Ukraine has one of world’s top teach­ers


When Bri­tish Ad­mi­ral Lord Ho­ra­tio Nel­son, with his fleet of 27 ships, de­feated a French-Spanish fleet at the Bat­tle of Trafal­gar in 1805, cap­tur­ing 21 en­emy ships and de­stroy­ing one with­out los­ing a sin­gle Bri­tish ship, he was helped by knowl­edge of physics.

Stu­dents at Ch­er­nivtsy Lyceum No.1 in south­west­ern Ukraine learned that not dur­ing his­tory classes, but from their 71-year-old physics teacher, Paul Pshenichka.

The gunners on the Bri­tish ships were trained to aim their can­non fire at the wa­ter­lines of the French and Spanish ships, while their op­po­nents aimed at the sails and rig­ging. While the French and Spanish gunners had big­ger, eas­ier tar­gets to hit, the Bri­tish fire tended to cause much more dam­age — if they could get their aim just right. That’s where the physics came in. “The Bri­tish took New­ton’s for­mu­las, and started to cal­cu­late the tra­jec­tory of the can­non­balls,” says Pshenichka.

Pshenichka, who has been teach­ing his sub­ject for 47 years, has a host of other such facts about physics and its role in his­tory. He is in love with his work and be­lieves that knowl­edge of physics is nec­es­sary for any job, from air­craft de­signer, to moviemaker, to ad­mi­ral of the fleet.

His ef­forts have now been rec­og­nized on a grand scale: On Oct. 7, he won the first-ever Global Teacher Prize Ukraine com­pe­ti­tion, re­ceiv­ing Hr 100,000 and a trip to the Global Ed­u­ca­tion and Skills Fo­rum in Dubai, sched­uled for March.

Teach­ers also mat­ter

The Global Teacher Prize Ukraine com­pe­ti­tion is an off­shoot of an an­nual in­ter­na­tional award es­tab­lished in 2014 — the Global Teacher Prize. Teach­ers from more than 20 coun­tries who work with chil­dren aged 5–18 years com­pete in that com­pe­ti­tion.

As a way to rec­og­nize and re­ward teach­ing ex­cel­lence in Ukraine, the Ukrainian non-profit pub­lic as­so­ci­a­tion Osvi­to­ria, in part­ner­ship with the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion and Sci­ence of Ukraine, launched a sim­i­lar con­test in Ukraine in 2017.

Ac­cord­ing to Osvi­to­ria head Zoya Lytvyn, the motto of the con­test is “Teach­ers also mat­ter” since “in Ukraine, 82 per­cent of teach­ers are not sat­is­fied with their so­cial sta­tus.”

“We want to pop­u­lar­ize Ukrainian teach­ers and show the im­pact they have on so­ci­ety,” she said.

In this year’s in­au­gu­ral com­pe­ti­tion, more than 600 Ukrainian teach­ers were nom­i­nated by them­selves, stu­dents, col­leagues or friends. Their teach­ing ac­com­plish­ments were the most im­por­tant fac­tor.

The judges were: Ukraine’s Deputy Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion Pavlo Hobzei; one of 2017 Global Teacher Prize win­ners from Kenya, Michael Va­maya; and 16-year-old in­ter­na­tional physics cham­pi­onship win­ner Ro­man So­let­skyi.

Pshenichka nom­i­nated him­self but didn’t think he’d win, even though he has pre­vi­ously won such awards. In 2004, Pshenichka, along with three other teach­ers won a prize at the In­tel In­ter­na­tional Sci­ence and En­gi­neer­ing Fair, held by U.S. tech com­pany In­tel Cor­po­ra­tion.

“I re­ceived a call, and a man asked me in English whether I was sit­ting or stand­ing,” Pshenichka says.

“I was stand­ing, so the voice said: ‘You’d bet­ter sit down, be­cause you’ve been named the best teacher in the world.’”

Soon af­ter, Pshenichka went to the United States to give lec­tures on how to im­prove school sys­tems and make lessons more ap­peal­ing to stu­dents. The Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy also named 21389 Pshenichka — an as­ter­oid dis­cov­ered by the in­sti­tute’s Lin­coln Lab­o­ra­tory — af­ter the teacher.

Ask­ing ques­tions

Pshenichka says that it’s very im­por­tant to teach stu­dents to ask ques­tions.

“When I show them cer­tain physics ex­per­i­ments, by the time I’m done I’ll ask them whether they have any ques­tions, and if it is a good ques­tion I will some­times grant a stu­dent the high­est grade,” he says.

He also be­lieves that be­fore teach­ing new rules, a stu­dent needs to see the prac­ti­cal side of a process. “When you learn to ride a bike, you are not in­structed how to ride it, you just do it,” he says.

Start­ing a di­a­logue

When Pshenichka first started teach­ing 47 years ago, his stu­dents were only a cou­ple of years younger than he was and some­times did not take him se­ri­ously.

To earn their re­spect, he went hik­ing with them, taught them pho­tog­ra­phy, demon­strated physics ex­per­i­ments, and even­tu­ally be­friended them. His col­leagues and stu­dents quickly be­come his sec­ond fam­ily.

Teach­ers are still con­fronting the same problems.

“When I was in Aus­tria giv­ing a lec­ture on op­tics, one young Aus­trian teacher asked me: ‘How do you make stu­dents to lis­ten to you?’” Pshenichka says. “I was talk­ing about op­tics, yet peo­ple were in­ter­ested in find­ing an­swers to the same old ques­tions.”

Pshenichka said a teacher has to come up with his or her own meth­ods. The main trick, how­ever, is to ex­plain things, he said. Ac­cord­ing to Pshenichka, stu­dents have to un­der­stand why they are do­ing some­thing dur­ing classes, and ap­pre­ci­ate why knowl­edge of it will be use­ful.

“Only then will they take you se­ri­ously,” he said.

Paul Pshenichka re­ceives “The Best Teacher Of the Year” award dur­ing the Global Teacher Prize Ukraine cer­e­mony at Ivan Franko Na­tional Aca­demic Drama The­ater in Kyiv on Oct. 7. (Oleg Pe­tra­siuk)

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