- August 4, 2014
The Headmaster of the Adam Mickiewicz Lower Secondary School in Vilnius: “I have a double sentiment associated with this school”
The community of the Adam Mickiewicz Lower Secondary School in Vilnius has many opportunities to celebrate this year. It has been the 25th anniversary of giving the school the name and 15 years of acquiring the gymnasium status. This year, 35 years will have passed since Czesław Dawidowicz became the headmaster of the school in Krupnicza street.
Photo: the Headmaster of the Polish school in Krupnicza street, Czesław Dawidowicz, said goodbye to his 35 promotion
You have worked entire 40 years in this school…
I do not attach an importance to anniversaries because I think that life goes on not because of anniversaries, important dates but it goes on every day. Every single day and year are important and that is why I think that anniversaries are not that significant.
However, you cannot ignore the fact that the Adam Mickiewicz Lower Secondary School in Vilnius as the first Polish school in Lithuania received the status of gymnasium.
Applying for receiving the gymnasium status was a grassroots initiative of schools that wanted to work in a slightly different way. We were one of the first schools in Vilnius where teachers tried to work according to the authorial programme and the school – according to its own, self-created programme. Nowadays, getting the status of gymnasium is pretty easy: certain simple conditions should be met and the title is granted. 15 years ago, teachers had to demonstrate their potential, i.e. write the authorial programme which was evaluated according to the difficult criteria. With some difficulties, that is true, but we received the status of the first gymnasium in Lithuania.
In my opinion it was a very difficult step. Difficult in a sense that it required a lot of effort and energy. Today, in retrospect, we can see that it had a positive impact on our teachers.
For many years the school has been at the forefront of best schools, not only Polish ones but also others. What does make this success?
Polish schools in Lithuania do not make the recruitment and that means that there is no selection of students. When talking about the high achievements of the Vilnius High School or the Lower Secondary School in Žirmūnai, it must be remembered that these institutions take one candidate out of five. All Polish schools have the same start. Anyone who wants to go to school can do that. During the first years we did the recruitment of students to the Lower Secondary School classes in the same way. Now, however, everyone can come to us, as well as to all Polish schools.
What sets us apart from other schools is the fact that we manage to motivate students to learn, we help them to catch this bug as well as to realize that they need to learn because it is the key to the future. Without the motivation it is impossible to achieve high results. There may be the best teaching staff with the best conditions for learning, the most active parents but if you cannot motivate the student, the results will not be high. On the other hand, the teaching staff is also important. 7 teachers in our school are the authors of textbooks, we have methodologists and experts who work in the committees in the Ministry of Education and others. However, the students are the most important.
Many people say that the youth of today is worse. Or maybe they are just different? How do you see that from the perspective of 40 years working at school? How does the youth change?
Every person who is associated with school will answer that the youth is different. But I do not know whether it is better or worse. I remember that 20 years ago I led lessons in a few Polish secondary schools in Gdynia and Warsaw and I had no problem with relating to students, receiving the answer or activating them. In contrast, teachers that came to us from Poland said that our youth was introverted and timid. Today’s youth does not have such inhibitions. Our only problem is to direct their activity to the right track. Today’s youth is more open, bold and well-versed. They do not need to be told where to go to college because they are well informed. Young people immediately find schools in England and see if the University of Essex is better than the one that they have elected. Young people are as noble, good and patriotic as they were in the past.
Being a headmaster of Polish educational institution in Lithuania is a special mission because apart from teaching, a school should also take care of the preservation of traditions among students.
So much depends not only on the management of the school but also on the environment and the family. Polish schools in Lithuania, including ours, cultivate traditions from which we grow. That is all what is our foundation – the culture and the language of parents.
Today I was asked whether we need to persuade parents and a Polish child to go to Polish school. Firstly, we cannot persuade. When someone tells me: “I think that maybe I can bring my child to your school”, I reply: “Please think about it”. I never say “yes, come to our school”. I avoid such situations because such decision should be made by parents, not me. I do not persuade but I explain that if a child learn at school which is based on the roots of the child and his parents, it will be much easier for him to achieve something and find himself in this world. I think that parents make a mistake when they negate the possibility of child’s education in their mother tongue and when they choose a school with different teaching language. Polish school is important not only for a reason that we speak Polish and there is a Polish band and theatre here. Just because it is stuck in the roots while being a competitive school in Lithuania. If we compare national results and results of Polish schools in Lithuania, we will see that Polish school is a good and competitive one. Because of this fact it is worth choosing.
A quarter of a century with the name of Adam Mickiewicz…
The inspiration to give our school the Adam Mickiewicz name was very prosaic. Probably in 1965 one family from Latvia presented a very valuable and large nineteenth-century portrait of Adam Mickiewicz which was brought to our school. The Lithuanian Art Museum wanted to buy it but donors insisted that it should be in the school and it was brought to us. And when in a place of the old school a new building was built, the portrait determined the choice of the patron of the school. Even previous headmaster said that we should give the school the name and it would be good to choose the name of a famous Pole, associated with Lithuania. Adam Mickiewicz is the best example of such person.
We try to apply his example in everyday situations, we are not limited to the celebration of the day of our patron, in this case it is 24th of December – the day of his birthday. The oath of students and the most important ceremonies are closely related to Mickiewicz. The certificates are also handed under his portrait. Nevertheless, this year was the exception.
We were leaving systematically to Навагрудак. It became a tradition that all new students celebrate the initiation ceremony at Свіцязь Lake. Every year in late September a few coaches with students leave for Навагрудак and Свіцязь Lake. All this unites us and bring us back to Mickiewicz.
The school is particularly especial for you because you attended it as a student. Does this familiarity help or hinder to manage the school?
I have a double sentiment associated with this school. On the one hand I work here and on the other in this school I used to learn. This close relation is stuck in me. It is possible that in some cases it may even disturb because you cannot attach so firmly to something. You need to be able to keep the distance. But I hope that it does not bother me and I can look at all the school issues from a distance. After all, it seems to me that the school and I are fused. A man has to be a local patriot.
You have been managing the school in Krupnicza street for 35 years already. Do you remember your feelings and intentions at the time of acquisition the headmaster’s duties?
When I succeed this post I knew which work I have to do. Our school was a really good one. The Wł. Syrokmla Secondary School was the leading institution at that time. But there was such an indicator which today may seem ridiculous but it reflected some things. On its basis schools were assessed. It was called the socialist competition. Our school was at the highest rate of Polish schools.
Succeeding the post of the headmaster, I focused primarily on physical facilities of the school. At that time, enormous changes took place in this field, i.e. instead of ordinary classes laboratories began to establish. I am really glad that we managed to do it. At the same time we managed to improve the foregoing aesthetics of the school. These were the first years of my work. I did many things everywhere. Just like today. You cannot lose any aspect. But the school equipment was the most important issue for me and within few years I managed to ensure that the teaching process was adjusted to modern times. At time, slide projectors were fashionable as well as cameras for displaying movies. This equipment probably raises a laugh today but at that time it ameliorated the teaching process. I focused on school equipment and I admit immodestly that I think that I was able to accomplish that to some extent.
Which traits should the headmaster of twenty first century have?
He must be creative to trigger positive initiatives of teachers. I notice that through my own experience. If we tell teachers that something should be done in a particular way, they will do that. The trick is to awake the initiative in them, the will to act. I think that a good headmaster is the one who does not bother teachers to realise their latest ideas. It does not mean that all of them are suitable for immediate implementation. The headmaster has to sense it most of all. I believe that the most important function is to allow teachers to act.
Secondly, the school should be an organism, not an organisation, where there is a manager, assistants that means deputy headmasters and contractors of the teaching process. Such a concept would be disastrous. The school community is a group, a team. These are not empty words, it should be that way. Only then a good school can be born.
There is another aspect that has always been important – it is the need to further education and skills development. It is sometimes avoided by teachers because they think that because of fact that they have been teaching for many years, they know everything. This tip also applies to me. I try to hone my skills and learn something that I do not know. I try to participate in a training at least once a year.
The holiday period lasts not only for students. Headmasters of educational institutions also have a leave. Do you think about the school during the holiday?
It is very difficult for me because I know that if I do not go anywhere during my leave, I will come to school to see the renovation, I will check the letters which need to be answered or issues that need to be arranged urgently. So I try to run away. I do not take my computer with me in order not to penetrate current issues. However, it frequently takes a week, 10 days. Unfortunately I cannot forget about school for a longer time.
Translated by Anna Piecha within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.