TfS, or Slovak Teachers of Roma Children

The hot Slovak August of 2015. Taking the Dragov express train, packed tightly with passengers, on the Bratislava-Košice line, I arrive, late in the afternoon, in Poprad. 28 year-old Alex, who looks more like a film star than a teacher, is waiting for me at the station; he is the winner of the 2014 Golden Amos, awarded in Slovakia to the best teacher, chosen from a group of contenders nominated by their own students. Alexander Jakubčo was one of 14 people (out of 220 applicants, aged 21-311) who successfully completed the long, intense process of recruitment for the inaugural year of the program Teach for Slovakia and who, since September 2014, have been able to work as teachers in one of the elementary schools for Roma (“gypsy”) children. TfS became operational in Slovakia in 2014, but is part of a larger organization founded in the US in 2007, the non-profit Teach For All. The purpose of TfS is to provide visible, active education for Roma children and financial support for schools (buying books, notebooks, and sets of school supplies) while modernizing existing elementary schools and building new ones, but its highest priority is the creation of cadres of young teachers who are both responsible and aware of the difficulties they will face; as the organization’s recruitment film underscores, these people must be “positively crazy,”2 because such individuals are sorely lacking in the Slovakian education system. They do not have to pass all the prerequisites in terms of pedagogical training, but are required to go through a complex “introductory training prorgam,” after graduating from which they work as full-time educators in partner elementary or junior high schools, both “purely” Roma schools and mixed ones. TfS has support from many important people, including Slovak president Andrej Kiska and the Škoda Auto company, made some dozen automobiles available for teachers to drive to work; the organization also provides young people with various other opportunities encompassing a wider range of personal or career development choices– they may continue to work as teachers, or may leave the education system and work in organizations that deliver aid to Roma populations and other minorities. Plavecký Štvrtok, Huncovce, Stráne pod Tatrami, Dobšiná, Nálepkovo, Levocza, Poprad are just a few of the villages and towns to which such organizations bring help. Anna Maarová, who was in charge of the initial training, remarked that the schools were chosen according to criteria that included: whether the children attending them are socially marginalized, and whether principals and teachers there were eager to support the project. Remuneration for teachers comes out of the budget for schools and the proect itself covers all the costs of accommodation, commuting to work, further pedagogical development (courses, intensive training sessions, group integration trips, etc.), as well as the purchase of all items needed for school and textbooks for the children.