A Couple with Decades of Teaching Experience: ‘You have to be dedicated to the job, to the kids’
- Djanik, what village did you first work in?
- What village? In Aragats.
- No. The first one.
- In our village. In Jrapi.
Hasmik Baghdasaryan, a former Armenian language and literature teacher, repeats each of our questions into the ear of her husband, Djanibek Mkrtchyan, who taught physics and math.
Hasmik apologizes, saying that her husband is hard of hearing. We smile. So does Djanibek.
The old woman asks what we plan to write about them. Aren’t there more interesting people to interview, she asks. Djanibek is lost in thought, gazing at the apple trees in the distance. The harvest this year has been bountiful.
The couple taught at the Aragatsavan village school in Armenia’s Talin region. Back then, some 300 pupils attended the school.
For one year, they lived in the school, in a room provided them. They had a one-year- old daughter at the time. They took shifts caring for the little girl. Once, Hasmik had to leave the girl unattended. Her husband was later in returning, but Hasmik had a class to teach. She was adamant about never missing a class.
The couple taught in Aragatsavan for more than forty years. Today, in retrospect, they say they would do it all over again.
They hail from Armenia’s Shirak Province. Hasmik is from the Gyumri area, and her husband, from around Ani.
After graduating from the Leninakan Teachers Institute, Hasmik taught at the Lousaghbyur village school. She boasts that her husband graduated from two institutes in Yerevan. A neighbor confirms that Djanibek is indeed an intelligent individual.
- How did the two of you meet?
- I met Djanibek at a conference. We had gone to collect books for the pupils. Where was that conference?
- In Maralik, and then in Talin. (Djanibek responds)
- Right. We met at that conference.
They both smile when I ask if it was love at first sight.
- No. I wasn’t smitten by him at first. He wrote me a letter afterwards, describing his history. He proposed marriage. I refused. I was 27 at the time and had decided never to marry. Our parents got involved, we met, and…No, I have no regrets. I thought I was too old to marry. I was working. There were five girls in our family; no boys. I thought I would stay with my parents at home and work as a teacher.
After living in the school for one year, the couple moved into the school’s workshop. They built their present house in the 1970s.
The couple has fond memories of their years as school teachers. Hasmik says teachers were well respected back then, both by parents and pupils.
“A teacher must love the school experience and relate to the kids. The pupils loved me. While I was at home, during the summer vacation, my pupils would visit. We had a good group,” Hasmik says.
Things were simpler back then, she continues. Hasmik says she never thought about what to wear or how her hair was styled before entering the classroom. Such artificial conventions, so in vogue today, were far from her mind. School was a place for learning, and not a place for social status exhibitions.
While diplomatically averting my questions about the teaching profession today, Hasmik advises teachers to love their pupils and to make their classes as engaging as possible by incorporating issues from present-day life.
Hasmik retired from teaching in 1998, at the age of 67. Her husband retired a year earlier. “No one told me it was time to leave. I was less mobile and kind of felt out of place amongst all those young people. After retiring, I would weep. The school staff visited me several times, requesting that I return. I didn’t. I felt uncomfortable. My hair was white and my face wrinkled,” Hasmik recounts.
I ask her to show some photos from her years as a teacher. Hasmik garbs a thick photo album and opens it. Turning the pages of mostly black and white photos, the couple reminisce and smile.
“It’s important to work conscientiously and with dedication. That’s what we did. We wanted our pupils to learn,” says Djanibek.
None of the couple’s three children and seven grandchildren have chosen teaching as a profession.
Even today, the couple’s former pupils still visit as a sign of respect. Sometimes, if they see Hasmik or Djanibek by the house, former pupils will stop the car and get out, just to say hello and ask them how they’re doing.
Photos: Hakob Poghosyan