Smilja Mrdja is a history teacher in Bosnia and Herzegovina. For a long time, she has been involved in education related to the issue of history textbooks in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She deals with controversial topics in history and is often engaged as a lecturer at various seminars for teachers on the particular controversy of history. Professor Smilja is the coach of the OSCE, CIVITAS and the Council of Europe. She has been hired as an expert of the Council of Europe for new didactic and methodological approaches to the study of history in teaching. She is a reviewer of several history textbooks and workbooks, and the author and co-author of many manuals. She is the co-author of two educational comics ‘Vremeplov’ by Professor Histore and ‘Nacrtaj mi Sarajevo’. She has won several awards and recognitions. She is the awardee of the title the Best Teacher of the former Yugoslavia. She is a member of the main team of the EduBalkan community, which networks teachers from six Balkan countries.
ACT 1 – (Un)Certain Beginning
“Good afternoon, my honey muffins!”
I write via office 365 platform.
“Morning teacher! Did you fall asleep?
Let me tell you right away that I didn’t.”
That’s how the story of the first day of online classes starts. Hearts, likes, gifs pop up on my computer screen.
At some point, a conscientious student writes: “So, teacher, what are we going to do today?”
Do? Well yes, this is a class and it’s only once per week with my sixth graders. “Send us assignments,” Nejla notes.
Hundreds of question marks over my head. I recall yesterday’s training of just a few hours in the computer room. Luckily, I recorded the key explanations and looked at them in the evening, but the only thing I remembered was that we were all confused, both those who are more computer savvy as well as those who are not quite there. I end up somehow sending those prepared assignments with tomorrow’s date with timestamp 11:59 PM, but in about 10 minutes children send “Goodbye teacher”, “Have a nice day, teacher”, and so begins the adventure called online teaching or distance learning. The keyword here is “distance”.
A question arises how to transfer everything we did in a classroom that was made as a stimulating place for learning where students entered saying “Yes! Now is the history class” or “Thank God, it’s history now!” from a distance.
I am a teacher of living words. I try to motivate, inspire and to move their energy with my energy. “Well, teacher, you are the goofiest! You are teaching us history through these jokes,” one student told me at the beginning of the year.
It sounded like a compliment to me, and I’m sure for some it wouldn’t. I’m panicking.
How can I evoke the same emotion on the platform, when I don’t have their faces in front of me that light up when I tell them “well done” or when it’s not clear to them, and I clearly see the question marks above their heads or when their eyes close when I tell them we will be Spartans today.
After a few days of confusion, I say to myself, “You have to find yourself and your style, the same one that captured their attention in the classroom.”
But how? There we acted, sang, rapped a song about Kulin Ban.
I think, “Well if their home is a classroom now, I’ll try to bring something interesting into that space”.
ACT 2 – I Can Do It
I rummage through the closet, looking for clothes that could be used for costumes and disguises in historical figures and events. I sew, re-cut, add ribbons, glue five-pointed stars, roll up turbans. I say, “If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain”.
That is, if I can’t watch them act, they will watch me act. I look at the plan and program, it works for me. Lessons perfect for creations. I put a wreath of leaves around my head, a scarf like a toga, put on sandals and here we are, sailing across the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, heading for Rome. Romans, Jews, Roma, sultans and partisans entered their homes.
“You are the most creative teacher ever,” Rijad writes. My eyes are full of tears, yes that’s it, we found each other, we reconnected.
I am more and more confident, the recordings are getting better, the students are more and more satisfied. I challenge them to send me their creations and disguises as historical figures. I am overwhelmed by all possible means of communication. I spend hours and hours at the computer, but satisfied and happy. I tell them that my eyesight worsened for both proximity as well as distance due to this ‘distant learning’.
Each day we start differently. “Today we work in groups, everyone who is still in pyjamas is one group, and those who washed and dressed are in the other.” It turned out that the latter consisted of only three students. We should also rate ourselves, that has always been a problem for me, because how to turn those sparks and curiosity into numbers from 1-5.
Fortunately, the platform offers several ways to create, knowledge quizzes presentations and simple insight into their activities. In the end, I ask the students who have already received five fives that they no longer have to send me their assignments and that they can get some rest (hoping they can read between the lines so that I can rest).
Soon the answer from Sumeja from VIII-2 arrives: “No, you will not get rid of me so easily”. I reply, “I don’t want to”.
ACT 3 – I am Waiting for a Hug in September
We are a little tired, we miss each other a lot and we are getting in video calls more and more often. We are now certain that we will not embrace each other within this school year. I send my congratulations to the graduates; I wish them all the happiness in life and future work. I imagine how they grew up and how this unprecedented situation made them more serious. I comfort them that we will go down in history as pioneers of something new and different, whether better or worse only time will tell. What is certain is that we have become stronger and that we have added more tools to that toolbox of ours that will help us to make confident steps in this uncertain life. I hope that those steps will lead us to our classroom again and that we will be able to hug each other in September.