Daiva Jankauskienė, Rūta Gudynienė
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Interview with Pre-Primary and Primary School Teachers Daiva Jankauskienė and Rūta Gudynienė: “Challenges Strengthen Us”

While others see problems, Daiva Jankauskienė, a pre-school teacher and methodologist, as well as the coordinator of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IB PYP) for primary classes, and Rūta Gudynienė, a primary school teacher and methodologist at Kaunas Erudito Licėjus, see opportunities and roll up their sleeves. This is a story about dedication and calling to the profession of teaching, the story of two teachers who have worked at Erudito Licėjus for the longest time. It is also a story about a beautiful friendship between women that blossomed precisely at school.

Rūta Gudynienė has been working at Erudito since its founding. But labeling her as a veteran wouldn’t be accurate—Rūta is endlessly youthful, always smiling, infectiously positive, and her positivity affects those around her. Students often embrace her, confide in her with all their secrets, so it’s no wonder she has been voted the most beloved and favorite teacher more than once.

Daiva Jankauskienė joined Kaunas Erudito Licėjus a few years later, so she has been working here for seven years now, and as a teacher for twenty-three years in total. And although one prefers the day, and the other prefers the evening, they complement each other perfectly. “We don’t even need to talk; we look at each other, and everything is clear,” Daiva smiles.

You are always seen together: both of you were nominated for the “Lithuanian Teacher” competition, you prepare lessons together, organize events, competitions, and even moderate conferences for a large audience. How did you two meet?

Daiva: Rūta is a phenomenon. She is the only teacher who has been working at Erudito Licėjus since the very first days, finding her calling as a teacher as soon as she started. She came to Erudito after her maternity leave. I joined the school the following year. Just like in life when a person finds their other half, so did we with Rūta—we immediately found common ground, feel each other without needing to exchange any signals or gestures— we just look at each other, and everything is clear (laughs). We found each other.

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

Daiva: I was inspired by my first teacher, who, in my opinion, was amazing. Although a lot of time has passed, I still remember how a group of children would run down the path to greet OUR teacher. Back then, the classes were large, with 30–40 children, but she noticed, talked to, and encouraged each one. However, my classmate, who also became a primary school teacher and with whom we both worked in the same school we graduated from, became a teacher because she wanted to be a better teacher than our first teacher. At a seminar about the role of a teacher and its different impact on each child, she said that she became a primary school teacher because she had a very bad teacher who despised her. I never saw her being despised, but she felt that way. This paradox is difficult for me to explain.

I remember how our first teacher taught us to be friendly, to care for each other. And if now cooperation and care are often discussed, I definitely know that these values were instilled in me by my first teacher. Now I teach these values to my own children. I knew I would be a primary school teacher from the first grade. Not only did I know, but I consistently prepared for it since the ninth grade. Every summer I worked in a kindergarten. And when I applied to the Šiauliai Pedagogical Institute, I chose to write an essay on the topic “My First Teacher” for the Lithuanian language exam.

Rūta: I was always drawn to working with children. Even after graduating from economics and business administration studies and working in business, I spent weekends and summers with young people, volunteering, organizing various camps. I saw a lot of meaning in that activity. When I had a little time to stop and think about what I wanted to do next, all my thoughts revolved around working with children. There was a little anxiety that I didn’t have a degree related to education, and starting to study again seemed like it might be too late—now looking back, it’s funny because I enrolled, studied with great pleasure, and not only completed a bachelor’s degree in primary education but also a master’s degree in education. Now I can confidently say to everyone that it’s never too late to study! That’s my journey to the teaching profession. And although there were many voices around me saying that I was going into madness, into an incredibly difficult job, and so on, I have never regretted this decision for a single minute.

What do you like most about being a teacher?

Daiva: I don’t know what I don’t like. I like everything! I love working with children, the fact that there is never monotony with them, I enjoy working with colleagues, creating something new, doing… Yesterday, my colleague Rūta and I sat down to brainstorm topics for a presentation, and we found a great TED conference, by the way, commissioned by UNESCO, about children’s emotional state and how important communication and attention from adults are for them. I sent it to Rūta, then we started dreaming about how great it would be to do something similar here so that children could participate in conferences and talk about what flavor adds spice to the lesson… I am driven by all the innovations, and I feel great pleasure in my work because of it. And when I have such an enthusiastic colleague beside me…

I love children and my job very much. They say, find a job that becomes your hobby, and you won’t have to work anymore. In that case, my job is also my hobby. I care deeply about the children, not only academically but also emotionally; it’s important to me how they feel. Every day I ask my children how they feel.

Rūta: What I like most is that I can change the lives of little people. I enjoy the fact that there is never a single day like any other. You come to work and you can’t imagine what awaits you. There is no monotony, but there is plenty of space for self-expression, creativity, and communication. You come as if to your other family. You ask how the child’s puppy is doing, you see that one went to the hairdresser yesterday after classes, the other, you see, was overcome by sadness in the morning. I like talking to them. You talk because you really care about those little people who are nearby. It’s like sharing with them as you would in a family, listening to them, sharing your stories, and what can inspire or teach them. I like that in this job I can implement my most interesting ideas. I like that by changing the little people step by step, I can contribute to creating a better Lithuania, a better world. I see a lot of meaning in that…

What would you recommend parents of preschoolers and primary school children to read, listen to, or watch?

Daiva: I really enjoy sharing anything interesting and useful I discover, whether with Rūta or with the parents of the students. This quality also connects us with Rūta. I have already recommended the movies “Wonder” and “Stargirl” to parents. I think they are perfect for children’s interpersonal relationships, teaching that every child is unique, regardless of any abilities they may have—each one is unique in their own way. Parents who watched them told me that these movies touch everyone – both children and parents.

As for books, I recommend Antoine de Saint Exupery’s “The Little Prince.” I tell children that they can read it every two years and always find something new. By the way, “The Little Prince” was recently released in the Žemaičių dialect.

Rūta: “Five Love Languages for Children.” The most important feeling with which we must surround our children is love. However, each person understands that love differently. To make the child understand the love we show them, we must know their love language. I am convinced that if we fill the child with love, when they grow up, they will know how to share it with others…

A magic word or action that always works during lessons.

Daiva: I always tell the children, “You can do it.” And I believe in it myself.

Rūta: My personal, mood-lifting magic word in life is “Everything will be fine.” And during lessons last year, we came up with a magic word with our first graders using our class symbol – Platon the mouse. “Mouse Platon says YES.” With this magic word, all the children’s mouths close at the same time, and a complete silence magically prevails in the classroom for a while. The children really liked it, and we brought it to the second grade as well.

As a teacher, you probably don’t have as much free time for hobbies. Nevertheless, I’m curious, what hobbies do you have, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Daiva: I’ll start with my colleague Rūta, who is very musical (like her whole family), I find it very beautiful how her whole family cherishes Lithuanian traditions and loves the country, how strong their national and patriotic feelings are. As for myself, I really enjoy music. I graduated from a music school, specializing in piano. Now the piano is with my daughter, but I used to play. I can play the guitar; my husband taught me, my daughter attended a music school, and my husband graduated from the “Vyturys” school, where music is emphasized. He plays the piano and guitar, and my son-in-law is a radio equipment installer, who worked with “Polarized Glass”, so during holidays, we have a lot of fun together (laughs). I love reading books. Not always with serious content, but reading helps me relax. I enjoy books that explore historical realities. I also love traveling. I miss it a bit while working with preschoolers because I’m used to traveling with children.

Rūta: My hobbies include theater, cinema, concerts, spending time with family, walking in nature, the sea, traveling, and music.

What would you be if you weren’t a teacher?

Daiva: A kindergarten teacher. I’ve worked as one from ninth to eleventh grade.

Rūta: A writer of children’s books.