Teachers are waiting for Ukraine


Tetiana Chumak, a teacher of Ukrainian language and literature from Kherson, is a representative of the new generation of Ukrainian teachers who are actively seeking and implementing innovative approaches to teaching and educating students. While working at the School of Humanities, for the last three years she has been a teacher at the School of Superheroes at the Kherson Regional Children’s Hospital.

This educational space for young patients was opened in August, 2020. From the first days, a Unified News Marathon TV host and the 1+1 TV channel host, Natalia Moseychuk has been the curator of the “Superheroes School”.

And so it happens that Tetiana teaches in the haematology department, where she herself was a patient a few years ago.

Becoming a teacher and wanting to be a teacher are two different things

Why did you become a teacher, how did you choose this profession?

To my shame, I did not choose such a profession. In fact, in the eleventh grade, I had a knack for the humanities. Somewhere with a probability of 5%, I thought that I might become a teacher. But I wanted to be a journalist more. And I actually entered the Faculty of Ukrainian Philology and Journalism. My specialization was “teacher of Ukrainian language and literature” with a focus on media linguistics. For some reason, I liked it so much. It was only while studying that I started to want to be a teacher. I have already learned about media linguistics and I realized that pedagogy was still more interesting to me.
In the fourth year, when I went to pedagogical practice at school, I really liked it there. And I still work at that school. Therefore, it seems to me that you cannot know in advance that you want to be a teacher. Many students who were confident that they would be teachers changed their minds after their pedagogical practice.
Not everyone will succeed in it. For example, I would never be a doctor. You need to have a knack for a profession and some personal traits. As for being a teacher, people who do not like communication or noise, will not be able to work as one.
I am so grateful now that I chose this one of the two paths of my life. I am a hundred per cent sure I am where I have to be. Moreover, I was very lucky with the institution I work at. It is a well-known institution in Kherson, in Ukraine as well. This is a signature school. It is also public but it has its own signature curriculum. The school is well-known in Ukraine because we are conducting the only pedagogical experiment in the Kherson region with our programs. Quite a successful experiment. All of our students enter higher education institutions. They pass the external independent evaluation.
That is why, perhaps, fate decides a lot for us. So, I started my pedagogical practice but I changed the institution at the last moment. And so I stayed and I have been getting my pedagogical practice for over five years.

For the last three years, in addition to working at the School of Humanities, you have also been a teacher at the School of Superheroes at the Kherson Regional Children’s Hospital. How did you get into it?

If I’m not mistaken, Kherson was one of the first. The fourth city where the “Superheroes School” was opened. And again, this is the advantage of my institution. Our school is located in the city centre not far from the children’s regional hospital. In Kyiv, for example, I know there are schools in several medical institutions. Kyiv is the capital of Ukraine and there are more hospitals there. On the other hand, all the children who are undergoing long-term treatment stay at the children’s regional hospital of the Kherson Regional Council. And it is just 10 minutes from our school. We are the nearest institution that should take care of its patients. When this project came up, our headmaster, my pedagogical mentor, said we would definitely take part in it. I’m a teacher for children, and he’s a teacher for me because he always keeps up to date with all these technologies. This is a great idea! We were excited and scared.
I shall be honest with you. It is the fear of the unknown. I was not afraid, for example, of the diagnoses. But how will it work? What should we do? And what if the child is very sick? How should I explain it to children? This is what we were not taught at the university. I was 22 at the time. I was quite young and so were my colleagues. This was the policy of our institution. The headmaster thought that we could cheer them up. It is not as much about learning itself as it is about harmony. We wanted it to be pleasant and interesting for children with the help of young teachers. A young teacher is better at finding a way to the students’ hearts. We have a lot of young teachers because it is modern, new technologies and so on. And the director sent us even though we were quite young teachers. All our colleagues love children very much. There is nobody who does not like their profession or just passes the time. Indeed, we love children very much. And with such honour we carried our title to the “Superheroes School”.
We came to the hospital. Honestly, I still don’t know why, but doctors couldn’t let us into the Superheroes School. But we do not have any synergy or cooperation with the hospital. Doctors are busy with their work. Often I would like to talk about the diagnosis of a child and find out about the dos and don’ts. What loads can or cannot be given. This communication is quite rare. Usually, nurses explain it to us.

This is a bit of a sad pedagogical path

What is the difference between working in regular and in hospital schools?

A lesson in a hospital school is around 20 to 25 minutes long. You can’t read for a long time. You can’t overload the children because we work in a haematology department for children with cancer. We work in other departments, too. Only once in my practice, there has been a child from another department. The child had a severe fracture and was hospitalized for 3 months. The child was a 9th grader. We worked with her to the fullest. She could not move because of a fracture, but she was 100% mentally active.
Here it is more difficult because we come to our department and we are always afraid. If we only have some mild symptoms or runny nose, or anything like that, we do not go (to work). We worked like that for about a year in a normal way. We were allowed to enter only after a screening check from the chief doctor of the children’s hospital. My headmaster and I launched this project. Everything was great. We were working.
Then there was Olya, my 9th grader. She is now in the 11th grade. And, by the way, we keep in touch with her. Polina is my girl. She hasn’t returned to the hospital since then. We were working with her for about a year. She spent a year in the hospital. She is being treated, maintaining her health condition. But, I think if she doesn’t come back, she’s getting better. We communicated quite closely with them. These were my first pupils. Maybe that’s why I remember them so dearly. Well, they were undergoing long-term treatment. We were constantly checking in on them. When the “awesome” period of lockdowns and quarantines started, we did not know at first how it would work out. We wanted to put off all the lessons because we were afraid of infecting children for whom the disease could be fatal. By the way, this is my number one fear. Every time I go there, I apply sanitizers from head to toe, and I put on a mask. I use all means of sanitary protection. I go in there and I think, “So help me God!” After that, our communication was tense.

The “Superheroes School” is famous for its modern and comfortable classes in all of its locations. What are your conditions?

Our hospital has an extremely well-equipped classroom with everything you need. There are necessary textbooks. Our school also donates some. We bring them to the hospital and give them away for free. We replenish their library fund. There is an interactive multimedia board. I like playing with younger children during a lesson. Therefore, if it is an elementary class, there is always an interactive presentation because in a hospital school I focus on the students’ interest in the subject. I offer them half an hour or 45 minutes of complete reflection on what is happening to them during the day. Our last visit to the hospital school was in December. Now Vladislav is not in the hospital. In general, our children and I do not have a tight schedule. We have certain days when I go to the hospital. On that day I call the child’s mother to confirm that the child can study, and then I come. But every time the children are happy that we came. And parents are happy, too. And when the child is happy, I really want to go there. In a regular school, children say, “Oh no, another module test.” But here we are a joy for children. This is such a strong incentive to always be alert. Sometimes we went to the hospital on Saturday or on Sunday because the child’s mother asked for it. So, we have complete flexibility, we adjust. But every time it is 100% joy for the child.
But I reassure myself that these diagnoses are curable around the world. Many children overcome it. We always encourage parents and say that the child’s mood depends on their own mood. And we also encourage the child. But we try not to focus on health and medical procedures. We just ask if they can read and write today. Sometimes it seems to me that God picked this profession for me because I am very gentle and I can burst into tears from any sentimentality. But sometimes it’s even worse for a teacher. Maybe sometimes you should be stricter. When I first got to the hospital, I was shocked and thought about how I would work next. And now I am looking forward to each new visit to the hospital because we are always happy and needed there. This is a very cool project. And I’m glad it exists. And I’m glad that Kherson is a part of it. We did not have our own classroom in the first year. When the second year started, there already was a separate classroom for us. It was super equipped. It is sad that there are children who need long-term treatment. If you do not dwell on this, the disease recedes into the background and you do your job with pleasure. You need to love your job in all of its aspects, and also love children.

You need to understand and accept the very fact of childhood

You said that you are gentle, and you need an inner backbone to work as a teacher. How do you keep and restore your inner balance?

There were times when I was taking sedatives. I shall be honest with you. Because I am an emotional person. But school and children are a kind of filter for people who are not able to work at school. I have been working here for 5 years and I can say that I have hardened a bit. You just have to understand that children are children. Accept the very fact of childhood. I often remember myself at that age and what I did in certain situations. Adults often forget about their childhood. I will tell you an interesting fact about my life. When I was a freshman at the university, I was a patient in the haematology department. Then it combined pediatric oncology and children with stomach problems. I had stomach problems. At that time it was a small department where 3 or 4 children with cancer were treated. Five years later, I returned to this department as a teacher. And it was already a separate department. And there were already many sick children. That is, in recent years the number of cancer cases among children in our Kherson region has increased.

As for your question, I am an emotional person. I can get nervous quickly, but I can calm down just as quickly. I do not have any super-depressive or super apathetic states. In general, I recommend an optimistic mindset. We must always live here and now. Enjoy the moments. You need to be a self-sufficient person. Because modern children are individuals. They can check and comment on any information. Therefore, a teacher must not only possess knowledge but also be self-sufficient and confident. This confidence has to be visible. A teacher should have a work-life balance. You need to have hobbies, do sports, be interested in something, travel, and see something new. Such a teacher will be interesting to children. You need to lead a life where you trust God and fate. And you have to do your job very well.

I’m not getting old in my profession

What do you enjoy in life and what fascinates you in your work?

I do sports. It’s not so much a hobby as a lifestyle. This is what every person needs. As a literature teacher, I am always interested in literary new releases. I love modern Ukrainian literature. Now I am reading Sofia Andrukhovych’s works. I consider her a future Nobel laureate. I wish our author worldwide recognition. I don’t think any of our writers really need the Nobel Prize. All Ukrainians need the Nobel Prize to realize that our writers are worth reading. That’s why reading is not my hobby. This is a teacher’s lifestyle. So, if you have a child, start reading Dara Korniy. For some reason, we know Greek or Scandinavian mythology quite well while our own mythology comes second and waits to be learned. Our mythology is vivacious, broad and diverse. I also play an intellectual brain-twister game “Holovolomka” organized by Kherson residents. It’s similar to the “What? Where? When?” game but way more modern, musical and interactive. I am the captain of my own team there. We have the latest certificate for second place. To be honest, it was the first time we got it We have been playing for 5 years. This game has been around for a long time. It takes place in Kryvyi Rih, Kherson, Mykolayiv, and Odesa if I’m not mistaken. Its founders are from Kherson. Everything else is a franchise. I am proud that such a thing happened in Kherson. And I am even more proud that there is a demand for it in Kherson as there are about 30 teams playing, 10 people each. So, many people are into intellectual games.
There can be both modern and classic topics. Our next topic is a classic one, dedicated to writing. Something themed might come up. The game is held every other week. So, now we have 2 weeks to brush up on something because all the time we learn something new. Topics are selected by the organizers. They check the dates of the game. We open a new season twice a year. One from September 1st to December, the other one from January to May. There are also some games in summer, but they are out of the rankings. Just some training programs. The organizers pick special topics on certain dates. Another cool thing is that each themed game is actually a costume play. Teams prepare appropriate costumes for each theme. If it’s a school game, for example, then we all put on school uniforms. We once had a literary game where we all were dressed as Harry Potter. And now we have a writing game. The organizers give bonus points for the costumes and they encourage us to think out of the box and search for different looks. We have been playing like this for five years now. My husband and I attend the games together. This is our family hobby. And in general, I believe that being exclusively a teacher is impossible. You need to be someone else, too. You need to be a friend, a wife, a mother, a sister, and a daughter. Have some hobbies and a mindset to be of interest to yourself and to your children.

What is the most memorable from your pedagogical practice?

There are many sensual moments. But holidays are the most memorable ones. There is a powerful charity project in our school. We raise money and we also held a concert in a theatre before the quarantine. We rented the theatre. Tickets were handed out to parents because they enjoy coming and having a look at their children. We held charity events on St. Nicholas’s Day using the money we raised. Ever since we started working at the Superhero School, our headmaster has been redirecting charitable funds to the hospital. We greeted the children on St. Nicholas Day although it was prohibited to visit the children in person. Many children that day were on drips, on treatments. But whoever could came out to meet us in the hallway. We had gift packages. Both parents and children were jubilant. We just couldn’t hold our tears. There was a little girl who wanted to take photos with us. Although these photos were not for distribution, the parents were not against sharing them.
Once upon a time in the pre-quarantine era, our colleagues went on a pedagogical trip to the Baltic countries, namely Estonia. They had a peep of a cool way of working there. It is called “School Night” for children. This is a super cool event but somewhat difficult for teachers as children need to be organized and engaged. We held such an event for the first time for children in a summer camp. There was a night tour of the city accompanied by police, a disco, and a beauty night where we did makeup and hairstyles. Now I teach in the 7th grade and we also held the “School Night” with them at Christmas. There were a number of events such as a library quest, a school quest, playing Mafia, and a jazz-themed disco. The children were behaving in a way we never witnessed in class. They were all so united all the time. They were a real team. The parents also wanted to come. Especially when I shared our programme for the night, they asked if parents could also hold a School Night. But our school has family gatherings instead of a school assembly. These are the family evenings of the class altogether with children, parents, and teachers. By the end of the event, the children were so exhausted that we could barely get them to bed. We spent the night in the classroom. But they did not want to fall asleep. They couldn’t help but talk. And only around 5 am we finally managed to get them to bed and they fell asleep. They slept until 8 am.
Actually, I keep saying that I am so lucky to work at this institution. Being a teacher here, you do not simply sit tight and you do not grow old here. You always seek something new. This world is constantly evolving. These children also do not live in the present. They live in the future. The teacher is not the only source of information for them. Nowadays, a teacher must be constantly one step ahead and updated on everything both in a hospital school and in a usual one. I agree with the statement that children in the 21st century are being brought up by the 20th century’s teachers on the principles of the 19th century. That should not be the case. Modern children need new principles. This is the advantage of the New Ukrainian School, although it is quite controversial. But the fact that something needs to be changed is clear. And I am glad that it is happening at the national level. Our children are our future. We have to lead them into the future and help them settle there. Therefore, we ourselves also need to try to live in the future all the time.

What are the children in the hospital always excited about?

Everything related to the multimedia board is always exciting. They like poking their fingers into it and painting. I like using multimedia presentations, and children like them, too. What they’re not excited about is long literary works because they have to read a lot. The first thing children do is they look at how many pages there are left till the end. It’s easier with poetry. However, it is also difficult for them to learn it by heart. That’s why I sometimes read it to them myself. Sometimes we read passages in class. They are always up for games but I keep telling them that studies come first, and leisure comes second. It’s also incredibly important not to be too judgmental, to allow these children to push the limits, give a choice, optimism, positivity, and love. This is the main pillar of interaction between a child and a teacher.

Kherson is currently occupied by Russians. What is going on in the “Superheroes School”?

The war has made its adjustments, and the studying at the “Superheroes School” is now suspended. All teachers in the Kherson region are looking forward to a speedy liberation. All of us want to return to the usual and much-desired schooling. Of course, the war has shaken our city and the whole world. At the same time, it has reinforced an even greater love for our country, language, and culture. I do not know what my pedagogical path will look like in future. Whether it will break off, continue in Kherson or somewhere else. Nevertheless, I hope to resume my work in September, spread my love for the Ukrainian language and be involved in the upbringing and recovery of our Superheroes, our children, and our future.

Reference: “Superheroes School!” – is an educational project founded in 2016 by the NGO “Small Heart with Art”. Its goal is to ensure the constitutional right to education of children in inpatient treatment in medical institutions. A Unified News Marathon TV host and the 1+1 TV channel host, Natalia Moseychuk is the curator of the “Superheroes School”. She is promoting school reform in hospitals together with the Right to Education charity team and the 1+1 Media Group.

Since 2019, under the social franchise, the Superheroes School branches have been opened in eight hospitals in Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Kherson, Dnipro, Kharkiv, and Khmelnytsky. To prepare teachers for working in a hospital, the Superhero School team has come up with an online course called “How to Teach Superheroes? An Online Hospital Teacher Training Course” which is available free of charge on the EdEra platform.

In December 2021, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine signed a Resolution on the establishment of the public institution “Superheroes School”.

Since the beginning of the war, we have started to work with a new category of children. Most of them are affected by the war, have severe injuries, lost their limbs, and witnessed the death of their parents. These children, despite the atrocities of war, seek to continue their education while in hospital. Therefore, the Superheroes School continues to operate with the support of the Democracy Commission Small Grants Program of the US Embassy in Ukraine and the Trans-Atlantic Medical Relief Foundation.

The original article can be readon this link.

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