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Henry M. Robert

“Teaching is a profession of the future”

How knowledge makes people happy, and other secrets of finalists of the Global Teacher Prize Ukraine competition
10 October, 2017 - 11:44
Photo courtesy of the Osvitoria Association

Wearing luxurious dresses and suits, the teachers who entered the Top 5 of the competition resembled movie stars at the awards ceremony. A red carpet, a limousine, a concert and other celebrations – to reward the best competitor, the event’s organizers from the Osvitoria Association held a great high-society party. In this way, they wanted to show that teachers were important. When communicating with those who entered the Top 5, one wanted to go back to school to learn from such teachers.

The Global Teacher Prize is also known as “the Nobel Prize for Teachers.” It was established in 2014 by the Arab-Indian billionaire Sunny Varkey. In March of this year, the Osvitoria Association received from the international organizers the right to hold the national competition Global Teacher Prize Ukraine. The purpose of the award is to celebrate the most innovative teachers who influence the development of the profession and their communities. The winner receives 100,000 hryvnias, a year of free continuing education and a trip to the Global Education and Skills Forum 2018 in Dubai.

The first Global Teacher Prize Ukraine was awarded to Paul Pshenichka, who teaches physics and astronomy at Chernivtsi Lyceum No. 1. At the same time, he became the best teacher in the popular vote as well.


Sometimes you may hear that people often enter pedagogical tracks at university because they have no better alternative. However, Viktoria Byrkovych, who teaches primary school at Uzhhorod Economic Lyceum, dreamed about teaching from childhood. “When still very young, I played teacher, and I worked to enter this profession on purpose,” she told us. “My students, these children who are in need of my support inspire me. I look on as they develop and achieve their goals thanks to the fact that I help them. It is incredible!”

Vladyslav Kachur teaches English and German at Vinnytsia Gymnasium No. 6. Apart from these languages and, of course, Ukrainian, he speaks Polish, Russian, and Spanish. He wants to master Chinese as well. Kachur started teaching children spontaneously. “I went to university just to master English and German. But when I had to work at school for a time as a trainee teacher, I felt that it was my vocation,” he remembered. “When I joined a school again as a certified teacher, I realized what was lacking in the study of foreign languages there. When I started working at school, and this was in 2008, I started a notebook where I wrote down what I wanted to change. I periodically supplement this list. Some ideas from it I have been able to implement already.”


In Ukraine, English is usually taught starting in primary school. Paradoxically, few people can communicate in it. Kachur considers his subject not as an end in itself, but sees English rather as a means to develop certain qualities and master new activities. At lessons, he tries to make the learning process inconspicuous for the student. The teacher gives an example from primary school: “For such students, I develop game programs, the latest of them is called Fixies Playland. We start with children’s favorite cartoon about Fixies. Acting as Professor Chudakov, I come to a lesson equipped with a special apparatus that I have borrowed from the physics teachers which is called the knowledge machine. We put it to work, and suddenly it breaks down. I tell children that we need to charge the battery, fix it. Here I have an instruction, and I propose to perform the tasks listed there so that the machine starts working again. We perform various types of tasks – in essence, they are language exercises, but it is interesting for children. In the end, when the lamps light up and the machine works again, they are happy.”

Incidentally, Kachur creates such games in a simple program called PowerPoint, that is, these things do not need too much additional knowledge.

Natalia Hladkykh has to be a specialist in all the major subjects of the school curriculum. She is a tiflopedagogist, working with vision-impaired children at Nadiia (Hope) Special Comprehensive School in Kyiv. “Our school uses solely individual forms of training,” the teacher said. “Children have complicated conditions. For example, in addition to total blindness, a child may have troubles in the musculoskeletal system, intelligence, speech. Such children cannot get to school on their own, and parents cannot transport them there. That is why studies take place at home. At the moment, I have two students, Maryna and Dmytro, who study the entire curriculum. I teach them absolutely all the subjects, because there is no provision in Ukraine for a geographer teaching geography, etc., to a totally blind child. Also, there are no study materials and technical means for this.”

Paul Pshenichka / Photo by Anna Harhalia

So, Hladkykh takes initiative in her hands and produces needed materials on her own. She uses plasticine, cardboard or orders something printed on a 3D printer. “I learn a lot myself,” the teacher confesses. “I visit Poland a lot, communicate with local colleagues. In Poland, they have advanced tiflographic materials, and I bring a lot of them from there. Then I join parents and we begin to make study materials, as we need to prepare something for each lesson.”


Tetiana Verkalets, a history teacher from Poltava Educational Complex No. 16, was jokingly called a “historionaut” by the organizers of the Global Teacher Prize Ukraine. This is because she dreamed of becoming an astronaut when she was a child. Still, Verkalets absolutely does not regret her ultimate choice of profession now. “Being a teacher is creative! We are IT workers, and dancers, and singers, and PR managers. You will not even believe how much we can do!” the teacher asserts.

According to Verkalets, history is the most up-to-date subject. “The task of teaching history is not to get children to memorize some dates from the past,” the educator explained. “First of all, it is important that the students draw lessons from what they hear. Otto von Bismarck famously said that wars are won not by generals, but by schoolteachers and parish priests. I would add that it is history teachers who really matter for that. Because it is precisely they who use the past events to teach children how life should be lived. This includes how not to do it, and what can happen if the society develops this or that way.”

Verkalets conducts research using modern methods and involving her schoolchildren. For example, they use the now-fashionable method of oral history when the student analyzes a historical event both from the scholarly perspective and from the perspective of how it was directly experienced by their family.

“The main thing in history lessons is to teach students to establish their own point of view on this or that event,” Verkalets said. “We tell them: Analyze everything that you have seen and heard and draw conclusions. Be active. This is the message that is now being delivered by history teachers. We need to get children to feel that they, too, are creators of this history.”


“In the light of what is happening now, I mean the school reform, the signing of the new Law ‘On Education,’ there are many discussions on how teachers need to be improved or retrained. We, however, are sure that first of all, teachers should be inspired,” stressed Zoia Lytvyn, founder of the Osvitoria Association. “We have a lot of odd people out there who introduce innovative practices without waiting for directions from above. Together with such people, we will inspire the rest of the teaching community and achieve high results.”

Lifelong learning is a skill that every modern person needs. The importance of this principle is also emphasized by Paul Pshenichka, the winner of the Global Teacher Prize Ukraine, who himself discovered a lot of new things during the competition.

“The words ‘lyceum’ and ‘academy’ are more than 2,500 years old. The school and the teaching profession are as old if not even older,” Pshenichka reminded the audience when he was awarded the prize. “Teaching is a profession of the future. You will see, and it is already happening, how people who lead large companies and earn a lot of money abandon their jobs and go to work at school. Many professions will disappear in 10-15 years, and in the meantime a lot of new ones will appear. But I am confident that both the school and teachers will remain and will grow more and more successful. If knowledge does not make us rich, then it absolutely makes us happy.”


Paul Pshenichka is of Czech ethnicity, his ancestors having moved to Bukovyna back during the Austrian-Hungarian period. He studied at an ordinary rural school, and then graduated from Chernivtsi University.

The teacher is fluent in English (which he mastered on his own as an adult) and in German, and speaks Czech and Romanian.

It was the respect which the academic circles have for Pshenichka that made the World Conference of Young Researchers, which he co-founded, to hold an unprecedented meeting in Chernivtsi, despite it being a small city; such meetings are usually held only in national capitals.

The main principle of his work is to remain interesting for students every day.

The teacher’s creed is to live life to the fullest extent.

He likes classical music, especially Ludwig van Beethoven’s pieces.

Pshenichka is fond of Alpine skiing, which he started doing at four.

He has a son and two grandchildren.

By Maria PROKOPENKO, The Day