads. It means that rest of the work should be done for free… I know cases when the teacher tells students that they should take private lessons (given by the very same teacher). Such situation in which students are forced to take those paid private lessons is simply unacceptable. Unfortunately it occurs also in our region. Generally speaking, we can assume that the teachers feel nowadays unappreciated. By the government, because the salaries do not increase, by the school management, because headmasters remain in their posts for many years and by parents who want their children to be taught and brought up without any effort made by parents and children. The problem of the burnout syndrome is mentioned also quite often. Young capable people right after finishing school do not want to study pedagogy. For few years now nobody is willing to become a teacher of physics, chemistry and biology. It is hard to predict the future, but who will teach when the current generation of teachers will retire?

Recently there has been much talk about the children with special education needs.

The integration of such children, commonly introduced in Europe, does not develop particularly good in Lithuania. There is a lack of qualified specialists. A teacher feels quite lost when he or she has 30 students in the classroom, four very talented, who also have special education needs, and few handicapped and should teach them all equally good. It is manageable only in theory, in practice we need a complete different approach to teaching those children. Perhaps a separate, specialised institution, where children could find help they need. In other countries each child with special education needs has own specialist (or even specialists) sitting next to him or her during lessons. In such conditions they achieve results we can only envy.

The word ‘pensioner’ does not describe you well so I will not ask you about the plans for retirement, but rather about plans for the future.

I am going to have a rest, visit my children and grandchildren, who unfortunately do not live in Lithuania. My daughter Bożena is an odontologist and lives together with her family in Poland, my son is an economist, works is an American company and lives in Ireland. I need few months to settle some matters. Maybe I will have a part-time job in my profession, but those are distant plans. Taking advantage of the opportunity provided by Kurier Wileński I would like to thank headmasters Barbara Kosinskienė, Józef Kwiatkowski, Krystyna Dzierżyńska, teachers and parents for a 40 years long cooperation.

Translated by Maciej Jóźwiak within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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