Teacher from Slobodka village

Our acquaintance with Avgust Voitekhovich is one of our most valuable acquisitions during ‘Walking into a Faraway Kingdom’, a travel which we made in April-August of 1996.

Our acquaintance with Avgust Voitekhovich is one of our most valuable acquisitions during ‘Walking into a Faraway Kingdom’, a travel which we made in April-August of 1996. It was a 120-day pedestrian journey around Belarus along the State border, covering 2,810 kilometres. Our big trip began at the Druya settlement near Dvina, and passed through the village of Slobodka in the Braslav District. The very first overnight stay in the cold April night was in a boarding school, with the permission of Avgust Voitekhovich. He waited for us. Before the trip, we had published in the ‘Teacher’s

Newspaper’ the text of our plans and then saw that material on the desktop of the teacher. Avgust Pavlovich worked as a teacher in the boarding school where we stayed.

 In the morning, we learnt that he is the author of a unique code of teaching ethics. Our interlocutor, who is a modest person, told us about this by accident. The teacher showed us a local attraction — a bed with huge juniper bushes between the Potekh and Nedrovo lakes, acquainted with masters of straw-plaiting and he told about his and local life and work on the Code. We recollected these meetings on TV and at radio studios, in conversations with colleagues and acquaintances. And during our recent meeting with Avgust Pavlovich, he said, with a smile, that we promoted him so much that he became a popular person and had become acquainted with new and interesting people. His short stories were published in the Respublika newspaper and essayist Leonid Yekel wrote about him. And now has come the time for us to get to know him and his educational experience better.

We talked in the same boarding school in Slobodka, where we had stayed 18 years earlier. In the former class where, in the early 50s, Avgust moved from Ikazan school to Slobodka and went to study in the 7th form, it was a rural school. “Here stood my school desk, where I stared more at a local beautiful girl than at the blackboard: it is possible to say, that she was my first love...,” he recollects. It happened that he managed to privatise that sacred for him place, to make a repair, to adapt as his habitation. And now, his friends and acquaintances coming to rest by the lake and fish in Slobodka resort have a place where they can stay. While Avgust Pavlovich, inveterate fisherman, does not now work in the education system, he still remains a teacher for all.

He treats people and naturists, such philosophers — with lucid mind, who always have the own view and opinion, with great respect. It is possible to say that such teachers are like common people: so willingly share with fellow villagers, their knowledge and supervisions. Avgust Pavlovich began the conversation by reading a small episode about his grandfather Ignat and his capacious, figurative, with national humour description-definitions of some life situations. However, to say the truth, not everyone liked those pearls of wisdom in rural ‘wrappers’. However, the author is sure: the main thing is that knowledge and wisdom were transferred from generation to generation. After all, as it is known, children and adults receive the major knowledge needed for life in society outside of school lessons.


Inside the walls of the ‘class of the first love’ we made a small discovery: this year Avgust Pavlovich will have an anniversary. Seventy years ago, Belarus was liberated from fascist aggressors, and in the same year, 1944, on September 1st, Avgust, who was born in 1936, crossed the school threshold in the village Ikazan of the Braslav District for the first time. Our vis-à-vis with a school, let it be in different statuses, turns 70 years...

Avgust Pavlovich, how do you think? Maybe, your childhood desires about harmonious relations with teachers became the outlines of the future Code of Pedagogical Ethics? Or did it start only when you became a teacher?

Pupils everywhere have always had a critical attitude towards teachers. And I was among such pupils. We were able to estimate and compare each teacher, while a teacher during one day has before their eyes dozens or hundreds pupils. In past days, Slobodka secondary school, though it was constructed in post-war years as a typical school for only 8 years of education, had over 500 pupils at that time. While in Ikazan there were 4-5 teachers, and we had the possibility of examining and estimating them better than they could estimate us. To understand what person is before you and how to communicate with this person. Certainly, each pupil has an opinion what a teacher should be. And probably those ‘expectations’ about the ideal teacher affected the Code of ethics. Well, it is impossible to do without ideals! Feelings and thoughts from the past enriched with one’s own teacher’s experience and the ideas of other teachers. I remember, when I was a pupil, I critically estimated the teaching methods of my teachers and tried to find, as it seemed to me, the best way to attract the sympathy and attention of pupils explaining how to deliver knowledge better. ‘I would do it differently here’ — I had even such thoughts.

Were your teachers local?

No, basically from Eastern Belarus. Probably they were sent to make us ‘Soviet children’. I was born near Poland, and the territory of the region was Polish till 1939. After the war, here were anti-Soviet moods — after all, there was a war of various ideologies — as in Western Ukraine... After the war, in our Ikazan, some young guys decided to join the ‘forest brothers’. Though if you think about it, what did they hope for? Soviet power broke the spine of fascist Germany, but these guys were going to struggle against the Soviet power with rifles and running in the woods....

Even in fishing Avgust Voitekhovich has many demands on time

Were your parents literate?

Yes. My father, Dvoretsky Pavel Vasilevich, was a lawyer. He had own firm in Ikazan: in Polish it was called ‘Privatna Bureau podan’. He helped villagers to file addresses, applications into various instances. Here, by the way, the willow armchair is one hundred years old — from his bureau (shows in the room). And that bureau, with accent on the first syllable is located in our house. As marriage of my father with my mum was not registered officially, I was, at first Dvoretsky, and then from 7th form, having received a birth certificate, I became Voitekhovich, after my mother. And as it happened, adult life also has two sides. At first I was an officer, and then, having transferred to the reserve, I received a second higher education and became a teacher.

Did you at once arrive to work in Slobodka?

After the Institute, I taught in my native Ikazan school, then I moved here in 1970.

Have you started a farm of your own?

Of course not! I remember, how earlier journalists ecstatically wrote ‘a rural teacher has a cow and pigs...’ But it is already not a teacher but the worker of farmland. Those from the village know how much time and effort a farm needs. At that time when I was a teacher, I even did not have a cat. I constantly worked over myself. I read novelties, searched for something, I was ready to go somewhere and listen to lectures, or good transmission on radio or on the TV. I also wrote. I subscribed to magazines and newspapers. I knew that it was impossible to stop for one minute. In general, the educational system is a building which will never be completed. Public relations change, science and techniques develop, while human nature practically has not changed for centuries. Therefore, different contradictions arise. And the system is all the time in flux, and a teacher should always be well informed, and not just in education.

In connection with changes in society, what’s your opinion? Do we need reforms in the education system?

Without being afraid to seem conservative, I will tell that I am against reforms. But if it were my decision, I would change one thing: I would change the functions of elements of the whole system. As it is known, its elements are the following: the ministry, region, city and district administrations and departments of education. At the bottom is the school administration, the teacher and the pupil. In a broad sense pupils are students, post-graduate students, all whom we teach. As we see, it is a copy of the state system of administration, a line of command, while I suggest we reverse everything in the educational system. A pupil should become the central figure in it, the teacher — the main character. All the rest, without exception are maintenance staff, in the positive sense of the word. Let them create conditions for fruitful work, the normal activity of a teacher and a pupil. A teacher, I am sure, should not paint the floor in a classroom, preparing the school for the next academic year by hanging wall-paper. While in our country teachers do that. When free, a teacher should devote their time to self-education. Every day — self-improvement. Only then they will be a real teacher. For our colleagues, the main thing should be ‘do not cease to study!’ — Leo Tolstoy’s words.

From where comes your aspiration to study?

From nature probably; an internal impulse. Well, the majority of people have it, if they are not burdened with other interests and cares. If we do not need to improve ourselves we would probably still be living in the Stone Age. I remember, when categories for teachers were introduced at schools in the early 90s, I received the 2nd category. By the way, the salary depended on it, especially at the beginning. The headmaster and the director of studies, as well as some teachers had the first category. Next day I wrote an application: I ask you to allow me to go to the Institute of improvement of teachers in order to receive the highest category. They gave me permission. It was necessary to pass a proficiency examination, to introduce the author’s programme, to be tested for the novelty of pedagogical thinking, to conduct a lesson or educational activity in an unfamiliar class... a whole chain of tests, and I successfully passed all of them. I had already had publications in newspapers on pedagogical themes and the Code was published in 1989 or 1990, so I received the highest category. Unfortunately, some of my colleagues considered my act as immodest and it was very difficult to work in such a collective. When I turned 60, it was necessary to leave my favourite work. In August of 1999 I handed over my duties, having worked for 20 years as a teacher of the boarding school.

Nature in Slobodka environment is also a good teacher

Well, teachers are also people, with their own family ‘types’.

Yes, and my wife asked me ‘Well why do you need that highest category? In general, I am a philosopher in life and if to think it over — I do not drink, I do not smoke, I lead a healthy way of life — a good example for pupils, agree. Earlier I did not fall ill, so substitutes, as sometimes happens, were not needed. While at the boarding school I did everything by my hands. It is a pity that because of the ‘human factor’ I had not completely given myself to school, although I had enough forces.

Tell me, where did you first publish the Code of Pedagogical Ethics?

In the ‘Teacher’s Newspaper’. And I would say, that it did not gain special attention, but I did not put in efforts to popularise it. However, I took on-site and off-site courses on school psychologists in Minsk, where Vladimir Kabush, the well-known teacher in Belarus read us lectures. Then, in his book ‘School: Time of Changes’ we saw the Code. But the author, giving it as an example, praises a school of the Brest Region where he saw the Code on one of walls in a teacher’s room. When it was found out that I created the Code, the colleague asked for forgiveness. I replied that it is good that it was beneficial to someone. Then Kabush came to Braslav, conducted a seminar in a gymnasium, offered for me to write an article for the magazine about the education of children in a boarding school, and it was published. I learnt that one authoritative scientist at the Institute of improvement of teachers told about the Code of Pedagogical Ethics: ‘it is like an icon for us’. It was pleasant to hear that. And I also read lectures in that institute.

Have anybody from your pupils become a teacher?

“Many; after all, hundreds of people are my school-leavers. Liza Shakel, Nina Levsha, Ira Daletskaya, Valya Bushmak, Iosif Pashenka graduated from the Linguistic University... There are also bookkeepers, economists, engineers, military men...

Guys work here as tractor operators, drivers. When we meet they ask me how is fishing, how is my health? Although nobody writes me letters; with appearance of the Internet the epistolary genre has disappeared. I better knew those who lived in the boarding school. By the way, although I was a teacher, I also did different work: as a bookkeeper, as a linen keeper, and I also ordered products... Children were from those villages, homesteads, where it was difficult to reach, or simply from close villages, from disadvantaged families. At our establishment, they were well-groomed, fed and they slept in clean beds. We had over 40 people at the boarding school, now, there are less than 10, while the school itself has over one hundred pupils.

Perhaps in a village the situation is different, while in a city, as people say, there are pupils for whom teachers cry. Why it is so?

The reasons are different. In the Code there is such a line: ‘never offend, do not humiliate a pupil, and then a pupil will never offend and humiliate you’. It is necessary to analyse thoughtfully such situations, to search for a way out. It is possible to address Konstantin Ushinsky’s opinion who, in the book ‘Pedagogical Anthropology’, wrote that pedagogics is a practical psychology. He explained ‘We do not say to teachers — do this or that way — but we say to them — study the laws of those mental phenomena with which you want to operate, and act in harmony with these laws and those circumstances in which you want to apply such laws’. Then the author pays attention that ‘not only circumstances are infinitely different, but also the natures of pupils are not similar’.

So there cannot be any general educational recipes, because it is doubtful whether there exists one pedagogical measure in which it is impossible to find harmful and useful sides and which could give in one case a useful result, harmful in the second, whilst in the third — nothing at all. And still I will add that, in psychology there is a concept ‘reference’. It is about how one person is important for another person, in this case, the importance of a teacher for a child. If a pupil sees care from the side of a teacher, a kind and humane attitude, then the pupil will never make harm for you. Unless, excuse me, a pupil is a degenerate. My recommendation to colleagues is to learn your pupils. In general, I consider that in pedagogical institutes of higher education, it is necessary to accept entrants only by the results of a vocational aptitude test and then there will not be conflicts between teachers and pupils. Today a teacher is one of the mass professions, but it is not so prestigious. But teachers are the ones who build the future of society, imparting knowledge to pupils. And all of us should care about school. And how is it possible for those, who do not like their work, to care? Such people suffer and crush the souls of children. Once I heard from a teacher in the morning: ‘I go to school and it is like being in prison’, while I went, as I mentioned before, as if going on holiday. So you can understand why some teachers and children cry at school — they do not want to go there.

It means that you stand for kindness and humanism towards pupils. However, do you agree that sometimes both children and adults can perceive kindness as weakness or spinelessness?

If someone’s kindness does not cause an equal, respectful attitude, then probably it is insincere and ostentatious. After all, children feel pretence and real attitudes towards them. They are very excellent judges of character! While adults coarsen in terms of feelings, and lose that important quality or skill — to intuitively feel truth and lies. In due course, we also lose the ability to figuratively imagine about what we read. I remember, in my childhood I read a fragment from a novel of Eduard Samuilenok ‘Future’ and I imagined, how the character Iliko stabbed carps. How he, with his friend, stood on a hummock with the fish in the river... I read and as I ‘saw’ all these things. Such perception is lost with age. While the children’s state of mind is not loaded, not damaged and is very receptive. Therefore, by the way, it is very easy to hurt them, even by sight, movement, tone of voice or without speaking a word. Have you noticed the precise nicknames that children give to people! Once, a tall and thin teacher came to us — they called him ‘Rod’. A new pupil with white skin and white hair came to a class — ‘Sour Cream’. Such exact nicknames...”

How do you think? Is it possible to foster kindness in children? You said about children who can bend their rage against the whole world, and it happens that, in a class, there are several such ‘children’, and they drive a teacher crazy. Here is how one Persian wise man and poet, Jami, reasons about similar extreme situations — ‘When you get into a snake hole then clemency and compassion are bad signs here. Do not wait for the hissing of snake and do not trust in its tears. Immediately kill the reptile, otherwise you will die.’.

Fortunately, in my practice I did not have such serious conflicts with children. As for fostering kindness; I read an American psychologist Bandura that nobody fosters nobody, children take from adults everything that they need. And here is an example from our places. My sister lives in Miory and once she asked her neighbour whose children were good: how do you foster them? They replied ‘in no way.’

Children take the ‘example of behaviour’ from parents, brothers, sisters, from books, magazines and films. What you’ve co-opted, such a person you’ve become and it will be seen. We do not know, how our belief and needs are formed, while it is the basis of acts. Now scientists assert that environment influence is distributed in such a way. The first place — family: whatever it may be. Then — peer and, friends: they are important for children, children are imitators. In third place is mass-media, including the Internet. School is in fourth place, and one can speak about school fostering with great reserve. Such conclusions are not new for me. Once in the ‘Teacher’s Newspaper’ I read a report on a trip of a delegation of the Ministry of Education of the USSR to Japan. They looked around, and then ask a question, ‘How do you organise school fostering?’ The Japanese did not understand the question. They replied that school should teach, instead of fostering, that is the responsibility of the family. The Japanese teach their children to play musical instruments and to draw. Versatile development, children learn how to create beauty, to live beautifully. The sensation of beauty and aspiration to it is a strong base of personality. In general, children know much, apart from what they receive at school.

The philosopher and scientist Paracelsus told about ‘pre-experience’, the experience of ‘pre-birth’. Do you believe in it? People also say that an ‘old soul’ comes into the world, with already a big experience, and it happens that a young soul comes, which needs to learn something, to learn the hard way. While an inclination to music, even if there are no musicians in a family or to drawing may become that experience since childhood.

I have an interesting book ‘Ensemble of Universal Worlds’, it is about the thin bodies of a person. It appears, that we have an intuitive body which ‘manages’ art and, if it is developed from birth, then we have chance that a child will be a musician, an artist, or poet.

Did you have such cases when strong physicists or mathematicians were born in simple families?

Certainly! And such cases often happen in Slobodka and its vicinities. Parents are poorly educated while their children get on in the world. So I believe that we come into this world already having previous experience, potentialities, with God’s gift.

Avgust Pavlovich, are you already writing your ‘pedagogical poem’?

I am writing, thinking over directions and sections of a future book about bases of psycho-pedagogics. Because of modesty, I did not speak at conferences before, but now I want to share my experience with people, to give people something. Say, I stand for when starting from 5th form, when subject education begins and different teachers come to a class, that the class register should contain a small psychological portrait of each pupil consisting from 10-15 points. It is necessary to specify there the type of nervous system: weak or strong, whether it is inert or mobile. The left or right brain works more actively. Then any teacher can look at the information and to learn something about each child. It is very important. I remember, once when I was in a corridor I heard from a classroom, ‘Well, how long you will stand here like a blockhead?’ A pupil was near the blackboard, and had a lapse of memory and no words. While the most important thing, he knew the material, his mother before a lesson checked his knowledge, but the boy had a weak nervous system, and when a teacher raised their voice and humiliated him, the boy was confused. How many conflicts and even tragedies happen because of that? Moreover I stand for greater activity of the right brain. As we know, pupils experience overdevelopment of the left brain which is responsible for logical thinking. While figurative, if the emotional sphere is underdeveloped problems can arise with emotional deafness. It would be desirable to develop the ideas of different teachers, including the well-known Amonashvili, about the necessity of the most different relations at a lesson. And my Code basically oriented towards that. I was creating the Code over two years. And now I have an idea to develop a special course on it, in order to support the theses by the opinions of different people, and examples from my own practice. All principles in the Code are alive, not invented and it is necessary to bring it to schools.

Interviewed by
Ivan and Valentina Zhdanovich

Slobodka village, the Braslav District

My code

For a long time I, like many of my other colleagues, lived in line with the rules for pupils. Occasionally, they renewed and changed. Meanwhile, I’ve never come across rules for teachers. So, I decided to invent for my own Code of educational ethics for myself — it took me almost two years. This code helped me many times to come out of difficult situations with dignity. I hope that it will help many other teachers, especially new ones to revise their attitude with pupils.

This is my code of educational ethics:

1. To enter the classroom with a smile: this is an overture of a joyful lesson.

2. First teach — then ask.

3. Be fair in assessing the knowledge and behavior of pupils.

4. Keep your word strong before children.

5. Protect pupils from every kind of strong headedness.

6. Be sure to keep children’s secrets.

7. Be self-restrained and patient. Don’t ever descend to the insulting and humiliating of pupils and they won’t ever insult and humiliate you.

8. Be an example in everything: in work, clothes and behavior.

9. Don’t ever demand from your pupils what you won’t do yourself.

10. Be able to put yourself in the pupil’s place in any situation.

11. Remember: you’ll be able to understand pupils only when you love them.

12. Don’t stop studying — not even for a second. Be thoughtful and you’ll be able to learn much from your colleagues and your pupils.

13. Don’t ever complain about your pupils. Remember: a good teacher can be displeased only with themselves.

14. Don’t ever compare pupils: this develops envy and anger among some and courtliness and hypocrisy among others.

15. Trust your pupils. Refuse from trifling tutorship towards them.

16. Be benevolent towards those who accidentally stub.

17. If you’re not right — ask pupils to accept your apology.

18. Find something good in even the most neglectful pupil. Try to raise their esteem in their own eyes and they will meet your expectations.

19. Live in the interests of children and you’ll understand that the joy of close relations with children is one of the greatest joys on the Earth.

20. Go to school as if for a holiday. Otherwise, there’s nothing to do there for you.

Avgust Voitekhovich,
former teacher of Slobodka school in the Braslav District

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