Přeskočit na hlavní obsah

Fulbright Teaching Excellence Training Just in Time

Zdeňka Zvoníčková teaches English and Italian language at Gymnazium Tišnov. During the last school year, Zdeňka was one of the four high school teachers, who represented the Czech Republic at the six-week Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement (TEA) training program in the U.S. Together with a colleague from Děčín Nursing School, Zdeňka returned home in the middle of March, few hours before Czech borders closed as a result of the pandemic outbreak. Coincidentally, the U.S. training came in very handy when Czech high schools suddenly closed down, and education moved to the online world.

Dear readers,

I am a Fulbright TEA alumna and I would like to dedicate these few lines to my experience at Kent State University, where I participated in a training program on media literacy and critical thinking during last spring. I would like to share how I managed to implement what I had learnt at the training into my lessons and how I passed it on. It was a special time in my life, which brings back a lot of memories, and it has influenced and shaped me in many ways.

The first big surprise came when I was selected for the program and my dream started to slowly transform into reality. After an introductory week the training started to take pace and we were attending our classes, starting to work on our projects, experiencing the American culture and hospitality, shadowing high school teachers and witnessing how schools and students worked. At times it was really overwhelming but at the same time exciting. We were working with some of the greatest people I have ever had the chance to get to know in my life, and making new friendships with other grantees, most of which were to last more than just the American adventure. We also found that although we came from many different backgrounds and had different issues to tackle in our home environments, we were in the same boat – we all viewed our teaching professions as noble missions to educate and pass knowledge to students, stir up their interest and help them develop critical thinking skills. And all of us felt that, just like students, teachers should continue their education and not get stuck in their “old” ways.

Our classes included General Academic Seminar,
Media Literacy and Technology. Before I came to Kent, I had had some concerns about the Technology class as I had never been great with technology. However, the class turned out to be a real eye-opener. We learnt so much in such a short time and a whole new world of different apps and possibilities opened to me, which made my previous teaching seem rather dull in comparison to the engaging and fun classes that I could plan with different technology tools.

As to General Academic Seminar it was all about lesson planning and organization and methods of assessment. Also, I really admired my Fulbright colleagues and their ideas for engaging lessons so General Academic Seminar was a great for sharing experience.

When it comes to our Media Literacy class I think it is only now that I can truly appreciate its value. I had never realized before how much disinformation and fake news there was and how we, people, are so prone to believe anything we read and take information for granted without questioning it and taking into account its author, its purpose and fact checking it. Also, to counter stereotypes as presented in media with respect to gender, race or ethnic groups so media literacy has become an important part of my English lessons as it can complement them well and is really needed these days.

When I arrived home, it was the beginning of March lockdown. I was looking forward to implementing what I had learnt in the US and the coronavirus situation with schools closed was just the right time to start using my newly acquired knowledge of technology and apps in my online lessons. I organized my students and assignments on Google Classroom, assigned speaking practice on Flipgrid, did video puzzles ane listenings on Edpuzzle, motivated students to get better at reading with ReadTheory.org and made great presentations with Padlet. Most students viewed the use of technology as a pleasant contribution and enrichment of their lessons but of course I received some complaints regarding having to sign up into many different websites. I also gave webinars to my colleagues but also other teachers in the Czech Republic how to use certain technology apps in their classes and I was soon rewarded for that – my son, who studies at the school I work for, was soon making Flipgrid videos for his French lessons, Edpuzzle videos for his English classes and improved his English reading skills in ReadTheory.org assigned by his English teacher. So I like to think that there were many more students in other schools as well who benefited from my experience.

Now we are experiencing another lockdown in the Czech Republic, once again bound to our home desks and online lessons. The school where I work made some preparations for the second wave and the online lessons, now compulsory, are reduced in number compared to the students' regular schedule so they do not spend all day sitting at their laptops. We all learnt a lot in the spring and now although no-one is happy about the situation and it is hard for everyone, if anything seems to be working better these days, it is online teaching and learning. Most students have their own devices which they use for lessons and homework and assignments and if not laptops, they all have at least their mobile phones. I can also see improvement in this area, as in March a lot of students had problems with their devices, in general complaining of having to share laptops with other family members, wifi problems, mics not working, but most of them or their families seem to have found some solution. I also see that the students have a more responsible approach to their studying partly because they are now compulsory but they have also realized that what they used to take for granted and sometimes found annoying is now available in a limited form and they must take more responsibility for their own education. I hope that in a way it will be beneficial for them one day as most of them had not appreciated the true value of education enough before and this situation made them more aware of its importance. It is the area of education where, more than ever, students' own motivation and initiative is crucial.

It is not easy for us teachers either as some of my colleagues still struggle with technology and this sudden change puts a big strain on them. But in general, I would say that it is important to be open to new things, to accept them and to adapt to the new situation. This is easier said than done though. My best advice is to work hard and try to make up to our students all the hardships and frustrations they are experiencing these days. It is important that they have their “routine”, 

it is a different one but it provides some stability in their lives. I also find that keeping myself busy and doing something meaningful, which educating definitely is, helps me take my mind off things which are happening, so although I also sometimes grind my teeth and wish it was all over and we could come back to our normal lives again, I know that complaining and doing nothing is not the key.

So take care, dear teachers, scholars and Fulbright grantees and staff members all over the world. Remember, we are all in the same boat and I do believe that it will find its safe harbour soon, we just need to be patient for a little more while. And if you want to reward yourself, apply for the Fulbright TEA program. My experience was unforgettable. 

To find out more about the Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program (TEA), follow our website and social media. A new call for TEA applications from Czech high school teachers will be announced in December of this year.