Teachers’ Training College of Foreign Languages in Toruń (Poland) - My Alphabet

Comments

Anita Lewicka
3 years 11 months
Thanks a lot! I wish you had got to know the place and the people, or vice versa. Anyway, generally...
Miri
3 years 11 months
I was so moved reading about Teachers' Training College in Poland. I didn't get to know the place...

In 1990, to fill in the vacuum of too few foreign language teachers at that time,  first colleges for  teachers of foreign languages were established in Poland. In 2015 these institutions are being closed down for good because the vacuum has been filled in, because the population is dwindling, because money speaks much louder than any apparent need for people to be instructed in foreign languages. It would take ages and ages to talk about the agonizing education nowadays….However, this post here serves a different purpose, as it should present to you the place which has undeniably shaped me professionally as well as  helped me enter my adulthood. School, school of life in its any possible form!

Needless to say, I’m proud to be a graduate of Teachers’ Training College in Toruń, Poland. I also pride myself on having worked in that wonderful place for eighteen years, both as a teacher and teacher trainer. Anyone (in)directly linked to the TTC in Toruń is highly likely to create their own alphabet of the memories lingering around the people and unforgettable places present there. Any alphabet around a place is emotionally bound because one letter or one entry reveals a notion dear to us. And this is absolutely true in my case here: creating my alphabet meant recreating the memories hidden somewhere deep in my heart. It is common knowledge that beautiful memories scare us as we are unable to relive them (Franco Scaglia). What a pity!

 A is for Auditorium  (Room 206)     

Toruń, 38 Sienkiewicza Street,  Room 206: the address encompasses the venue of the events gathering people from various language departments, namely English, German, and French. When I was a student myself (1990-1993), it was here that College Christmas Eves or  graduation ceremonies were held. I remember our second-year British Literature classes when, at some point, we decided to stage fragments of “King Lear”. I was cast as King Lear himself (or herself) and Iwona, a friend from my group playing my daughter Goneril, made faces as I was doing my best to keep a stone face when dividing my kingdom among my three daughters. Such scenes, of course, to have been seen only on the stage of the College. And my group was one and only: Sylwia, Aneta, Jola, Iwona, Agnieszka, Berenika, Żaneta, or Jerry, who was the only man in our group. So many memories and so many individuals scattered all across the globe…..

B is for Bibliophile Kingdom – (Library, Reading Room, Multimedia Centre)

It would be hard to imagine the College without this very place, which was the soul of the TTC. Either Małgosia Borcz, Ela Wiśniewska or Agnieszka Miranowska: the ladies always made you warmly welcome there, as a student, as a teacher. They treated you not only to a book, but they also treated you to a cup of tea, accompanied by a heart-to-heart talk. To me, this is an archetypal ideal library!

C is for CLIL, i.e. Content and Language in Integrated Learning

This is a contextual approach towards language teaching, namely elements from other subjects are taught in the language of instruction. Well, well, well, but for the College I would never have been introduced to the field which has ever since become my hallmark in the teaching I offer. The passion for language teaching I have today has its roots in the classes I started teaching at the TTC in 1996. In a nutshell, it was the College that helped to develop one’s passion as well as helped to bloom professionally. The TTC became a springboard for my activities and it is the incredible students there who constantly inspired me.

D is for Day of Foreign Languages

This is the name of a festival held at the TTC once a year for some years, sometimes shorter, on other occasions longer, any time wholeheartedly  involving our students. The festival of 2008 evokes in me the sharpest memories; then I had a great pleasure to work with Aleksandra Krajczewska, who is an inspiring organiser. All language students, namely English, French, or German, did their best to promote their departments; the promotions were both language- and cuisine-bound. A real feast for both body and soul!

E is for Eyers, Timothy Eyers

This is my EFL methodology guru. During my College studies I was blessed with a great number of wonderful lecturers, including Timothy. Once, in order to show to us certain difficulties related to language acquisition, Timothy did micro-teaching with us with a sample Thai lesson. It was a real masterpiece, both because of his charismatic personality and because of the EFL analysis that followed.

F is for Franek, Mr. Franciszek Drzewucki

It would be quite hard to conduct any technology-assisted classes without Mr Drzewucki’s help. When a technical unit broke down in Room 201, where I frequently had classes on History of the British Isles, the first thing to do was to inform Franek, who would go over backwards to find a replacement for the faulty unit. Why Franek and not someone else? Well, he was always there at the TTC, either during my own studies there or during my didactic work there.

G is for Groups

There were a lot of groups at the TTC; there were groups or cliques when I studied and we met quite often  and there were some other groups when I taught at the College. People would come and go, groups would change and I still remember some unforgettable personalities: Joanna Kiełkowksa-Kondej, Ewa Łuczak, Ania Kamińska, Darek Mazurowski, Piotr Wojsznis, Natasha Kuczyńska, Agata Furman, Agnieszka Szymańska, Anka Kowalska, Robert Wernerowski, or Justyna Bącal. It’s really hard to give name after name: I might keep adding other names because each and every student has been part of my didactics and experience there.

H is for Hi or Hello

They are the most common greeting words you could hear on entering the TTC. Everyone understood you, everyone responded accordingly. Some will never respond, though: Sébastien Spaccasassi– an incredible teacher of French from Switzerland, Jakub Orzeł – a music talent with perfect English phonetics, Lilianna Szczepna – all smiles, a talented EFL teacher. Though no longer here with us, they are part of our TTC-bound memories.

I is for Integrated Skills

Integrated Skills Course, part of Practical English module at the TTC, was integrally built in  the three-year College syllabus. The course appeared important and I found it personally extremely engaging to prepare the classes, thinking how to include a task or how to modify a task to meet my students’ needs. It is common knowledge that individualized approach towards teaching was in focus at the College. Looking back, I have to sincerely admit that, but for Iza Dąbrowska and Robert de Louw, it would have been impossible to disseminate this syllabus for 1st year (B2 level – FCE), 2nd year (C1 level – CAE),  and 3rd year (C2 level – CPE). Both these teachers, together with me and, starting from 2010 with Tom Anderson as well, constituted the Practical Oral English panel for all the students in the English department. Their reliability, objectivity, as well as their constant analytical approach towards the examinees made it possible for us to become “The Team” with time. I can say that I have never worked in a better panel than that one! Thank you!

J is for Joanna, Ms. Joanna (Ciechanowska) Przewięźlikowska

Joanna helped me grasp the basics of the EFL methodology. In my memory, though, Joanna will be always linked to “Drama Course”, when she worked in tandem with Anita Jones Dębska, who made it possible for the course to function splendidly well. Anita once fell in love with our country, then she made others fall in love with drama and poetry – the sheer beauty of words.  Introducing first-year English students to Drama techniques was a substantial psychological experience. Self-discovery through self-expression, auto-quest of acting skills, and language use in various activities: such factors made it possible to integrate groups and to help individual, less extrovert students, to come out of their shells. Drama Module welcomed other teachers because both Joanna and Anita went out of their ways to organize popular festivals and drama workshops at the TTC.

K is for Kurek, Ms Dorota Kurek

But for Ms Kurek, it would have been hardly possible for me to mentally and physically embrace all the documents required by the Ministry of Education to grant me the status of the chartered teacher. Calm and composed, Dorota explained to me what to do and how to do it when I was ready to give it all up because my patience tends to wear thin when confronted with the red tape. Ms. Kurek, similarly to a therapist, guided me through patiently. Equally warm-hearted and ready to help were Dorota Manelska, Kasia Szczotkowska, or Gosia Sobolewska.

L is for Lingua

This Latin word is the key word to the TTC. English, German, French, and Spanish took control over 38 Sienkiewicza Street and, with time, took over even the nearby building at 36. A real Tower of Babel, where no one got shocked, though,  when misunderstood but did their best to be understood, breaking language barriers and proving to those around that studying foreign languages was worth the effort. Clearly, foreign language teachers have always been  in need. I wish the authorities and politicians would be much more far-sighted here. Their knowledge of foreign languages very often leaves a lot to be desired. What a shame for this lady or that gentleman at international meetings! The more foreign language centers there are on Polish educational scene, the greater will be the social international awareness. Once our TTC graduates landed their posts at Polish schools, those schools’ authorities automatically got mature people, compassionate people, teachers equipped with modern language methods, and always eager to boost their skills during courses and workshops organized for them by the TTC, together with great involvement of Ms. Beata Tomaszewska, a teacher trainer from the TTC and a teachers’ adviser from the Regional Educational Authorities.

M is for Mentor, My Mentor – Edward Maliszewski  

My Mentor – he is the founderfather of the TTC, its first director, a man with class, with passion, with vision and mission. Personally, I recall Mr. Maliszewski as my Phonetics teacher, whose British pronunciation is unparalleled. In my mind, he’ll forever remain a hallmark of the Teachers’ Training College together with his refined leadership skills, professionally shared with his deputy – Ms. Bożena Zientara. I feel blessed having had such mentors! They did set an example!

Our teacher trainees also had their own mentors, who would supervise them during their third-year teaching practice. As a teacher trainer from the TTC, I observed our trainees struggle hard in the classroom to subsequently win a battle in which they surprised me with the way they taught. Very often, in our feedback sessions, the teacher trainees would sing their mentors’ praises. They were enormously grateful to them. Let me just present to you a few of the mentors who are wonderful teachers of English and still set a good example to our graduates: Beata Tomaszewska and Anna Kufel from Secondary School Nr 5, Beata Trapnell and Anna Willa from Secondary School Nr 8, Agnieszka Bandrowska from Secondary School Nr 4, Agnieszka Piluś from Lower Secondary School Nr 11, Krzysztof Malinowski from Secondary School Nr 6, or Łukasz Sawicki from Secondary School Nr 1. I am also grateful to them for having given so much to the trainees, who were much more inspired to language teaching afterwards.

N is for Non-Native Teacher of Foreign Languages

Against all odds, including the so-called negative selection to become a teacher, we always did our best to teach future teachers with passion. When employed in an educational institution, our graduate is the right person there. As time went by, our new students said they  had previously been taught by our graduates at secondary school. Both earlier and later graduates make great teachers. This is one of such moments when it dawns on you that teaching is worth it! You also realise that this is the best place!

O is for “Oh Arthur, My King Arthur!”

This is the title of my workshop I conducted in 2009 as part of Nicolas Copernicus University Festival of Science and Arts. A year before that my workshop was on language games. Such workshops were especially popular with secondary school students from Toruń, who wanted to boost their language skills in a different way. Thanks to the help and logistics  I got from my own teacher trainees, the workshops were skillfully facilitated. Such people as Łukasz Witowski, Zbyszek Bułecki, Paulina Wróblewska, Alicja Żurawska, or Joanna Balcerowicz supported me wholeheartedly during the presentations when the Auditorium was full of students.

P is for Professional cooperation with other Teachers’ Training Colleges

It is clearly thanks to our close cooperation with other Teachers’ Training Colleges that the so called Stegna Syllabus was being gradually introduced. The Syllabus is the end product of the March 2000 workshop. This theme-based syllabus comprises topics and issues to be covered as well as language skills to be boosted within a three-year long Practical English Module. As one of the coordinators of the project, I wanted to get other lecturers of practical English components to see the importance of standardization as well as to reinforce a close cooperation within the practical cluster.  Having cooperated with the TTC from Gdańsk, Elbląg and Suwałki, I found it an extremely enriching experience to get to know other teacher trainers so devoted to creating that practical document. I represented Toruń Teachers’ Training College together with Agnieszka Chabros, who has been of great help and firm support in many other projects.

R is for Renaissance    

The Renaissance not only refers here to arts and literature but also to education. To succeed in the modern world, besides apparent knowledge, you also need interpersonal skills, information technologies, and resourcefulness. These skills are referred to as “soft skills” and are fashionably included in modern foreign language coursebooks; here they are called “Life Skills.” This gives us a direction of foreign language teaching in the contemporary world. A foreign language teacher is becoming a renaissance man / woman: someone who knows grammar, someone who knows vocabulary, someone who can pronounce this or that word, can boost their students’ language skills. However, the teacher is also becoming  a personal coach, may become a therapist, is a negotiator, acts as a tactician, etc. Our graduates have successfully been equipped with EFL-methodology aspects which they may easily put into practice where “soft skills” play a significant role.

To me personally, the Renaissance has always been one of the greatest periods in the history of mankind: the Italian Renaissance – because of my passion for the language, whereas, the English Renaissance – because of the course I taught at the TTC. During the second term of their Course on the History of the British Isles, the students had a project to make entitled “Six Wives of Henry VIII.” Earlier on equipped with the EFL methodology, the trainees presented to their group Katherine of Aragon or Anne of Cleves. With time, the projects presented by the students reflected the EFL methodology, personal imagination, and thorough resourcefulness. Once they offered “Hen Party”- an extraordinary play, another time it was a ghost séance, or a puppet show. Some time later interactive Power Point  presentations started appearing. The theme always limited and the students’ creativity always unlimited.

S is for School and its Rooms

The cloakroom used to be  a computer lab. Some may still recall the times when, in the place of the recent technical / storage room, there was a bar with delicious mustard dressing. The smell was much more pleasant to the nose than the later “Geppetto” kebab or the recently grilled delicacies from  the “Widelec.” Over the period of 25 years, some other places were moved around: the teachers’ room, reading room, students’ office. It would be hard for some graduates not to get lost in this maze.

T is for Teacher’s Chalkboard, Whiteboard or any Board

The teacher’s traditional board itself won’t do the trick anymore. Although my Professor of Lingustics, Waldemar Skrzypczak, kept saying that a teacher can teach a lesson with a post stamp or a paper clip only, sometimes it’s not enough. You have to reach out further not to bore your students to death. Today, beside the teacher’s board and desk, there is a laptop, a multi-media overhead projector; the board itself has become an interactive whiteboard. Technology keeps bombarding studying and teaching and does it everywhere – it’s present in e-coursebooks, in e-dictionaries, in smartphone language applications, in computer software facilitating foreign languages. It’s important to  get the student to wake up, to keep the student awake, to awaken the student’s interest, and certainly not to make the student bored silly by the lesson.  Going in this direction, we may soon find the hologram teacher replacing the human teacher. I’m not for such a dehumanized lesson! I was always taught at the TTC and later on continued determinedly telling my students that empathy and student-centred classroom are of greatest importance. It’s vital to reinforce kinesthetic, visuals and auditories through a great spectrum of stimuli. We mustn’t, however, replace the human factor with a smiley. And…. making a lesson around a post stamp or a paper clip calls for mastery!

U is for U R Welcome to Film Club

Between 1998 and 2002, I had a TTC film club, where I invited those who were passionate about films. Sharing passion for cinematography, we would watch great British and American productions, at that time films available only on VHS tapes (Notting Hill, Madness of King George). There was a lot of cheerful bonhomie there, with some wine and snacks, together with discussions in English after the show. Sometimes we decided on a production of Almodovar (All About My Mother), but the problems present in the films were discussed still in English.

W is for Winiarska, Klaudia Winiarska

If anyone was to wander along the halls or classrooms at 38 Sienkiewicza Street, their eyes would certainly go to the walls with  pictures / photographs  from the magic realism of Klaudia Winiarska. As an expert on German literature and a fan of photography, Klaudia managed to put a magical spell to her intertextual images which are so thought-provoking. Her sitters or models were very often our students and some staff members of the TTC. In one of the images you can see Krysia with a sunshade, in another one Krzysztof completely immersed in a book he’s reading. Both magic and depth are truly enchanting and inviting to interpret them. Enhanced with poetry or prose fragments, the images constitute a great didactic resource, where interdisciplinary approach towards teaching is important. Klaudia’s photography is available at: http://fotoobrazy.rokity.pl/

Z is for Ziemer, Mary Ziemer

Mary was an American teacher from the Peace Corps Organisation working at the TTC. If it hadn’t been for her three-year long work with my group, I’d be unable to write a good composition in English. Week after week, we had still another essay to write. As it often happens with strict teachers, not until some time later do you start to appreciate their work and dedication.

The same happens right now when I do come to realize how much I owe to the Teachers’ Training College in Torun, Poland.

It’s important to keep dreaming and the College was a place where dreams kept coming true for 25 years of its existence. Studying there was worth it for the atmosphere. Working there was worth it for the atmosphere. Lots of people will agree that the TTC was an ideal place to work at and it’s hard to find another ideal – I haven’t. Because of its bonhomie, I still realize that teaching is worth it for the passion it entails. There is, however, one condition: your place of work, once created, should stimulate creativity through people filled with passion for people with arousing passion.

And, at long last, my memories of the people and places come to an end, at least in this alphabet form. "Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relieve them" (Bob Dylan). You can, however,  always keep coming back to them as you can keep in touch with the people who’ve helped you have the memories.

I’ve decided to present my memories also in English because, in this way, more people may learn about the TTC from Toruń (Poland). I look forward to hearing your memories about Toruń Teachers’ Training College.

 

Notes:

  • This is the author’s extended and modified version of The Alphabet (in Polish only) published in Teachers’ Magazine Silva Rerum (2010)
  • The photos included here come from the author’s personal folder and from the “NKJO Toruń 1990-2010” FB Group.