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Five Rules of Teaching by Alexander Solzhnitsyn

Later this year, 100 years since the birth of Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) will be commemorated. He is known throughout the world as a great writer, Gulag survivor, philosopher and dissident. Not many known that Solzhenitsyn was also a pedagogue. The famous writer was not only a teacher, but also an educational innovator.

The first time he approached a school board as a teacher was right after graduating from the Rostov State University, in September 1941. For health reasons, he was found to be partly fit, and did not participate in the beginning of World War Two. Alexander Isaevich was sent to teach in the city of Morozovsk of the same Rostov region.
In 1942, the future writer became a cadet at the artillery school, and the next time he crossed the school threshold was in 1953, after the release from the camp, in the Kazakh exile. He taught physics and mathematics in senior classes of a secondary school in the village of Berlik. A few months later, however, he was diagnosed with cancer, and went to Tashkent for treatment.
The next pedagogical stage of Alexander Isaevich's rich biography began in 1956, in the village of Mezinovsky, in Vladimir Region. He taught in high school again, mathematics and electrical engineering, that is, physics again.
From 1957 to 1962 he was a teacher in Ryazan. He taught physics and astronomy.

Versatile Knowledge is Not Superfluous

Alexander Isaevich did not try to hide his versatility. On the contrary, he used his erudition and his life experience in his pedagogical practice in every possible way. One of the pupils from Ryazan recalled: "He could bring a volume of classical prose to the astronomy lesson, find descriptions of the stars in the text, and read them through the eyes of an astronomer."
Of course, thanks to such techniques, interest in astronomy only intensified. The distant, incomprehensible subject suddenly became an everyday reality, even inspiring for a creation of literary masterpieces.
The German language teacher at the Kazakh school recalled: "I liked him and his erudition. He was good at German, he read in English. He was a very pleasant interlocutor [...] When they said that Isaevich had become a writer, I was very surprised. He shouldn't have done it. His vocation is pedagogy. He was an exceptionally talented teacher [...] Isayevich knew how to select the keys to the heart of any child."

Teaching is Not Confined within School Walls

In the unfinished story "Love the Revolution," Solzhenitsyn depicted himself in the image of teacher Gleb Nerzhin. This story is, in fact, autobiographical. Alexander Isaevich wrote: "On starry evenings, Nerzhin occasionally gathered the tenth grade students in the schoolyard and, installing Galilee's pipe, he showed them the rings of Saturn, taught them to find the multicolored Antares, the blue heart of the Eagle - Altair, in the beak of the Swan - Deneb. Nerzhin knew how the astronomical truths and conjectures charmed youthful minds, in a sonorous voice he gave explanations in front of the darkening pedestal - and listened how his voice faltered. He led the souls of young boys and girls toward stars. "
Alexander Isaevich formed clubs (including applied mathematics and geodesy), took his students to the forest, where next to a bonfire, holding baked potatoes, he told them about the great mathematicians and physicists. He showed them how the astrolabe works, arranged fieldwork. Fortunately, he had a wonderful memory, and he would perfectly remember everyone's name during the second meeting  - it greatly facilitated communication with students, especially outside of class.
Children were ecstatic about these extra-curricular activities. Solzhenitsyn wrote: "They came with more enthusiasm and passion than when going to the movies." And in the evenings, the pupils often voluntarily converged in the house of their beloved teacher - communication with him was pure joy.

Modesty Decorates the Teacher

In 1962, the magazine New World (Новый мир) published the story "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." Before that, no one knew at all that Solzhenitsyn was not only a school physicist, but also a serious writer. On the school bulletin board, a clip from the newspaper Izvestia was hung, in which the indisputable literary authority of the day, Konstantin Simonov, wrote: "Solzhenitsyn presented himself in his story as a true assistant to the party in the holy and mandatory struggle against the cult of the individual [...] A powerful talent has entered our literature."
Everyone was in shock. The physicist received congratulations. One of the female students gave him a touching postcard depicting a lush rose. The authority of Alexander Isaevich, already quite high, took off to the stars. Not so much because of the recognition of his literary merits, but because of the fact that for five years Solzhenitsyn abstained from boasting and bragging.

Always Remain a Teacher

It is impossible to become a teacher, then suddenly stop, and then become one again. A teacher is always a teacher. It is a manner of perception of the world. Only thus one can achieve something in pedagogy.

Solzhenitsyn asserted: "One must be born a teacher. A class must never be a burden, never be tiring, and after the first sign that a class has stopped bringing joy, one should quit school and leave. Many possess this joyful gift, after all. But not many can carry this gift through the years unextinguished.

Alexander Isaevich wrote in The Gulag Archipelago: "We leaned against the walls, lowered our eyes and froze, like stone. We lowered our eyes because no one else wanted to look at the masters with a sycophantic look, and it would be unreasonable to be rebellious. We stood like inveterate hooligans summoned to the pedagogical council - in lax positions, hands in pockets, heads to one side and to the side - uninvited, impenetrable, hopeless."

Even in such a situation - infinitely far, it would seem, from a secondary school - Solzhenitsyn's teacher's mind was active.

Already in the American immigration, in the state of Vermont, he taught mathematics, physics and astronomy to his sons. Solzhenitsyn could not stop being a teacher.

Feel Like a Lucky Teacher

Alexander Isaevich wrote that teaching children brought great joy to him. No less than writing. Partly due to the fact that for Solzhenitsyn the return to teaching in 1953 was a landmark. The writer admitted: "Should I talk about my happiness - entering the classroom and picking up a chalk? This was the day of my liberation, the return of citizenship. The rest the deportation consisted of - I did not notice anymore [...] I reveled in starting to teach, and for three years (as perhaps I would for many more) that alone gave me happiness. "

One of the former students recalled: "Solzhenitsyn infected us with his energy. He would burst into the classroom like a whirlwind, sit on a stool like on a saddle. And immediately he began lecturing: 'Diusanov, to the board! Kukeeva, show how you managed to solve the assignment!' And one felt the urge to follow the set pace."
Needless to say, many of Alexander Isaevich's pupils later became teachers themselves - so contagious was his example.
But it is very important not to overestimate your strength, to try to make sure that teaching really brings joy.
Solzhenitsyn succeeded in this. If the load would have been greater, it would have certainly distracted the writer from his literary pursuits, which would have hardly been beneficial to Solzhenitsyn-the writer and Solzhenitsyn-the teacher. And, consequently, to both his students and his readers.

Aleksei Mitrofanov

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