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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Theatrical Headmaster Wins Teacher of the Year

MTHistory teacher Igor Karachevtsev wearing the crown as Russia's Teacher of the Year in the 14th running of the annual contest.
History teacher Igor Karachevtsev last month added his name to the list of St. Petersburg notables who have shone on the national or world stages in the past few years.

Following in the slipstream of city physicist Zhores Alfyorov, who won a Nobel Prize in 2001, policewoman Oksana Fyodorova, who was crowned Miss Universe in 2002, and, of course, St. Petersburg native President Vladimir Putin, Karachevtsev won the title of the country's Teacher of the Year.

After two weeks of competition in Moscow, Karachevtsev received a hero's welcome when he returned to St. Petersburg high school No. 166, where he is headmaster.

"We are so proud of him," said Margarita Fedortseva, the school's deputy director. "Karachevtsev is a genuine Russian gentleman who can talk to anyone with equal respect, and who is not embarrassed to take a broom and sweep the classroom."

Karachevtsev, who impressed the contest judges with his creativity, theatrical skills, sense of humor, knowledge and research abilities, said the secret to a teacher's success is simple: "First love, then teach -- that's the secret."

Karachevtsev said he is "never embarrassed to tell his students honestly if he doesn't know something," and that modern youth is "more open and brave" about expressing opinions than previous generations.

Karachevtsev was one of several St. Petersburgers who advanced from a local contest to the national final, which involved 80 teachers. Along with passing tests and performing many random assignments, contestants gave open lessons to Moscow students.

The contest, founded by the Education Ministry in 1990, was meant as an analog to the American "Best Teacher" contest. The aim of the contest is to lend prestige to the profession and to attract attention to this sphere of life.

The panel of judges, helmed by the head of Moscow State University, Viktor Sadovnichy, included respected scientists, journalists and education authorities.

The emblem of the contest, a pelican, symbolizes the link between different epochs -- before the revolution, high school teachers wore buttons that incorporated images of pelicans.

While Karachevtsev maintains that the most important task of a school is "to prepare and adapt students to future adult life," he acknowledges that not all schools take the same route to get there.

For example, Russian schools are known for being more conservative than Western schools. Karachevtsev said he believes that Western school systems, particularly the American system, are more oriented to the psychological comfort of students, demanding less responsibility for knowledge.

"On one hand, our style gives our students less freedom," he said. "But on the other hand, it leads to more healthy and rational conservatism. Too much freedom sometimes leads to ignorant students. Study is work, rather than entertainment."

Karachevtsev said he chose teaching because he wanted to communicate with people and because he felt a calling in the humanities.

"I also considered being a theater director or an actor," he said. "But in the end, a teacher has to combine all these talents -- being a scriptwriter, film director and actor at the same time."

Even though male teachers comprise a minority of the profession, Karachevtsev is the 12th male teacher to win the award during the contest's 14 years.

Karachevtsev said that the main reasons for the lack of male teachers are low wages and the emotional pressures placed on school staff. Women seem to cope with both better than men, he said.

Karachevtsev said in order to make children love his subject, "a teacher should know his subject very well and love it himself."

His favorite period of history is the turn of the 20th century, when the Russian economy flourished and the country's writers, composers and artists were at the forefront of world culture. He considers the time period an enigma.

"At that time, Russia was at the peak of its economic and cultural growth, but it was also on the brink of the country's terrible catastrophes: the First World War and the revolutions of 1917," he said. "Maybe it's because history develops in ups and downs, and in our country all those changes are normally very sharp?"

Karachevtsev said he treats events of even the last 50 years "not yet as history, but still as politics."

"It's not history yet, because people who participated in those events are still alive and can give quite contradictory opinions," he said. "And that's the basic way we are to teach that period."

Karachevtsev said that some of his female students have manufactured a convenient pretext to ignore this period, saying they "love history, but don't like politics."

When teaching about the recent past, it's better not to give any definite evaluation, he said, because history can be judged only from a great distance.

The same can't be said for Karachevtsev himself.

Sergei Avdeyev, an 11th-grade student, spoke of Karachevtsev's ability to draw his pupils into his lessons. "He is not just a great teacher with excellent knowledge," Avdeyev said. "His lessons are also full of theatrical effect."

Karachevtsev maintains that a healthy sense of humor and openness are the best paths for successful communication with students.