Only a motivated teacher can educate the best
Early November was the time of culmination of the second year of the Dionýz Ilkovič Award, which is awarded to teachers of mathematics, computer science, chemistry and physics for their contribution to the development of extracurricular activities. These pedagogues not only teach classes, but they also dedicate themselves to the most talented pupils in their free time, often until late in the evening. The laureate was Ľubomír Konrád, a teacher from Žilina. We received multiple nominations in the competition with his name. “We have smart kids, we can find them, we can attend to them, but all this depends on the work of few enthusiastic teachers. We don’t see any significant support from the state here. It’s different abroad,“ says Konrád, adding that gratitude and appreciation is something very special and valuable for teachers who work with pupils above and beyond their duties. It’s a rare occurrence for them. “Winning the Dionýz Ilkovič Award is a motivation for me. A difficult, but also the most important part of a teacher's work is to include into the teaching of new knowledge the familiarization of pupils with the practical use of the knowledge they learn in school, by developing their skills and cultivating critical thinking. And all this can be done only by a teacher who is not only educated and conscious, but particularly motivated.”
The best three
The expert jury assessing the applications of the nominated was chaired by a young Slovak scientist, the President of the global organization International Young Physicists' Tournament, Docent Martin Plesch from the Slovak Academy of Sciences. “Teachers are used to working for low wages and without adequate social recognition. However, they can not be expected to work like this in the long-term beyond the scope of their duties, in their free time and in the field, which also requires them to educate themselves constantly and to work on themselves. This award is an attempt to appreciate such people at least a little bit, socially but also financially,” explains Martin Plesch.
The Dionýz Ilkovič Award received dozens of nominations this year. The jury chose three finalists. This year, in addition to Ľubomír Konrád from Gymnasium Veľká Okružná 22 in Žilina, also Iveta Štefančinová, who teaches physics at the Prešov Gymnasium of Ján Adam Rayman, and Jana Plichtová, who teaches computer science and robotics at Gymnasium Alejová 1 in Košice.
Ľubomír Konrád: A physics teacher well known beyond the school’s walls
He has been walking in the same hallways his entire life. On the blackboard, where he now explains his physics curriculum to the pupils, he once used to calculate maths problems as a pupil. He has been teaching for 25 years and occasionally reminisces about the beginnings - with a smile on his face, but the bitterness in his voice reveals that they were not the easiest. “It’s worth it to work with youth and to invest energy there. Unfortunately, the results take time. The beginning is difficult - you can’t see the work done, or any positives. But that comes with time. It's enough that, after a couple of years, former pupils start to show up to thank you; they remember you, which is nice.”
What he sees today are the many faces of students who have succeeded in competitions in Slovakia and abroad. Over the past ten years he and his students have won several medals from the International Physics Olympiad and the European Olympiad. Students of Žilina Gymnasium were three-time members of the Slovak team that participated in the international round of the Experimental Physics Olympiad.
Ľubomír Konrád is well-known at the school for his friendly attitude towards students, but especially for his expertise. Some students who were interested in physics at primary schools chose Gymnasium Veľká Okružná 22 precisely because of how “Kony” teaches it. He says he has never stopped enjoying it over the years. Sometimes it was mechanics, at other times optics. Although in different forms, the friendship is for life. Even though it sometimes brings hard times. When I hit my fingers with something, at least I can explain it, he adds laughing. He also admits that there were times when he had to justify the decision to stand behind the teacher’s desk: “You have to know how to motivate yourself and convince yourself that it’s worth it. We all know how the education system works: it’s hard to change something from the bottom. So, you either want to do it, you explain it internally to yourself or explain it at home to your wife, or you have to leave.“
Jana Plichtová: A robotics teacher with awards from abroad
Although she studied Computer Science at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of Pavol Jozef Šafárik in Prešov, she was always captivated by the teacher’s desk. So, she completed a pedagogic minimum and in 1994 she started to teach for the first time at the Gymnasium at Alejová 1 in Košice. She taught computer science, and when the school reform in 2008 provided schools with the opportunity to adapt educational programs, she began with robotics.
The unusual subject opened a whole new world for Jana Plichtová and her pupils. After classes, they stay in school almost every day, where they design, program, and prepare for competitions. Nineteen pupils were able to participate in them just in Slovakia last year. Protégés of Mrs. Plichtová are often able to reach international rounds of competitions. They have competed in Mexico, The Netherlands, the United States, and Portugal.
“It motivates me to see what they can figure out and how they solve problems when they occur. Sometimes they are angry at me that I don’t help them, but I want them to learn to do things by themselves. I want them to leave the Gymnasium with practical experience,” explains Jana Plichtová.
Jana Plichtová was nominated for the Dionýz Ilkovič Award by the members of the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Pavol Jozef Šafárik, where she studied and with which she still cooperates today. Another nomination was sent by a representative of Gymnasium Alejová 1, Beáta Vavrinčíková: “We don’t have many options within the school to appreciate teachers who enthusiastically do more than is expected from them. That is why it’s good and important that such a nationwide award has been created. We will show that we appreciate the work of such people.”
When we finally asked Jana Plichtová how she perceives the nominations, her steady face showed emotion: “I spend a lot of time on this. It was a nice surprise. It’s a little unusual, but a big thank you is often sufficient for a pedagogue. We don’t do it for the money.”
Iveta Štefančínová: A motivator with students at the best universities
She seems like she will never run out of energy, she teaches at a Gymnasium, she spends at least three days a week at the school club, and in addition to that she also lectures at Pavol Jozef Šafárik University. You can recognize Iveta Štefančínová thanks to her rapid rate of speech and a smile which is as wide at half past seven in the morning as at four in the afternoon.
She has been teaching since 2000 and it’s apparent that she was born for this job. She admits that she enjoys being surrounded by smart young people who are interested in new knowledge in physics. On the other hand, pupils talk about her as the great “motivator”, who seemingly possesses limitless energy. They respect her enthusiasm and zeal, all the more due to the fact that the teacher has three children at home.
According to Iveta Štefančínová, it’s very important for pupils to be aware of their qualities and abilities: “In the past, when I was still studying, we used to hear that everyone else is smart and talented except us. I am trying to convince my pupils that this is not true. Our country has a lot of good as well - even at the world-class level.” In hindsight, her words are confirmed by the fates of the graduates of Prešov Gymnasium. Several of them have studied or are studying natural sciences at prestigious universities.
Not only a knowledge of physics, but also independence and the ability to present in a foreign language or to speak in front of an audience are the things the pupils learn at international competitions. They prepare for them at the school clubs together with Iveta Štefančínová. In addition, the teacher is not opposed to individual projects. In 2017, for instance, at the instigation of one of the pupils from the club, they built a hydrogen car that they took to a twenty-four-hour race. She works in a way to find her own enjoyment in the lessons or whilst doing experiments at the school club. And that’s what she advises to new teachers: “Don’t lose your gusto and determination. Do what you enjoy and your pupils will return your efforts with positive feedback.”
An award as a thank you
The award, founded by the technology company PosAm, is intended for teachers of mathematics, computer science, chemistry and physics for their contribution to the development of extracurricular activities. “Many teachers, and also non-pedagogues, who are engaged in extracurricular activities at elementary and secondary schools have dedicated their lives to the transfer of knowledge to young people because they believe that they can grow into future scientists and prominent personalities. The Dionýz Ilkovič Award was created as a thanks, a tribute, and encouragement to these people, who work in education in the field of natural sciences,” explains Marián Marek, General Director of PosAm.
A renowned reputation in two years
The Dionýz Ilkovič Award is a young award, but after two years it has already become known in education circles and it has earned its name. According to the Chairman of the jury Martin Plesch, this is just one achieved goal: “The next step is to expand the partner base so that the award is not dependant on the generosity and willingness of a single company. We would like to establish the Dionýz Ilkovič Foundation and we will try to reach out to potential partners so that we can develop our activities in the long term.” He also adds that one of the future goals is to encourage the state and the public to take more interest in teachers and their situation. In his opinion, the state's support for talent in the natural sciences has been stagnating for more than a decade, and it’s necessary to change its approach in this area.
The award holds the name of a prominent Slovak scientist.
In 1934 Dionýz Ilkovič deduced the relation between the polarography diffusion current, the concentration of the solution, and the characteristics of the dropping mercury electrode. Today it’s known as the Ilkovič equation. At the time he was a member Nobel Prize winner Jaroslav Heyrovský's team. Professor Dionýz Ilkovič was not only a prominent Slovak physicist and world class scientist, but also a great teacher, whose style of teaching became legendary for his students and colleagues.