"School is a small field of survival"

A teacher, who grew up in the city and worked for two years after university in a village school, talks about the peculiarities of education in Belarusian rural areas.

At 8:30 AM, we meet at the village crossroads. There are already several festively dressed schoolchildren and Aksana Ivanauna, a German language teacher. Soon a yellow bus arrives, and the children and the teacher cheerfully hop on it. Today is their last day of studies - a celebratory assembly.
Aksana Ivanauna, or just Ksenia, has another working month till vacation: managing student practice. During it, kids will pull weeds at a special school garden where beets, carrots, and potatoes grow. Next year they will eat them in the school canteen. But today, the teacher and her pupils get in line at the assembly and listen to the speakers' memorized speeches.

We can't endure the whole assembly and run away from the holiday concert to chat. On our way, we see one of the students being led by the arms - he couldn't stand the unusual heat of May and lost consciousness. Having reached the house that Ksenia rents, we hide away in the coolness in the thicket of the trees.
This year marks the end of the two years of forced downshifting for the young woman. Almost by accident, she miraculously got here to the Haradzkouskaya rural school in 2016 for mandatory work placement after university. A few years before that, while studying at the philological faculty in Minsk, she came to this area with a friend to visit acquaintances just 6 kilometers away from her future job. The acquaintances had three kids, and Ksenia wondered what the second language she should learn at that time. She asked the kids what language do they learn in school, and the answer was German. That is how the future teacher chose her second language.
" "When it was time for the mandatory work placement, I was offered to go to Berezino, Luban, Molodechno, or Volozhin. I remembered that the acquaintances that hosted me lived somewhere near Valozhyn and said I would go there. And in Valozhyn, I was told, "There are no places in the city. You can go to Sudniki or Harodzki." They added that there is a railway station in Harodzki. I reckoned that having a station in the vicinity was nice. So I asked to be sent there."
Ksenia is from Mozyr herself. She studied at a big city school. "Here, in the village, the rules are completely different. For example, one must not sit on the windowsills. And in Mozyr, everyone sits there [laughs].
There's probably more control here. If a student is in school, they can no longer skip a lesson. While in Mozyr if you leave school, you're already in the city.
Kids here are 'given a lift' [school bus drives children to their villages - ed.]. The students are naughtier here; they feel the scent of freedom more, hear the birds chirping. They are less submissive than urban kids. I think it would be a bit easier for me to work with children from the city.

Maybe it turns out this way because kids from villages have no role models, their parents are less involved in their upbringing - they work on a collective farm, at various jobs.
It seems to me that school teachers mostly bring up the children here.
Of course, the teachers at the school are nice and educated. But these are not their own children. Parents probably know their kids better."
According to Ksenia, there are a lot of "average" children in the village school. The educational system in Belarus is set to make everyone equal. "It may not be the actual goal of the school, but that's how it works out in the end," the woman says. "It is made obvious by how children lose their individuality over time. The older a child gets, the more obedient they are and the more similar to everyone else".

"If students are given a creative task, in senior forms, most of the compositions will be very similar - children steal ideas from each other, they cheat, compare, they are afraid to be different. In junior forms, on the contrary, each work is original, with its crazy ideas. Still, school is a small field of survival. And students here always do what's faster and easier.
Still, school is a small field of survival. And students here always do what's faster and easier.
This is the pupils' motto. Spend less effort and do it faster".
"Children from villages are encouraged to work on a collective farm, operate a tractor, work as a barber, or in a shop. They don't imagine any sort of a complicated life: here, I will enter a university for five years, then I will go get my master's degree... No.
They would rather finish school as quickly as possible and go to work.
They have no such ambitions as kids in the city have."
Of course, there are good people among those with ambitions and those without. But Ksenia likes ambitious people: "Probably because I am ambitious myself. It's just interesting - to sincerely desire and achieve something. It would be boring for me to finish school and then drive a tractor in the same village."
Perhaps Ksenia's ambitions are the reason why she does not wish to stay and work in a village school.

"Music is my priority now. I'm so "worn out" by school. I don't want to teach in the near future. I want to rest. Dealing with children requires lots of energy. Especially since it's not just one child. I come home from work mentally exhausted. I need to rest for 3-4 hours before I can pick up a violin."
At the same time, Ksenia often took her violin and went to Minsk to play in a pedestrian tunnel on weekends. One day in late March, the Euronews film crew came across her there. They were making a news piece about Belarus. That's how Ksenia became famous in Belarus (and not only) for her bold statements about the atmosphere of fear prevailing in the country.

I asked Ksenia if it was scary to give an interview to Euronews.
"The thought that I was speaking in English was reassuring to me as the school authorities do not know English. But everything was translated into Russian. And I got called in the principal's office.
She repeated every phrase I said in the interview and asked why I thought so.
There was a feeling that she really didn't understand. But I don't believe she got a better understanding after my explanations. She concluded that I'm with the opposition."
However, it became much easier for Ksenia to be around other teachers. If earlier, according to the woman, her colleagues could reproach her for something, they went quiet after the interview was released, and all their complaints evaporated.

Ksenia is looking forward to the end of the mandatory work placement period: "This control from above is tiring. Constant inspections, a lot of paperwork that needs to be filled out. If a child is absent on a school day, parents must write an explanatory note." Last year on a fine day, Ksenia decided to hold a lesson outside in the yard. However, other teachers did not like it. And the woman was prohibited from going outside with the class in the yard again.
But overall, she fondly remembers the two years spent in the village. "It's a good experience. Although sometimes it's tough, especially in winter: for example, I need to bring firewood for heating or take the fact that there is no pipeline with running water. But in summer it's awesome. And when I'm in the city, I want to go to the village. The air is better here, and I feel better and healthier here."

It is possible that Ksenia might return to work in village school when she feels eager to educate children again. However, she has satisfied this desire so far.
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