Teaching means knowing − not only what to teach, but also how to offer experience, knowledge, ideas, how to encourage and support students, says Libuše Trnková

What message does she send to applicants to study teaching? What does teaching give her? In what ways is teaching a mission for her? On the occasion of Teachers' Day, we asked Libuše Trnková, who has been teaching at the faculty for 50 years.

27 Mar 2023 Zuzana Jayasundera

Photo: Irina Matusevich

What would you say to those applying to study teaching? Why study science teaching at our faculty? What do you gain from working as a teacher? What is the mission of teaching?

While these are all different questions they all fit together, even if they can be seen from different points of view. I hope that all teaching studies applicants choose field combinations that not only entertain and fulfil them but also prove effective when educating young people; that their teaching opens up the world of knowledge for them, increasing their appetite and desire to learn something new in the natural sciences. Curiosity and inquisitiveness are connected here, in that curiosity is what leads us toward perfection and stimulates the direction in which we direct our curiosity. As one of the greatest geniuses of all time, Albert Einstein, said, “the joy of seeing and understanding is the most beautiful gift of nature”. After giving us this gift, we should keep it healthy and protect it as much as possible, I would even say pamper it. Lately, however, I feel that we are treating nature in a more ‘step-motherly way’, i.e. something to be ignored or even disliked. I think it would be useful, therefore, if there were as many applicants for science teaching as possible. Thanks to the great variety of fields and the high level of scientific and research work done at MU, science teaching students can look forward to enhancing their knowledge and gaining inspiration on how to combine educational and subject components in their future teaching work.

Your question as to what I have gained from teaching can be answered briefly – a lot. In this job you do not age, or rather you are not aware of old age, as you are constantly in contact with young people, unworn and full of life. I know that many scientists prefer to focus on their scientific work only, but as we have already indicated, educational work is irreplaceable in that the teacher works constantly with young people who force you to think about how a given process, problem or effect can be best explained in the most vivid way. It forces you to be more imaginative, to think more deeply and to come up with strategies and tactics that are comprehensible to as many students as possible. Teachers are then stimulated to continuously modify their teaching material, to add new facts and to be interested in whether the students have understood the given material. In other words, based on concrete and unbiased reports, to make the teaching material as near to perfect as possible. Sometimes I call it ‘the maturation of the content concept’.

The mission of a teacher is intangible and should never be devalued or completely lost in society. I see the mission of teaching on two levels. One is to pass on experience to students, to cause them to be interested in a given field or issue and to initiate discussions that involve them in solving the problem. The second is the opening of the spirit of science and knowledge, opening the unknown where both the student and society want to go in a sophisticated manner.

Recently, we have not been living in peaceful times, there is much to trouble us and make us unhappy. While we can’t do much in the geopolitical field, I think we can look for ways to improve teaching and how it is implemented. One way may be to constructively connect both the teacher and student camps with a new approach, one that evaluates the quality of teaching and teachers based more on actual academic results rather than student impressions. There is no perfect solution for the evaluation of teaching anywhere in the world; however, it needs to be found and, as elsewhere, it remains a challenge for our university. Perhaps it could be solved in the form of essays, perhaps by assigning tasks where each student should find their own possible solution, perhaps by independent work that contains elements of invention and the ability to creatively approach solutions to a given problem. Something like the Olympics at a higher level. Though it is yet another time-consuming job, especially for teachers, it could be reached by refusing to fill in pointless questionnaires or creating descriptive teaching methods.

Because I so liked the idea of my colleague, Dominik Heger, which he developed at the end of the retrospective review of physical chemistry in the book “History written by natural scientists”, I would like to reproduce the final words of the interview here:

We are interested in a small part of the research. Above all, however, we try to live up to the ideal of science and, as such, (i) discover the truth and share it with all of humanity in the form of articles, (ii) experience with our students and colleagues the joy and hard work in achieving knowledge, and (iii) generalise the known regularities and offer our understanding to students in lectures and exercises. We are convinced that knowledge, cognition and appropriate commitment in scientific endeavours can also bring a joyful and fulfilling life to a person, along with teamwork with good and honest colleagues and a sense of belonging and complementing each other when solving a scientific problem together. We are all aware of one important fact - that science and research cannot be done without mutual trust and cooperation. We are very happy, we are happy when we can learn new things and think about them, look for connections and tread new paths of science. We should also “infect” our students with this happiness. Finally, we all wish that the university opens people’s minds, brings the hope of knowledge and builds a free, happy and functioning society.

Thank you for the interview.
Zuzana Jayasundera

You can read Libuše Trnková’s experience with balancing family and work life on our website dedicated to women in science here.
The interview on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the professor's teaching career at the faculty can be read here.

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