My dream job. My dream students
Meet a Minnesota native, Amy Sagrado. She cannot be overlooked, with her blond dreadlocks and a baby in her arms,strolling in the corridors of the Faculty of Arts this year. Although she had never heard of Ostrava until last year, she decided to join the University of Ostrava as an English lecturer in the English Language Fellow project.
Why have you come to the Czech Republic? And why did you choose Ostrava?
I didn't choose Ostrava, Ostrava chose me. I just chose the eastern European region and the programme matched me based on my skill set and my experience. My main interest was to live somewhere abroad and teach English.The programme falls under the US Embassy in Prague.They targeted this region specifically recognizing the immediate need for building media literacy and critical thinking - generally, what is going on with misinformation, etc. So, the US Embassy acted as a mediator between me and the University of Ostrava. I am really happy now that I was placed here.
What do you think about our students? Do you see any differences between Czech and American students?
At the University, it's like a dream for me. I teach elective classes and I've been really positively impressed. It seems that the students are in the classes because they want to be there. I've been pleasantly surprised by the high level of all the students - their motivation, interest and engagement. They are willing to do anything - it's like a dream teaching job. I wish I could stay here forever. Since I have never taught at a university in the US, I cannot compare the students.
What is your experience with our teachers and our education system?
I wasn't sure what to expect. I had been advised that I may find teachers who don't speak English well - and that has not been the case. Overall everyone has exceeded my expectations. Also, I was given the idea that some teachers are disengaged, full of doubt, underpaid, overworked - simply not happy. But all of the teachers I've met (both at elementary and high schools) have been incredibly passionate and motivated about their work and their students -they are full of energy. It's been completely opposite of what I was told to expect, and I'm really impressed. I've also been amazed by the high level of English of the University students that I have worked with.
What was the normal lesson for high school teachers?
I focused on Critical Thinking and Media Literacy in my workshops with them, but I also wanted to give them simple strategies and activities that they could use in their lessons the next day. These included ways to get students moving, talking, collaborating, asking questions and thinking critically. Throughout the series of workshops we focused on building a common understanding of Media Literacy and looked at research for why it is so critical to develop these skills in our students. We examined different types of misinformation and practiced evaluating information using questions developed by Stanford History Education Group: Who's behind the information? , What's the Evidence? and What do other sources say? including the skill of Lateral Reading, which is verifying an online source or information by opening up another tab and searching it to see what other sources are saying. We also discussed how Confirmation Bias and online filter bubbles can impact the information we view and how we perceive it. Finally, we focused on safety and privacy online.
What were the reactions of the students and the teachers to your lessons?
The teachers have been really appreciative, receptive and open to my ideas. Some of them said: “These ideas are really good, but don't fit my curriculum.” And some teachers were freer and more benevolent. So, there have been mixed responses, but I've tried to include also language strategies (in addition to media literacy and critical thinking topics) that the teachers could use anywhere in their curriculum.
When it comes to University students, I taught two conversation classes last semester and three different classes this semester related to reading, writing and using games in the language classroom. There have been some students who told me they liked my lessons but as a whole I don't really know because everyone is so polite and nice here. Nobody has complained!
How do you think the Czechs cope with media literacy and critical thinking?
In my opinion this is a universal issue and the Czech Republic is no exception. From what I have observed, there are people who care deeply about thinking critically and evaluating the information they consume and there are others who simply accept the information they are presented with as fact, with little or no thought to the credibility of the source and the bias it might contain.
Is the Czech Republic your first experience with education system in Europe?
Yes, it is. I visited some other countries, but I can't compare the quality of the education system there.But I have experience outside Europe - I taught English in Ecuador for four years at an international school.
What does this work experience here mean for you? Will you somehow utilize all that you've learned here in any way?
These seven months have given me a lot of insight on teaching and made me think about my teaching as I work with teachers. I am more aware of what I'm doing as a teacher and what impact it has had on other teachers. This makes me a more reflective teacher. It's easy for a teacher to get into routine but working with other teachers brings this new and positive energy. I had to do a lot of studying related to media literacy to be able to work with the teachers on it.I feel like I've learned a lot throughout this process, professionally as well.I hope that at some point I can teach at a university in America. So, having taught here could definitely benefit me in terms of my future employment.
Have you fulfilled all your expectations you had before your departure - both professional and personal?
Professionally, I think so, yes. Everything I've heard about positions like this, is that you grow a lot professionally really fast. Because all of a sudden you are in a position when you have to do things you may have never done before. I was expecting to learn a lot and grow a lot professionally and I think I have. That has met my expectations.
And personally, I thought it would be easier to connect with people - that we would establish ourselves more socially. But it's hard with kids - they have to go to bed early, someone has to take care of them if we want to go out etc. I had been abroad before but never with children and that's been harder than I had thought.
You came to the Czech Republic with the whole family. How did your children and husband get used to this environment(completely different from America)?
My husband is Brazilian, so America was also different for him. It's been hard for him in the Czech Republic because we came here for my project and he doesn't have a working visa here. He is the one taking care of our children. Prior to coming here, he was finishing up his studies and was ready to start his career. When we got here, it dawned on him that he wasn't going to have his own thing here, so it hasn't been as easy for him. He is very social and good at connecting with people but as he is a “stay home dad,” it's hard. He is taking Czech lessons and he plays soccer with local guys. Overall, he has found ways to connect but the transition was hard for him. As for my daughters - my three-year-old is in kindergarten and she loves it, she's having a blast. And my baby could live anywhere. If the children are happy, that's all that counts.
What about cultural differences? Did you experienceany negative surprises here?
Well, I've been a little taken aback by some service here - that it hasn't always been as hospitable as in the US - I mean restaurants. Other than that, I've been so happy. Every day I feel that I'm just so lucky to live here. I love the experience that we've had. It's been a dream job for me. I wish I could take the job with me wherever I go - it's been really nice.
The Department of English and American Studies at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ostrava is the only university in the Czech Republic to participate in the English Language Fellow (ELF) programme organized by the US Embassy in Prague. The main purpose of this project is to incorporate critical thinking, media literacy and intercultural communication in language teaching. The programme also funded a ten-month stay of Amy Sagrado, who was selected as an ELF lecturer. However, due to the government quarantine measures, she was forced to terminate her stay in the Czech Republic early.
The first round of the selection procedure for this position was supervised by the prestigious Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.), the next rounds were under the responsibility of the Department of English and American Studies and the US Embassy in Prague.
The Department of English and American Studies at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ostrava offered these courses to the Department of Education, Youth and Sports of the Moravian-Silesian Region (MSK), which selected secondary schools in Opava, Frenštát p. R., Havířov, Krnov and other cities. A total of eight secondary schools from the entire Moravian-Silesian Region participated in the project. The project is a successful example of the so-called third role of universities.
Updated: 22. 04. 2020