Interview – Mgr. Zdeněk Janík, M.A., Ph.D.
Zdeněk Janík was born on 11th September 1975 in Brno. He is married to an English teacher and they have three children. Mr. Janík works as an Assistant Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature at Masaryk University.
How was your week?
Quite a normal one. It was shorter because of Easter and it was rather more hectic last week because the students were submitting their thesis. I was working on final comments. Now it’s more relaxed. Just the usual teaching and reading articles related to my research and so on.
You have written so many articles and publications. My question is, how do you find teaching compared to your time as a grammar-school student? Do you find any differences?
Yes, it’s quite hard to squeeze it into a couple of sentences. Are you asking about my ways of teaching or my experience?
My experience of secondary (grammar) school teaching tended to be frontal, where the teacher stood in front of the students. Even when we had a Literature class, the teacher would just give us notes to read and we would not discuss anything. At the same time, I had an early experience of an interesting English teacher which, not surprisingly, very much influenced my own teaching, I would say. This English teacher had a great impact on my future career. She used these new, back then very different methods of teaching based on teamwork. We would put the desks away and just lie on the carpet and listen to exercises. There was a funny coincidence; when she was teaching us – it was back in the last century – she was studying English here at Masaryk University at the same time, which I learned from her many years later. But my ways of teaching have changed a lot over the years I’ve been here, since 2002. More and more I rely on students to deliver feedback, I mean to get the class content going. My approach today is to see students as valuable assets, to make them part of the teaching process. Very often I rely on asking them questions. Sometimes I have to rephrase the question because some students don’t understand it well, and I need to be sure they do. Then they are able to start answering: first in pairs, then in groups, and then we start talking together, and that inspires me very much in a way. Afterwards I know how to develop the content of the class or the teaching. But I can’t always depend on the students, of course; I have to structure my lessons in accordance with the curriculum.
I’ve noticed that in the past you also taught at the Slon language school.
Yes, the language schools. I went through quite a few of them, but that was just to earn money, really, and I didn’t like it. It was simply necessary for me at that time, because at first my job here was just part-time, so I had to make part of my living in some other way, like teaching at language schools. But I didn’t find it rewarding at all, apart from the money.
Interesting. Have you ever taught children?
I don’t know if secondary-school girls and boys count.
Because I originally graduated here with a Master’s in secondary-school teaching, I went to teach at a vocational secondary school, in Lomnice near Tišnov – a school that doesn’t exist anymore. That was my experience. I taught English there for a year, but then I had to quit because the commute was really complicated. Besides, when I was teaching there, I hadn’t yet completed my studies here, so I was teaching and studying at the same time.
Do you prefer teaching adults or children?
Grown-ups, I suppose. On the second thoughts, though, having my own very young children, doing homework with them and explaining things concerning their education at elementary school is fun.
You have three children. Do you teach them English?
Well yes, me and my wife try to use English now and then, so that it’s context-based. For example, when it‘s bedtime, I say it to my kids in English. They already know what it is, and they do as they are told. It’s not like I would teach them intentionally.
What’s your wife’s job?
She teaches English at an elementary school. Incidentally, she taught our first-born daughter; moreover, this year she’s teaching our second-born daughter. And she always refuses to do homework with them.
You are an English teacher, yet you studied Political Science.
Yes, that’s right. It‘s sort of this hybrid which is not necessarily an obstacle. From the start of my studies here I was a double-subject student of Civics and English. In the last year of my studies, I decided to write my Master’s thesis for the Civics department, because I was more interested in that field. But it was interesting to see the links there between English and Civics. Now when I teach English Language and History classes, I always address issues of Political Science.
Would you ever consider a complete change of career?
I don’t think so, not anymore. I am sort of involved in local politics in my hometown, but as for teaching, I love it. I love the interaction with students and all matters concerning students. I can’t imagine doing a different profession.
I understand. So how do you balance the time with your family with your work as an Erasmus coordinator?
Yes, this work-life balance is difficult, and time-management is important, especially with three small kids when you want to be with them. I really don’t want these years to pass without me being with them. It works.
You travelled a lot during your studies – to Budapest, the US and so on. Which university have you liked the best so far?
I think that travelling for whatever purpose has given me a lot and made my life very much richer. But I will always be fond of and like going back to my alma mater, and that is Masaryk University. My mission as an Erasmus coordinator is and always will be to utilize these things in such a way that they benefit our students. I like to go to McLaren Community College in Texas, for example – to do research or to teach. I like the change of environment and culture, the different perspective. But I always want to come back home eventually.
Do you have a message for students at Masaryk University?
Yes. Being the Erasmus coordinator and having been through the experience of travelling abroad and studying at different universities, I’ve learned how enriching and rewarding it can be. It gives you various perspectives on reality, and it helps you think critically. So here’s my message:
If you can, go abroad, not just on holiday, but to study. Spend at least one month somewhere abroad and interact with local people.
Thank you very much for your time.