Ioana’s interviews: Teaching with respect

How do you become a teacher who has excellent results with all the students in the class? With love, respect and trust, says Mihaela Ancuța, Mathematics Curriculum Leader at Avenor International High School. But, before anything else, it takes a huge dose of passion and dedication for this profession.

We invite you to find out more from a new interview in the series about the passions and talents of our community members, created by Ioana, a student in Grade 12.

Ioana: Tell us a couple of words about Mihaela Ancuta. How would you introduce yourself?

Mihaela Ancuța: I am a person who always tries to have a smile on her face. I accomplish this especially at school because here I forget about all the other things that are going on in my life and because here I get positive energy from my students and colleagues. Besides this, I can also say that I am very passionate and devoted to my career and I feel like I am never getting tired. All the time I want to do more; the only thing getting in my way is time! I consider myself an honest person, but tactful, always recognising my mistakes and trying  to learn from them in order to become better next time. This is also how I encourage my students to be: to admit their mistakes and try their best to fill in these gaps and to correct them in the future. I am an empathetic person, who gets emotional easily when the situation is sensitive, but I don’t consider this aspect as a flaw, but rather a quality. In my opinion, when people are like this it means that they care about those around, and when you care, you do nothing that can hurt what surrounds you.

Ioana: Where does your passion for mathematics come from? 

Mihaela Ancuța: My passion for mathematics comes from my teacher from grade 8, who seemed to me as a mysterious person. I remember that she wore glasses and that I wanted to look like her, so I told my mother that I wasn’t seeing very well and that I had to go for a check-up. I won’t ever forget when I went to my medical appointment thinking what to do when the doctor will look at my eyes and notice that I can actually see perfectly. I decided, then, to stare at a light bulb for a longer period of time – “maybe something will happen to me”. After this, I had to place my head on a machine and the doctor told me that maybe I have 0.25 at one eye and I would agree “yes,yes, that’s right!!”. I remember that I chose my glasses to look the same as the teacher’s, but I couldn’t walk on the street when wearing them. In order for me to climb the stairs, I would raise my glasses from my nose to see where to step. They bothered me, but I didn’t admit it to anyone!  

So my passion for mathematics comes from this teacher from 8th grade. After this, I was lucky to have another teacher in high school that inspired me a lot, and this made my passion for mathematics to continue. My passion for school, for becoming a teacher, came before my passion for mathematics. I identified it very early, when I realised that I really liked writing on the blackboard. I remember that, in the first grade, we didn’t have a sponge with water to wipe off the board, so I took out my handkerchief from my pocket and I watered it to make the board beautiful. I was passionate to write on boards with chalk also outside of school. I had at home a cardboard box on which I would write, then erase everything with water, then wait for it to dry up and write on it again. I would also write on my bedroom door sometimes, but then erase everything immediately so that my mother wouldn’t see. However, sometimes, even though I would wash it, white stains would remain on the door. I wrote, of course, on the walls as well. I liked explaining to other people  different things. I had imaginary characters to whom I would teach.

Ioana: How do you feel being part of the Avenor College community both as a teacher and as a parent?

Mihaela Ancuța: I feel amazing – happy and fulfilled! I feel that this is the place where I can grow and improve, I can say that Avenor gave me wings! And for my child, I believe that it is the best school that we could have chosen! He is very proud to be part of the Avenor community.

Ioana: You have amazing results with each and every student of yours. What is your secret? 

Mihaela Ancuța: I simply love them! What is behind this sentence depends a lot on the relationship with the students, on the respect that you show you have for them – because only then it can be mutual – and on a good plan and structure, considering that time is limited (usually when you are preparing for an exam you only have a year, maybe two to prepare, or even a couple of months). Of course, you can deviate from this established plan in exceptional cases. Another factor is represented by high expectations, and also when I identify in my class students that have low self esteem or that are considered maybe weaker by others, I treat them exactly like the the most advanced students in class. By treating them in the same way, their confidence in themselves grows and they will do everything in their power to not let you down. This means that they will learn and they will obtain very good results.

There is this story in the biography of Thomas Edison that says that one day, he came home and gave his mother a note from school. His mother read it out loud for him because he wanted to know what was written on the note: “Your son is a genius. Our school is too unprepared for him and doesn’t have enough teachers to support him. Please, take care of him yourself!”. After many, many years, Edison finds the note on which it was actually written: “Your son is addled [mentally ill]. We won’t let him come to school any more.” This is the secret: to encourage students!

Ioana: You have been and still are in contact with both the Romanian and the Cambridge educational system. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of them?

Mihaela Ancuța: I would group this comparison in two parts: secondary and high school. For secondary school, the students in the Romanian system learn concepts in more depth than the ones in the Cambridge system. This can be an advantage because the level of knowledge is higher, but also a disadvantage because these concepts can be learned mechanically, forced, and the notions may not be understood well. However, in the Cambridge system, the students learn concepts that can be more applied to the day to day life. Usually, they don’t get into very much detail, but the notions are diverse.

In high school, in the Romanian system, the students have to study Mathematics, if they choose the „real” (Maths and Sciences) profile. On the other hand, in the Cambridge system, they choose what subjects they want to study, and this comes with the assumption that students have passion and skills for the respective subject. This is easier for both the teachers, because they will work with students that want to be there, and for the students, because they are surrounded by people who share the same passions. The content of the Cambridge A Level syllabus is superior to the Romanian Baccalaureate and I believe that it has many more advantages from this point of view.

Ioana: How do you spend your free time? 

Mihaela Ancuța: I try to spend as much time as possible with my children, of course. Because they are still young, they wish to play a lot, so we do many activities together – games, we dance, sing, fool around, have fun. When the children are not around, I like to search for information, explore YouTube and the Internet because only then I have the time to do this. I like to get informed about what is happening in other schools (of course, my focus is on the things that are related to the educational system). In addition to this, another priority of mine is personal development. I went and still go to many different conferences that I find out about on the Internet. Recently I went to a conference about “How to raise amazing kids” and I took notes so that later I could share what I found out with my friends and with anyone who considers they need this. Of course, these workshops that I attend are about educating parents, but also teachers. In my free time, even though I don’t do it often, I like to go shopping. I don’t like to cook, but to clean, I do – it relaxes me.

 

Ioana: I am curious now that you told me about the most recent conference that you attended, how do you raise amazing kids?

Mihaela Ancuța: The same way in which you raise amazing students! By loving them, trusting them, respecting them, by avoiding getting mad at them and by teaching them to understand their mistakes! You don’t ever have to act superior around them or act like you are smarter than them, but you have to be always there for them in their learning process, thinking at the same time and holding their hands so that they grow both emotionally and physically.

Ioana: The Avenor Community has extended also in the Greenfield neighborhood. I know that you have recently taken the decision to move here, how do you feel the connection between these two communities? 

Mihaela Ancuța: It is the best decision I’ve made! I am thrilled that I live this close to the school. Time is not an inconvenience anymore, I arrive in a couple minutes to school and in this way I have time for other things – I don’t waste the 4 hours that I used to spend commuting before. I am glad also that when I go shopping for groceries, on the street or in the park with my children, I meet with someone I know. Students see me when I am on the balcony, I wave to them when they pass in front of my apartment. I like that when I look outside I see the school, when I come back from downtown in the evening, I turn my head to see if everything is ok – if the lights are turned off, etc. Overall it is excellent, I like it very much!

At the initiative of Mihaela Ancuța, 𝗠𝗔𝗧𝗛-𝗟𝗬-𝗡𝗘𝗪𝗦 appeared, the first Avenor mathematics magazine, coordinated by a team of middle school and high school students.

You can read all the issues of the magazine here.

Avenor Scouting Summer School – a learning experience based on the scout values

For over 100 years the scout movement has been the largest and most relevant movement for children and teenagers because it is based on two factors that inspire those who wish to create an impact in the society through education: an educational method and values. Avenor College has incorporated this educational system for over 10 years in order to create ‘The Best Future’ for its community: students, parents, teachers, staff, and partners.

From this “Character Match”, four years ago we created the “Avenor Scouting Summer School” concept. We have let ourselves be enthused and inspired by learning in and around nature and planned weekly trips and educational activities in order to raise an appetite for exploration and knowledge among children. We primarily use the symbolic scouts’ framework “The Jungle Book”, by Rudyard Kipling, to guide children about friendship, courage, the beauty of small things, the importance of rules, and creativity during the personal development sessions. We are inspired by the scouts’ laws and the very well known scout promise to communicate to children the ideas of ‘making everything possible’, ‘to leave the world better than they found it’, to ‘always be prepared’ for action and to fulfil all of the aforementioned, not forgetting ‘One for all and all for one’. We have adopted‚ the ’learning through action’ principle in order to discover and educate future abilities in society: leadership, public speaking and teamwork.

The children who attend Avenor Scouting Summer School live a learning experience inspired by the scout movement, but they will not become scouts. Looking towards the future, we imagine that they will let themselves be inspired and will choose to contribute to a better world with the help of the scouting movement.

Avenor travels on its own path and when it encounters other travellers who aim for their best possible future, it feels even more confident that co-creation is always the best direction.

This year, Avenor Scouting Summer School will take place between July 9th  and August 10th at the nursery location. Find out more about registration, types of programme and activities by accessing this link.

By Cristina FARCAȘ

Avenor Summer School Coordinator

Deputy Educational Coordinator & Nursery Green Teacher

Skills or results? Both

Over the last 20 years or so, in global pedagogy acquiring skills is considered the ultimate goal of learning. And rightly so. What is the use of knowledge, information, definitions, specialised terminology if not to help develop general and specific skills? It is common sense. This shift of attention from “knowledge” to “learn to do” to “learn to be” completely transformed different educational systems, even the Romanian system, with all its awkwardness and inconsistencies.

It is also a fact that insinuated itself gradually, despicably, unobserved and not only into the highly competitive world of Romanian education but also in larger American, English, even Nordic communities and became the (unwritten) rule of the game for the evaluation process in schools, ranking graduates only by results. In theory, we are referring to the pedagogy of happiness, learning by discovery, the pleasure to come and stay in school. In practice, we construct and deconstruct rankings for performant schools, prestigious universities, maybe even for nursery schools that promise Harvard candidates and have waiting lists composed before the future students were even planned to be born. We live in a paradox, are we not?

Avenor College has been making its way in this paradoxical world for 10 years. Because we really believe and put into practice a system of learning directed towards competencies, learning with joy and love, enquiry and discovery are considered essential steps in shaping future adults. However, since our first grade 8 students graduated and many families started to aspire to Avenor for any type of class, the situation of the results comes up quite often in the conversations that are part of the admission process: “We have been following you. You are always in the top 10 schools in Bucharest. We care about our child’s happiness, but it is no secret that we are also interested in the results at the end of this cycle of continuous happiness”.

I think it is a very honest point of view, without any type of hypocrisy. The situation is not limited to strictly monitoring the results of our students at the National Evaluation exams but involves also monitoring every year the scores for the Cambridge Checkpoint exams, mandatory for the admission at Avenor International High School.

Skills or test scores? This year, all of our Grade eight graduates have achieved exceptional results either at the Cambridge Checkpoint exam – 5.8 at Maths and 5.9 at English on a scale of maximum 6.0 points – or at the National Evaluation: 10 in Romanian, 9.85 in Mathematics. Skills, therefore results!

Science teacher Gareth is the new Grade 9 Form Tutor

Starting in September, our Science teacher Gareth will be the Grade 9 form tutor at Avenor International High School. He is very excited to make students feel part of a well-knit team and be like a third parent, demanding but also very supportive. He will continue to teach Science in a way that will allow students to understand the world they live in and how they can change it. He is also going back to school, to improve his Romanian.

You will be the Form Tutor for Grade 9 next year and many of the students who know you are very excited about that. What should they expect from you?

Form tutors are an important figure in the development of the student, they are like the third parent based at the school. They create links and harmony between the parents at home, the management of the school and the academic life of both the students and the subject teachers who deliver their education. The role of the tutor is to facilitate and support the students in their social and emotional development so that they are best equipped to deal with their job of learning. They are the ones that students turn to first when they need help, someone who they can trust and someone they know will support them. The form tutor must set very high expectations for the students both morally and academically.

I have a very close relationship with the students that finished Grade 8. I worked to prepare them for chemistry and physics in the Romanian system, as well as in applied science in the Cambridge system. I taught them more hours per week than other teachers and developed a mutual respect. They helped me and I helped them.

It is important that new students and existing students all feel a part of the Grade 9 team. This will not be difficult since the atmosphere at Avenor is very welcoming and community focused. I’ve always developed very close-knit tutor groups that can rely on each other as well as on me for support. I also have a lot of experience in helping students with the difficulties of growing up and finding their place in the world. It’s a challenging time in the student’s life and the expectations of today are very different. The world is changing so fast sometimes students are unsure of their place in it. There are also the same issues that all teenagers face regardless of school or country like boyfriends/girlfriends, what’s cool, how others perceive their image etc. I will be there for all students any time they need help. My door is always open.

Science is one of the classes Avenor students enjoy the most. How would you describe your Science classes to our new and prospective high school students?

The science programme for the students is fun and develops the key skills of scientific enquiry but also teaches areas that are fun and relevant to students. In addition to the topics covered in the Romanian system, students also learn about renewable energy for the future, drugs, alcohol, and health, as well as new materials that can be used to fabricate the technology of the future.

The science classes at Avenor are based on the Cambridge system of scientific enquiry and problem solving, whereas the Romanian system is based on memory recall. I’ve talked a lot in the past about the differences in the educational systems, but it boils down to a few main points.

  • Very few students will actually use science knowledge directly in their future and it’s a waste of time to just remember endless pages of facts (although very good for winning a pub-quiz). It’s the scientific skills that are valued.
  • The scientific method of observing something that happened, deciding why it might have happened, researching and testing to see if you were correct and readjusting your ideas/theories based on observable evidence are very important in all areas of employment. For example, many of our students want to work in enterprise and business and the ability to analyse what products have sold, why they sold and develop strategies to increase sales are a form of the scientific method. In short, our science programme teaches students how to observe the world around them and what they can do to change it. This is a very powerful tool to have.
  • Finally, having practical experiments for students makes the learning more real and fun. It allows students to relate to content that might not always be clear from a book. As humans, we learn best by interacting with our environment. You could always teach a baby to walk by showing them a formula for balance and explaining where they need to generate force by pushing against the ground, but they will learn best by trying, failing, and trying again.

You are also going to school for Romanian classes. What made you decide to learn Romanian and how is that going so far?

From a practical perspective, it makes sense to learn Romanian to make life easier. However, for me it’s more than this. I am not an international teacher that just happened to come to Romania because there was a job here. I specifically chose to come here.  It’s my first international position. I had many Romanian friends at university and visited the country often, eight times in five years, before working here. In order to understand a culture, it’s important to get an understanding of the language. Culture and arts are what make life worth living. I want to be able to have a conversation with an old person about what life use to be like, to read some poetry, or express my views on current political trends or a piece of art. I know it’s said never make politics or religion a topic of conversation, but sometimes it’s nice to break the mould.

I’ve not developed as fast as I wanted to over the last year. I therefore made a decision to improve this over the summer holidays. I’ve attended a two-week intensive course for beginners. Studying in a classroom for three hours each day was quite enlightening since it’s been a few years since I was on the receiving end of education. I also have a better understanding of what people mean when they talk about the didactic teaching methods used in the Romanian state system. You really have to be at the top of the class or risk falling behind very quickly!

The course was aimed at beginners and had a strong focus on grammar, which is actually what I needed. I passed the A1 course with high in each section (speaking, listening, reading, and writing) and I am now looking to take the A2 course.