Peter Petrovič, Kindergarten Teacher in Martin: What I learned alongside experienced teachers in England

In his youth, Peter went to Britain, where he worked as an Au-Pair, and continued his education at a secondary pedagogical school in London. This was actually Peter’s second high school experience, while he also worked in a kindergarten, loving the opportunity to work with young children. Very naturally and spontaneously, he came to the decision to continue his studies at one of the best colleges of education in the world. As a graduate of this specialized school, Peter worked in a variety of preschools in London, including some in England’s poorest neighborhoods…

Join us as we talk to Peter about England, studying abroad, and the things he learned while there.

When you first moved to the UK, you worked as an Au-Pair. Then you decided to apply to a secondary pedagogical school. This was already your second high school. What did you learn there?

Yes, after arriving in England, I managed to find a position at an excellent kindergarten in one of the poorest neighborhoods in London – Hackney. My new employer offered me the opportunity to go to school—Hackney Community College—and he even paid for it! I worked during the day and studied part time, and after two years, successfully completed the course. This program was designed especially for educators who want to expand their knowledge in the field of pre-primary education and become familiar with the British preschool curriculum. Students are assessed through traditional testing, but also by being observed in their work with the children in the workplace. This was my first opportunity to work with teachers who dealt with students differently than what I was used to in post-communist Slovakia (although I must admit that in the high school, we had professors who were also trained in this way).

Can you be more specific? What was the biggest difference in how these teachers worked with the students?

The relationship between teacher and student in England is more friendly, things are taught through dialog, and the teachers are always accessible to the students. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and are able to contribute to the subject. Even when I was being observed in the workplace, the instructors acted in a relaxed way, which was reflected in my performance and the atmosphere in the classroom (when children were present). Not only did I get the grade but the teacher took the time to give verbal feedback, and not just for negative comments. (I, unfortunately, was used to the negative kind of feedback from Slovakia–”You do not know the answer? You fail!”).

You got to attend high school in England, and then were able to study in the bachelor and master’s program at the Faculty of Education at University College: London (Institute of Education) – one of the best pedagogical schools in the world. What a great opportunity for you!

Yes, I had this opportunity thanks to my employer. The school was established in 1902 as the Faculty of Education. Today it leads the world in education, social sciences, and applied social research.

Because of your successful completion of your studies, you worked as a teacher in various preschools in London. You mentioned schools in poorer neighborhoods?

I worked in neighborhoods with the highest rates of deprivation and poverty in London and throughout England. Families in these neighborhoods are predominantly socio-disadvantaged. Children from these areas do not have the same opportunity for education as do children from wealthier quarters, mainly because of the socio-cultural conditions. The population in these neighborhoods is ethnically diverse and includes many cultures and religions. I found that children in these area have more respect for the sample toys which are played and for the environment where they spend their time.

What is your opinion of Christian education?

I believe that Christian values such as compassion, honesty, respect for others, respect for nature, the need for forgiveness, coincide with the values of other decent people. Children should be brought up as spiritual beings, not just as creatures surrounded by material values. In addition to that, children who are educated in this way, grow and develop moral principles. If this is not the emphasis in education, children will grow up as ‘hogs,’ becoming people who chase after goals, regardless of the type. We want children who will learn to treat others properly and with respect.

What do you imagine a quality nursery school in Slovakia would look like? What should it provide?

I worked in many nurseries in England. Some of them were at a very high level and others were weaker. The best nurseries were based on the principles of respect, responsibility, self-reliance, and friendly community. The environment, activities, and curriculum had been established and set with respect to the best interest of the children. They were equipped to give children time and space for free play, so they could explore and discover on their own.

Playing games as a mean of teaching is often time-consuming. In addition, each school is subject to state policy and must follow the public education program…

Unfortunately, in many cases these plans are drawn up by ‘experts’ who have never worked in a kindergarten. The problem today is there is too much of an emphasis on testing and evaluation focused solely on student’s performance.

Yes, that’s how it is. What would you suggest?

High-quality preschools should provide high quality services to their clients, that is, for our youngest pupils, but also for their parents. It is important that workers have a good relationship not only with the children but also with the parents. They should work closely together. Educators in preschool institutions should have the opportunity for professional growth and they should be properly evaluated. Finally, they should allow preschool children enough time and space for uninterrupted free play, which at their age is very important.

What do you see as the major positive difference in the environment at our Evangelical kindergarten in Martin?

I think we have an excellent management team at our nursery, and a great atmosphere. We are all trying to get along well together and if there are problems, we solve them together. We also try to involve parents in the life of our kindergarten. The parents are great; they are happy to be involved and actively support us. I hope all this is reflected in the personal growth of the children and that the parents are satisfied with our work.

As Comenius said: “Everything depends on the beginning. First, you lay the foundation, then everything goes from there.”

This one question has interested me from the first: Why, after 16 years living in England, did you decide to return home to Slovakia?

We knew the situation in Slovakia is not all rosy, but we evaluated all the pros and cons and made the decision. The main reason we returned was for our families and friends. It was great in England, but I always knew I wanted to go home eventually. 16 years was enough. It was a great experience and I had the opportunity to study at a prestigious university and make lots of new friends from all over the world. Because of these experiences, I have gained new knowledge in the field of education. I am excited about using these things here in Slovakia.

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