Prepared by LiberaliMagazine
Interviewed by Lika Zakashvili
For the Georgian version please click here
The best teacher of the year – a civic education teacher at Chibati public school – is from Lanchkhuti. For his 17 years of experience, he has worked in 9 different schools. During the interview, we discussed a number of issues: problems of the Georgian educational system, the role of a school and a teacher in children’s lives and on his childhood. We also talked about the reasons why he decided to connect his professional life to school. Lado Apkhazava talked about a number of educational projects that will show you his professional life and the role of teachers for both schools and students.
What does the status of the best teacher mean for you?
These 17 years I have not really worked for winning trophies. I saw the real problems and tried to solve them. I tried to prepare children for the future.
I was not ready for it after my graduation. That is probably because of the lack of education. When I lost both of my parents, I did not know what to do. That is when I realized that I was not ready and equipped for life.
Now I want my students to be prepared for the future, because I know that they would face challenges. I am trying to raise their motivation, strengthen their self-confidence and teach them how to solve problems.
When did you decide to connect your professional life to school? For various reasons, in Georgia, men are less likely to choose this profession.
When I was studying at school, the entire educational system was based on fear. If I did not know the assignment, the teacher told my parents and so forth. Because of that, I thought of changing those approaches as soon as I grew up. I graduated with a degree in economics and when I returned to my village (I also studied at the Theological Seminary), there was an opportunity to teach religion at school. I tried my best to be selected. The most important thing for me was to start working at the school. Every teacher loves students, but along with that, it is crucially important to change something in their lives – for me it was the main motivation. I started making those changes from my classroom.
What do you mean by “changes”?
For example, I took children to Abastumani, we settled in the forest and for 21 days, I held the classes in non-formal environment. Next year, I took with me all the socially vulnerable children of the municipality. I was approaching different NGOs, companies and asking them for some financial support. I had to visit each of them several times. On the 11th time, they could not refuse.
As it appears, throughout your career and professional life as a teacher, you were always trying to raise student engagement and role in learning and teaching processes.
That is why we have started the democratic revolution at school.
I am teaching at Chibati public school. The management saw the importance of its implementation. The school is a small model of the state and besides formal education, student participation is important.
You know that schools have a copied internal regulation from one another. In our school, students were the ones who took care of it. It is important that students determine rules, needs and desires by themselves and reflect everything in the regulation. For this, it was necessary to stimulate students to think, discuss and act. Fortunately, we were able to do that.
Within that same reform, we have created a rating system and involved all the classes from the 7th grade. Throughout the academic year, classes carry out various types of activities, in which they get credit points. Because of this project, every day something new happens in our school. The classes that score at the top are awarded with a two-day excursion.
There have often been cases, when I liked certain resources that were thrown away as a trash. For example, the man in Lanchkhuti was getting rid of a very good, old trunk. Suddenly an idea came to my mind. You know that at school nobody looks at the information desk. We even made some notable statements for students, but nobody read it. I brought this trunk to school and now we put in it important information for students. Now every child opens it and reads the statements on a daily basis.
Was it hard to introduce new initiatives? How did your colleagues meet them?
There were certain difficulties in implementing new initiatives. Georgian teachers are a bit afraid of that. At that stage, it is very important to think strategically. Teachers write history of the school and every one of them are important. They might be mistaken from time to time. However, it is necessary to inform them well. If you explain something well and reinforce discussion with arguments, then you will have the necessary results. Many opposed the rating system, now they realize that it is a good project.
Our school has a small staff. With our activity and good cooperation with the management, our school became successful. Many children come to our school and parents see the results.
It is a tendency that all teachers are waiting for a unique system from the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia that will be equally tailored to private and public schools. No! Every teacher and every school should take care of developing their own system. The one that would fit their own school. A system could not be created in Tbilisi that will suit Guria or Adjara region. Everyone should fit the school to its own community.
There are many problems in Georgian educational system. One of them is teacher participation in the teaching process. They are less likely to show their initiative to make changes in the learning processes by themselves and increase children’s participation through various activities. What do you think is the reason for this problem? Today our schools are still like the ones you described.
I think that the ministry should invest more in the system.
And it will encourage teachers?
I personally do not think that the salary will solve the problem. Many things need to be changed. I think that the ministry makes the right conclusions. They clearly see the pluses and minuses of the existing system. You should not cooperate to the ministry and decision-makers with the negative attitude and strict tone; instead – to explain your problems neatly. It is very difficult to be a minister and define what worries others. Therefore, we have to report the ministry about our needs in Guria. Only salaries could not solve the problem of schools.
What would you say to young people who are trying to avoid working in school?
It is very difficult to be a good teacher, when you are living in an information age. When students get a lot of information and after that you have to take them in the classroom and introduce to new ones. That is why it is more difficult to be a teacher now than a dozen of years ago. If they knew how difficult it is, no one would want to become a teacher. However, they also have to know that teaching is the most dear and warmest profession, that this job brings enormous happiness. After that, everyone would want to be a teacher.
Yesterday, one of my students was attending a teacher prize ceremony. During the award I thought that in case I was awarded my student would see that. It was an amazing moment when my name was announced. I was looking for Elene with my eyes. She was so happy and emotional that I think after this Elene will become a teacher too. Today 102 of my students are studying pedagogy at the university.
Several years ago, in one of the schools where you were working as a teacher, two girls sneaked for a rock concert in Kutaisi. Everyone heard this story. Teachers and the school administration seriously discussed their exclusion. The story was made became so popular that media got interested with it, too. After your victory, the story was spread in social networks. One could clearly see that you are the only one who protects the rights of these children and shows resistance to the opinion of the majority.
I said that every child has the right to education and who are we to infringe that. You are restricting the right to go to school of children who went to the rock band festival on weekends and say that these two children will spoil the others. This was a childish passion. Then others started adding false information and all that turned into a fiction. Anyone who was there had his/her own fantasy about this story.
How much do you try to talk with children about these values?
In order to think about these values, I started the project “No to Hate”. That is how I try to teach my students that diversity is good. It is very important that teachers teach students not only the subject and lessons but, life itself. When I started projects about EU, I was told in Lanchkhuti – Lado, please do our own national job. I think that I am doing a national work and fight that both my country and the region integrate the European values.