I must apologize for the technical glitches with getting today’s Teacher Tuesday post up and running. The only thing I can figure out is that the post was too long. So, with Vida’s okay, I will be dividing her wonderful interview into three parts, to run today, tomorrow and Thursday. Check back in on Saturday for a celebration of her students’ poetry!
First, Vida, we’d like to take a peek at your past. The photos she has shared are especially poignant as they are the only ones her family saved, as they escaped the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- Favorite school lunch as a kid: It’s believed that memories supported by our sense of smell last longest in humans. My memory of sandwiches made by my beloved grandma and the smell of her freshly baked bread are still very much alive and always bring warm feelings to my heart.
- Best friend in grade school: Edina Vejzovic-Puzic (she also lives in the United States now). I found her after about forty years of no contact via some common friends and thanks to the Internet.
- Times you were the new kid in school: I went to three different elementary schools (in my country, elementary school includes grades 1-8). I remember moving in third grade from an old school, in which I started my education, to a new, experimental school where everything was modern and felt “cold” with so much glass and iron and no friend. There was a boy who’d pick on me, teasing me because I was the tiniest girl in class, kind of shy and quiet. One day at recess, he and another boy approached me, gave me a tiny box, and said, “gift for you” with a mischievous smile on his face. I don’t know why, but I took it. And when he said, “Open it,” I did. Sure enough, a little lizard popped out, and the boys screeched trying to scare me. To their surprise I got down on my knees and managed to catch the little lizard, and then held it, I petted its back. The lizard calmed down, feeling my gentle touch. The boys were in awe. They said that they’d never seen a girl so brave to even hold a lizard, let alone pet it. From then on, they never teased me again, and what’s more, we became very good friends.
- Teacher who inspired you to stretch: My first grade teacher, Mr. Alikalfich. In those days, coal for heating would be delivered to the school and teachers would be asked to help unload the trucks and store the coal in the school storage. It was on a November day that the truck came, and Mr. Alikalfich called my name and said to me in front of the whole class: “Vida, you’ll be the teacher until I come back. I need to help unload the coal from the coal truck. Come sit at my desk and read this part to the class (he showed me a paragraph from the text book), and then let them talk about it to each other until I come back.” He did not ask me if I could read it; he did not show even a sliver of doubt about it or about my “teaching abilities.” It really gave me confidence, and I remember truly wanting to read that passage perfectly without mistakes and with lots of expression, which I of course did not have mastered by then, but my teacher’s trust in my abilities made me stretch to my highest potential, and I made it sound really good and my classmates respected that… This incident also ignited a spark of wanting to be a teacher, a plan I realized by going to a high school for teachers first and then to teachers’ college and then university. One day, as I was walking down the hall at the teachers’ college I was attending at the time, I spotted a tiny figure waking toward me, and I recognized my first grade teacher. I approached him with “Hello, do you recognize me Mr. Alikalfich?” He squinted at first, then smiled: “I knew it…I knew it from the first day of first grade that you were born to be a teacher, Vida.” My heart jumped for joy. He remembered not only my name but also his faith in me. He went on to share that he too was there to take classes because new regulations for elementary teachers required upgrading their degrees with endorsements in specific areas of teaching.
- The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved: I really wanted to be on the school’s Math Team and participate in math competitions. I liked math very much, especially in seventh and eighth grade. I was among the best mathematicians in my class, but the only girl. My math teacher was a pretty biased man who believed that girls are simply not born to be good at math–period. He would even say it out loud in front of the class. He would never call on me to answer his questions (ignoring my raised hand signaling my readiness) until one or some of the boys figured out the problem and raised their hands. Each year that the team was formed for the annual math competition, my teacher would not even consider me as an alternative team member because “girls are not smart enough to understand math.” Back then, students and parents were not supposed to or even allowed to argue with or complain to the teachers. So although I was good at math throughout my schooling, my love for it remained only on a personal level. I did not excel in math the way I wanted and had abilities to because of the bias my teacher had about girls and math.