Our guest today is Anna Khryastunova, a mathematics teacher at the Arithmetic of Good Foundation, a public figure and chairman of the public organization of young people with disabilities Areopag. We talked with Anna about how she copes with students, that it is important that contact is established between the child and the teacher, and they also asked about plans and dreams. It turned out very interesting!
Good afternoon! We know that you work online with children at the Arithmetika Dobra Foundation and you are a mathematics teacher by profession. Tell us how your journey started?
I went to school in the 90s, just at a time when the situation with admission to universities for a person with a disability was not very good. At that moment, I decided that I needed a profession that would allow me to earn money. I thought: a psychologist is probably somehow not very good: in terms of it, I can study it all in practice. Perhaps the only thing I knew from working remotely was the psychologist on the helpline. I thought that I need to take care of my nerves, because I experience any situation as my own, and it’s better, probably, in Physics and Mathematics. I decided to act according to the opposite method — to develop the left hemisphere, logic. Of course, everyone was surprised, especially the teachers, because they prepared me for me to sit at home — they taught me at school and that’s it. And then I decided to do it! I was not a mathematician from God, but I had to take only 2 written exams (which impressed me very much). Orally it was worse, everything in practice. Of course, they had a fight with the university administration, but the teachers went halfway, and the girls, my classmates, gave me lectures. And so it happened that I entered and unlearned in physics and mathematics. All this is thanks to my parents, my punchy mother — she did not give up until the last fight for my education.
Education is clear. Why did you end up teaching?
After I finished studying, students began to visit me — I was engaged in tutoring. And then a project appeared, in my opinion, within the framework of the Accessible Environment program. It was a distance learning program for the Department of Education for Children with Disabilities. I began to teach them, I did this for 4 years. We were given equipment, the children too. I had students from 5th to 11th grade. There were 24 lessons per week, which was the norm, but if it turned out that there were 28 lessons, then it was already hard. Moreover, there was no experience, and the payment for the lessons did not change and was very low.
Tell us about your first students? Was it difficult for them to adapt?
The children were different: some had cerebral palsy, others had impaired motor skills. The specifics of disability are different for everyone — it turned out that someone could not print much, someone could not talk. And it happened that for a child with cerebral palsy something might not work out in the process. I was calm about this, I always said: “Well, let’s wait.” I didn’t dwell on those failures. We can say that these are such features, some options of a particular person that need to be taken into account, adjusted. All people have such peculiar settings, special effects, so to speak: for one they are one, and for the other they are completely different. In such a situation, the teacher is a friend-partner who helps to learn and motivates for good luck, not paying attention to the negative, which can distract from what is important.
Have you retired from teaching for a long time? Why did you end up back?
I realized that I can not lose this skill. Then I did not have the opportunity to do this, and my life took me in a different direction — into analytics and public, human rights activities. I am grateful to the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation for the opportunity to develop in this important area — this is now my main job.
But you can say that the soul has always asked me to teach, because there is nothing cooler than the process of solving a problem and the moment when the result converges with the answer. Or when you see that the process has begun: when you explain some topic to any child (whether they have a disability or not) and you see that contact has been established — this is it, this wave for which you are teaching!
How do you manage to make this contact?
It happens that formally, the student opens the textbook, and there is a bunch of all sorts of incomprehensible explanations. Of course, if you read them, the child will not be interested. It happens that you ask a child: “What do you like delicious? Do you love pizza? What do you like about pizza? It turns out that you describe certain images. They answer, for example: “I love pizza like this.” And you: “But imagine that your pizza is in front of you, and you ate a piece — how much do you have left?” and use this example to explain a problem in geometry or fractions. Agree, the process of understanding is immediately different. Or, say, speed, time, distance — all this can also be explained much easier.
But it is interesting for me to teach when there is an element of sociality — so that there is a benefit for society. For example, to deal with orphans, who need a special approach, or with teenagers, also with their own character traits, and they need an approach. When I get to know them, I say: “We are in the same boat, after all,” on the same side. Not literally, but that’s the meaning. I will not force anyone, we are partners and friends. Friends in the sense that we should respect each other. I ask you something, I ask you to do it, and you do it. I’m wasting my time, you’re wasting yours. Let’s be okay with this. I had such cases when at first something is not very good with children, and then, I see, they open up, because trust appears. Trust has gone, and some even now already in June, when they have exams, the OGE is ahead, they still went to classes. Of course it’s nice.
Our global goal is to prepare them for exams, improve their academic performance.
How is your cooperation with Arithmetic of Good progressing?
When I learned about this foundation, I realized that they are performing an important social task. There is no pathos here, nothing pretense: they say, we are doing an important job here. They really do an important job. “Arithmetic of Kindness” helps me personally a lot: it makes it possible not to lose my teaching skills. And I try to help them by giving knowledge to children, providing an educational component. We study in the evenings, but even if the children get tired in a day, they still do well to hold on and work actively. They help me so that I can maintain and not lose the skill, feel useful in this direction. This is a very important point. In addition, we also joked with the children about the fact that everyone is in self-isolation, and we have been on remote control for a long time, and nothing.
A little earlier, you said that you keep in touch with former students, already when they leave you, when classes end?
With some. It’s just that, you see, we have a separate platform, and they can write to me there. One girl wrote, for example, about admission: “I passed the exams with fives! Hooray!». Boasted to me. Another — not from Arithmetic, but also my student with a disability — wrote to me on Vkontakte that she was studying at the university. And everything is fine with her, she conducts sociological surveys. She wrote to me: «Anna Mikhailovna, I need your help.» And then I felt the weight of old age. (smiles! — approx. editions)
Anna Mikhailovna? Yes, I understand.
The most effective recipe for instilling trust in a child is to understand that everyone is equal. They sometimes even begin to consult, because you are a friend. For example, sometimes we can discuss Warcraft with some of my students. «Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles» was discussed here with one boy. And they probably think: “Well, wow, she knows!”. The child understands that we have something to talk about. The main thing is that they understand that you do not want bad things. You are support, and a child needs such an easy format of communication .. Of course, I don’t want to impose this support, read morality. If the student wants, then I offer him some way of working, and then we already act according to the situation. I always tell these kids not to be shy and ask me questions. Even if you feel embarrassed, even if the question is the most stupid in the world — but it’s better you ask me and we’ll figure it out than you don’t understand where this number came from in this fraction, and then everything will fly away go to hell, because you won’t know the little dowel of this mechanism. Only here it is necessary not intrusively, but intuitively. Maybe it’s called emotional intelligence. It’s fashionable now. There should be a general attitude towards communication, because you cannot deceive children. You either have this connection from the heart, or it doesn’t.
Many managed to go to college or university thanks to you? How do you keep track of this moment?
Well, I don’t track statistics, because I teach them and I know that they pass. But the examples that I give, they tell me, already studying at the university. So, logically, they did, right? I don’t know if it depends on me or not. Probably from our joint efforts.
Is there any story of yours, maybe a favorite, funny or amazing, that you remember in your students or about one person, maybe? If it `s not a secret?
Listen, they are all such special people! Like a pattern of many different characteristics. Therefore, I’m just glad if they succeed, because my students can then be some kind of partners for me. Let’s say in social activities. All stories are still in progress. And we will describe them in full later.
Anna, in your opinion, what qualities should a modern teacher have? What can’t he do without?
As I said, this is the ability to tell complex things simply, because this is the most important thing. It is necessary to say so that the child understands the most important thing. This is a very important skill, especially to present it vividly, so that it is remembered. From examples, why do they sleep at lectures? Because students can simply read everything very dry and incomprehensible, they are simply not interested, there is no brightness. It should be like in that example about pizza — I told you. I would like it if the material was explained to me in the way that I would understand it: this is the principle that must be followed.
The second skill is flexibility and openness to innovation. This is especially necessary in distance teaching: build a schedule, study some program quickly, something else — all this will come in handy. Be inquisitive. In other words, you must know what exactly your student is interested in: you communicate, teach him, but the teacher must also know the interests of his children, his students. Do not refer to the fact that this generation is hopeless. It is reliable, on the contrary. We have a lot of normal guys, you just have to believe in them. Here one girl says to me, for example: «I’m stupid, I don’t understand anything.» I say: «You’re not stupid, you just don’t know how to do it yet.» That’s all. That is, she says this to herself, but she needs to correct it here, to say that you know that the student can do more, just that she doesn’t know how to do it yet — it hasn’t been revealed to him yet. Such things, you know, are just human, normal.
And the third is the ability to win over — friendliness and partnership. It seems to me that these three skills are quite enough. It is clear that professionalism is important. But this is what we mean by default.
We know that in addition to being a teacher, you are also a public figure, quite active. Please tell us how the Areopagus came into being in your organization of young disabled people, in which you are the chairman.
You know, this is my brainchild, which is already ten years old this year. I’ll tell you why this organization appeared at all. I myself (of course, I don’t like about myself, lacrimation immediately rises) in my family has a disease — spinal muscular atrophy. This is the same disease to stop the progression of which, for one injection, some unrealistic amounts are needed, about 7 million, but it’s true that children are collected, as usual they don’t remember about adult SMA, of course. Although all children will then grow up and become those same adults with SMA who also need a cure. A lot of money. When you are no longer a child, you understand that the disease is incurable, you can only keep alive. This is what my brother and I suffer from. This is not a frequent case when two children inherit at once. And we need, as invalids of the first group since childhood, constant outside care. Muscles are weakening every day and help is needed in everyday life — to carry, turn at night, help with sanitary matters, wash in the bathroom. Here you need a mentally and physically strong assistant. I know that for such a disease as we have, 5 assistants are allocated in Europe. We have 1,200 rubles, and even then for one and with the condition that he does not work and is not retired. Only mother remained with us, father died. We lived on the 2nd floor of an eight-apartment old house. There, whether you like it or not, you will have to fight and become either a vegetable or a human rights activist, there is not much choice. At that time, direct lines with the president were just beginning to develop. I found the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and wrote them 10 identical letters: such spam, one might say. This is probably the first case of spam in history. (Just kidding.) I wrote about the existence of such a convention, expressed a desire to come up with some way out. Well, can you imagine: we lived in a wooden house, on the second floor, there is no elevator. Amenities are only partial. It’s called affordable housing. But the point is that all the same, this attempt was a success, although a lot of nerves were spent. Of course, this is also from my mother, from my parents: such stubbornness, but directed in a peaceful direction, constructive — constructive stubbornness for the good. This can be regarded as a harmful character trait, but for a human rights activist, the most important thing: we succeeded, we all did it together, we moved.
How did your communication with the authorities develop? Bureaucracy is a tough test. How did you get it?
I talked with representatives of the authorities and, oddly enough, we found understanding — they met me halfway. I said that, of course, I have my most valuable possession, it was a laptop, but even if I sell this laptop, I can’t buy an apartment, right? I am against asking for money for everything, we must try to plow and work — if there is an opportunity and strength. It is clear that when the situation is completely hopeless, then yes, you will have to ask, but this is an exception. And if you want something that is rightfully yours, then you need to seek it. It’s like solving a problem. Imagine, many said: nothing will work out for you. Not all, but there were. It wasn’t easy, but it would be even worse if it didn’t work out. And now it’s such a thrill when you drive out of the house on your own, when you know that your brother can also leave the house calmly. It’s one thing when there is an opportunity, and you can choose whether to use it or not. And when there is no choice, you find yourself locked up: now everyone has felt this in the example of self-isolation. This is a situation where your will is limited, when you want to but cannot. When you have a choice, you can think about whether you should go outside today, go somewhere, or already tomorrow. And here is a whole epic: imagine how not to go crazy — constant quests, when you call four people to be taken out of the house, they are waiting for you, and this is the only way you can take a walk. Therefore, I think that disabled people in Russia are not afraid of anything, since they are going through all this.
What do you think about the state program of accessible environment?
All this is directly related to the available environment. What’s the point of making theaters and hospitals accessible to disabled people if you can’t leave the house normally? Education is also difficult. We have the right to rehabilitation, to a full-fledged inclusive life, on an equal footing with everyone in an open society, but people with disabilities would not succeed, they would not decide anything, if there was, probably, no openness to the world and people’s readiness for mutual assistance, mutual assistance. It is important that it comes from the heart and then the world will respond to you: when there is a desire to help in the soul, this is one thing, and when someone is forced to force it, it is quite another.
What do you see as your mission in social work?
Here is my policy in public activity: first to arouse desire, namely indifference. So that people understand the situation, how they can help and why, trust and sincerity, and then everyone will be a hundred and fifty times more pleasant from the result of mutual trust. Problem solving is a theory. That is, you will get something from this that you can’t even buy for money, satisfaction, kind. Disabled people have to go to rehabilitation, and it is also necessary to lead a full life on an equal basis with everyone else. To do this, you need to solve the issue with movement, with a car. There is no operational social taxi anywhere — there are a lot of problems with this. Own transport is better than a taxi. Obviously, I can’t drive myself. They sometimes say to me: “Oh, what are you, they say, you have a personal driver.” I would drive myself if I could. These are all costs, and not everyone can work. It turns out that all our life we solve some kind of endless quests. Therefore, when we succeeded, I got to know this system from the inside: it is clear that for everyone it is very individual, it all depends on the person, on his perseverance. But, at least, I touched these cases, checked everything on myself. All the problems that remain now (quality rehabilitation, movement, support), by the way, have become even more acute, in a sense. Then I realized that you need to create an organization so that you can be heard more.
A public organization is still a legal entity, it is no longer you alone. It’s one thing when you come somewhere, join an already established organization, for example, an all-Russian one; and the other — when you created it, it is your brainchild. It is clear that it can, like a child, be somewhere harmful, not always stable: you live from grants to grants, you have to pay taxes, premises, maintain websites, implement crazy ideas. When the guys apply, you understand that you will help them in some way, and then they will go on their own and be active. And you see that the quality of life is changing.
Do you have people among those whom you helped, who are remembered the most?
There is one of my favorite examples — Anton Vostrikov recently had a birthday. And it marked the beginning of such a transitional period: from the age of 18, a disabled child becomes a person with a disability, and then everything changes for him. Young people with disabilities, who were children only yesterday, must somehow further socialize and rehabilitate themselves. And, in short, it didn’t have a ramp. They helped, the management company was told how to do it. Naturally, like a woodpecker, I called and asked: “So what? When will we have a ramp for Anton? Of course, there were some shortcomings: for example, they did not complete part of the railing, but still the guy began to leave the house. This made me very happy. I don’t like it when everyone unanimously ascribes to themselves — all achievements are teamwork. Then, for example, we went to the Paralympics. And Anton was also taken. The Paralympic Games became such an example for him, which changed the quality of his life. He became a powerlifter, a three-time world champion. And now he even trains.
I will also mention Alexei Afinogenov. There was such a serious story — an injury at work. He worked as a foreman in a factory and suffered a spinal injury. This is a trauma not from birth, but acquired. He felt depressed. For men, especially family ones, adaptation is difficult: such an injury and you already feel somehow unnecessary. The idea came to train him to be an accessibility expert. He took serious courses and is now an accessibility expert. If one of our wards needs help, we will advise you about everything, we will tell you everything. Maybe our organization could be more powerful, but I’m also happy that it simply exists, because this is a very important moment for me: it helps me, at least, put some important problems on the agenda so that they they noticed that there were ways to solve them and that something in the world had changed. Still a lot of effort is needed for this, but this is a separate issue.
Yes, I understand. Anna, I have a question about strength. What are your goals, dreams for the near future, what are your plans? Tell us.
I really want to develop a community of entrepreneurs with disabilities, because I believe that people with disabilities should be treated as partners. This is a very important, innovative moment in the employment of people with disabilities. People with disabilities are not afraid, as I was, to teach the same children, we have no prejudices on this topic. And in the behavior of employers, there should also be a partnership. Let’s say there is an organization that I lead — the Community of Entrepreneurs with Disabilities. And they are not afraid to work — they just need to be pushed. They are not only social units, but also economically useful elements of society. To become an active group, we need people, support, partnership. It is good that this exists, and together with the Our Future Foundation and Wildberries we have begun to interact on this issue.
This is very closely related to the economy. Social entrepreneurship, synergy of social and economic is involved. I really have a dream that all this will work at full capacity, that there will be support measures, that it will sound.
Sounds heavy! I hope you manage to make this dream come true.
This is just one dream. There is also a second one. You know, there are mothers like mine. She raised us from childhood on her own, she cannot go anywhere all her life, because the social sphere is imperfect: there is no worthy accompaniment, there are no financial opportunities to pay for a bunch of people that you need. It is very good that there is support for families with children. At the same time, my mother retired. There are two adult disabled children of the 1st group on it, who need constant care. She did not take us from the orphanage. She didn’t give us up. She can’t go anywhere. Going to the dacha is a whole saga, so that there is still an eye on us. Where should she go on vacation?
So what is my second dream? In order to encourage those mothers who have children with disabilities. Why is this not mentioned anywhere? There are large families here. My mother says: “A large family is already self-regulating when the older ones bring up the younger ones.” And here she is mother forever. Therefore, more specifically, I would like to organize a campaign or an award that would encourage such mothers, because they do not leave children. Children with mental or physical disabilities are all children with disabilities. We will not share anyone here. I’m talking about payments in general. This is very necessary! I will be glad to support the idea.
Anna, I wanted to ask you the last question for today. I read that one of the articles that is dedicated to you is called «Indestructible Anna». This is such a powerful enough epithet: about courage and about faith in one’s own strength. But you talked about it a lot. What inspires you? What are you holding on to?
When it’s really, really bad, it’s very important that there is understanding and support from loved ones, so that in difficult times they say: “Enough to get upset!”. Because there is such a non-mathematical formula that when dividing, there is a multiplication. That is, when you share something sincere and bright, something good is added to you.
And, probably, indifference is very important. When I see a case, I understand that there are many such cases, and this is just one example. And how many of them in general? Why don’t we do something useful while we’re here on this planet. And it will make us feel better, it will provide a powerful resource. Such a synergistic situation. But, if you give positive energy, then it will come back to you. 250 times more. It works.