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Being a mentor = a school year full of adventure by Veronika Kyselová

Veronika Kyselová is an English teacher at the High School of Informatics and Services in Dvur Kralove nad Labem. This year, Veronika has been a mentor of our English Teaching Assistant, Alanna Powers. During the school year, Veronika and Alanna taught many English lessons in tandem. Veronika shares her experience about what it feels like to be a mentor, and she sums it up as, "You reap what you sow."


You wake up one morning and feel to have a little change in your life, in your professional life. Going to the headmaster and finding out that you can be a part of Fulbright programme seems challenging to me. Our headmaster Mr. Vojtěch has always inclined to innovations and new things, that´s why he was opened to this idea and supported the plan. Then in April I received an email from Fulbright Commission proving that our school had been chosen. I was over the moon. There were not many students in my classes who had spoken English to a native speaker. For several of them, it could be their first time in their lives. After reading the first email by Alanna Powers, we started using Facebook messenger a lot and working on our relationship. I knew basic things about her but in fact I had no idea what the following school year could bring to me and our school.

The day has come (24th August). We went to pick her up at the airport. Suddenly, I saw a cheerful young lady with wavy red hair. I remember helping her with the baggage. She had a load of things and they fell down on the floor as we were trying to help her. It was when I firstly realized she was my cup of tea. And since then a big adventure started. We had a week to get to know each other a bit, so we went to a food festival, rode a bike quite often and cooked together. In fact, we were trying to do similar things as if she was at home. We played badminton, drank beer, wine, went to see a beautiful chateau of Kuks and a lot of others. She was introduced to my friends who spoke English and were eager to speak. We were also invited to our headmaster´s house where we had a great opportunity to make our own pizza in his newly built outdoor oven. This visit made me feel this year would not only be about school and responsibility but also about fun and adventure.


At the end of august, there was a seminar for mentors in Brno. It was very nice to see the people from Fulbright, previous mentors and many other people giving us advice how to be a good mentor and what to do in case of troubles. I really appreciate this seminar. It was so helpful. I took this opportunity and agreed on a mutual project with a secondary school from Hronov (Střední průmyslová škola Otty Wichterleho).

As the time passed by the school year started. Alanna went to introduce herself to many classes and observed for 2 - 3 weeks. After that time she chose the classes where she would be teaching all the year. We started planning our lessons. Sometimes we taught together, made plans, so that after some practice the lesson was like watching an orchestra where everything had its reason and coherence. As our school had been in a process of teaching technique innovations, Alanna helped us a lot to make our intentions of change come true.

As time passed by we focused more on IT technologies and their effective using in our lessons. This approach brought the fruits to our teaching process. The students were always looking forward to our lessons and we as the teachers were motivated. They learned in a different way but still they were making progress. Their initial fear of speaking aloud was gone, at least with some of them, because they knew English was not only a subject at school, but also a way of communication.

Alanna´s best lessons were focused on American places of interest, customs and traditions, food, sports and many others. The students had to read during a lessons a lot, and listen and speak as well and they didn´t mind. Alanna´s Halloween and Thanksgiving lesson finished with standing ovations. The students stood and clapped their hands when she finished. It was awesome.

One day at the end of October, we went shopping for pumpkins together. My husband Rosťa went with us because Alanna´s plan was to buy about 10 pumpkins for her club. Everybody was gazing at us. It is not a typical thing that you buy ten of them. Then after her club two of them were left so that Alanna gave them to my sons and we spent a beautiful evening in our house. I bought her a purple headband with a cat so that she was stylish and we carved the pumpkins together, listened to our favourite songs and drinking special drinks. My sons are only 9 and 11. They could say basic things only but with a knife in one hand and a pumpkin in the other, you do not need to speak a lot. There were so many moments when the words were useless. After carving we decorated the pumpkins and lit the candles inside them and put on the porch. At the end my husband shot fireworks. The moments like these are saved in our memory forever. Alanna was always welcome and had an honest place in our family. 


At the end of November there took place a special event focused on cooperative ways of teaching. It was under the patronage of deputy of regional council president of Hradec Králové – Martina Berdychová. There were about 30 participants who were eager to see how our school used modern methods of teaching. Our English lessons were also included in the programme. Alanna, my colleague Ilona Knutsonová and I showed them one lesson. We conjoined two groups of the first grade – beauticians and massagers together. We demonstrated how to match activities, how to work with the students effectively, how to start and finish an activity, how to use group work and so on. This programme was offered to other Fulbright mentors as well. This event was a success.


Although we worked really hard at school, there were so many other things we did together. On Wednesdays we attended yoga lessons in the ZOO with a yoga mistress Gal Haimy. Instructions were in English, which was a big advantage. After final meditation there was a quick round where we shared our emotions of the week, like mental purification. Other experience was a special 6 - week programme offered by a civil society association MAS Královédvorsko. It was Expressive Arts Therapy Workshop with Gal Haimy as a lector where we improved our communication skills, focused on art activities, psychological games, dancing and moving activities etc.

December was dedicated to Christmas preparation. Alanna spent the evening of the 5th December with us and was surprised by Mikuláš, devils and an angel who came to our house. Alanna was so excited about their arrival, maybe horrified when she saw them coming closer and closer. I had to laugh a lot because my kids knew it was fun. My younger son, who is always cracking jokes, said “Take me to hell, that sounds fun!” Then, it was Alanna´s turn. It was so surprising for me when she started to recite a poem. She was given a little present and looked as happy as a small child. One of the devils was my husband but she didn´t know it at first. Eventually, we finished in our Wine cellar, having shots and talking about this special day with the devils.

The other day was quite busy because we were making Christmas cookies for colleagues. Alanna brought her mother´s recipe. I have never made any American cookies before and I have to say I was delighted. Not only they looked great, they were even so delicious!

A few days after we were invited to make a special Christmas conversation lesson for pupils of 8th grade (14 yrs old pupils) at a primary school in Dubenec - a small village close to Dvůr Králové nad Labem. Then we found a short article in a local newspaper about how much the school appreciated our visit.


Alanna offered English conversation lessons to staff who wanted to improve their speaking skills. Moreover, she had another group of my husband and a deputy head - Ilona Petráčová – beginners. Other interesting thing was an American Club – informal meetings with students offering a view into American culture, life, movies, cooking – everything they wanted to speak about.


After Christmas the ball season started. Alanna accepted offers to a few students´ proms where she was always surrounded by the students. Sometimes I say to myself: “Where did she take so much energy?”. She always went to parties and balls with us and with the others. One day she invited her friend, one of the Fulbright´s mentee to come and see a hunter´s ball taking place in a small village. They won a pheasant and were so happy. I think it was weird to see the tombola – killed deer, boars, pheasants and ducks, cakes, flowers etc. I know it was something uncommon for both of them but I appreciate the fact they didn´t judge. They didn´t say anything wrong, they enjoyed the atmosphere of the ball and also, which is the worst, the drank shots with all our friends, and it was not easy. 

Now, Let´s go back to school and work. As we took part in MAS Královédvorsko (a civil society association), Alanna agreed to join our focus group of English teachers and we started planning workshops for other English teachers of the town and its neighbourhood. Meanwhile, I was chosen as the head of the focus group. I am not sure why, maybe Alanna contributed to this a bit but I was delighted. I could continue talking about all the activities that we did together (web pages translation – Christmas decoration company in Dvůr Králové, special lectures focused on effective ways of learning languages etc.) but it is very important to be aware of other free-time activities she participated in throughout the year. She made friends with other teachers, she had a lot of friends outside the school, she was running for a running club etc., she was a part of our town.

I was very sad about her leave. Alanna had to leave the CR and fly back home to the USA on 22nd March as the Fulbright programme was stopped because of Corona Crisis. My life was turned upside down during several hours. Saying goodbye was so difficult to me. It was heart-breaking although I knew it was the best thing she could do at that time.


Thoughts and wishes are strong and our dreams can come true. It all started with the idea of change, the idea to enjoy the school year. It is June now. I am still in touch with Alanna and I strongly believe to meet her again soon. Everything seems to be much clearer and nicer now. I am so thankful for such an inspiring and adventurous year that pushed me forward. And not only me. It is like opening eyes and broadening the horizon. To sum it up “You reap what you sow”. We worked really hard all the year but now we can say: “It was worthwhile. We did it”.

At this place I would love to thank to my husband and kids for their love and support. I thank to our headmaster Petr Vojtěch for his approach. He always let me do what I wanted and accompanied me to the reception in the residence of American Ambassador in Prague.

I also have to mention my great deputy head - Ilona Petráčová whose enthusiasm for creative activities did not have any limits. I cannot forget about my great colleagues who were so helpful. A big thank belongs to Alanna because she was working so hard, was a professional and very precise. She planned the lessons as I wanted and agreed to participate in everything that came to my mind. I want to thank Fulbright Commission for giving me this opportunity and for great support. A special thank belongs to Kristýna Džmuráňová from Fulbright Commission who was always here and willing to helping us.