Global Estonian | Interview with Aiva Plauča, a teacher at the Estonian School in Riga
Intervjuu Riia Eesti kooli õpetaja Aiva Plaučaga

Interview with Aiva Plauča, a teacher at the Estonian School in Riga

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The Estonian winners of the medal this year were Urve Tiidus, the former Chairwoman of the Estonian delegation at the Baltic Assembly; Evelin Krõlov, the Director of the Northern and Central Europe Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Aiva Plauča, a teacher at the Estonian School in Riga. What did it feel like to be one of the recipients of such a recognition?

The award came as a surprise to me; my first thought was that somebody was playing a prank. I reread the letter of the award several times and it was so amazing that it made me seriously think about my life. I remember the years when the Assembly was founded and I attended its first event in my native town of Jurmala in Latvia with the Estonian Society in Latvia. Who could have guessed that nearly 30 years later, I would be holding a medal awarded by the Baltic Assembly! At the presentation ceremony, I thanked the Baltic Assembly, which has recognised my life’s work that I have dedicated to my two homelands, Estonia and Latvia.


Your day job is teaching at the Estonian School in Riga. How much do you think about maintaining Baltic unity in your everyday work or does it just come naturally when working with children and young people?

All my daily work and life is connected to the Estonian School in Riga. It puts an emphasis on teaching the Estonian language and preserving Estonian culture, and great ideas of unity do not usually cross my mind at that moment. In my cultural life, I am involved with the ethnic minorities in Latvia. Every nation has their own cultural society and they are connected by an association of ethnic minorities. We are cooperating by singing and dancing together at joint events. There are other basic schools and high schools for ethnic minorities apart from the Estonian school. We have strong links to Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Polish schools. We visit each other, perform, and learn from each other; we have joint youth projects on workdays and on Sundays. I have always taught the children to respect the representatives of the different languages and cultures living in Latvia.

I have thought more about the unity of nations and countries when I have been active in several organisations. I am a member of the Estonian Society in Latvia, I am a member of the board and this involved working at the consultative committee for ethnic minorities at the Ministry of Culture of Latvia. I am familiar with the concerns and activities of other peoples in Latvia; I can see how many of them would like to get involved in Latvia’s cultural life, how they wish to be a tiny part of our tradition of song and dance festivals.

I am also a member of the board of the Estonian World Council and it has brought me great interest in and joy to introduce children to the story of the Great Flight. Working with Estonians across the world, I can see our concerns and joys, and the expanding cooperation opportunities with our closest neighbours, especially Lithuania.


Where does a love for Estonia come from when living in Latvia?

I have dual citizenship – Estonian and Latvian – and I got my love for Estonia from my parents. My Estonian mother comes from Tartumaa and she fell in love with a young man from Southern Latvia, and they both came to live in the seaside town of Jurmala in Latvia. I was born here; I attended school here and received my education here. We spoke Latvian at home and when I was very young, I already told my grandmother that I was Latvian. My Latvian father taught me to love Estonia. I suppose he felt guilty about the fact that he married an Estonian woman who became fluent in Latvian but he only knew a few words in Estonian. He took it upon himself to direct my gaze towards Estonia. Even as a child I knew that we had our countries, with the Gauja River in Valga, our own flags, I knew the story of my family on both sides of the border. I was taught to respect and take pride in the achievements of my ancestors, their actions during the first period of independence. The national awakening followed later, and the Estonian Society in Latvia, where both my parents were very active, and the Estonian church community. Then my own life took me to the Estonian School in Riga, where teaching the Estonian language to little pupils on a daily basis means that the love for the Estonian language and state comes naturally. You need to think about the Estonian cultural identity particularly when working as a leisure time manager and having to come up with Estonian events and giving children opportunities to perform. The headmaster of the Estonian School in Riga Urve Aivars, who has been my colleague all these years, has taught me to use strictly Estonian in my daily work with children. Maintaining and initiating Estonian language skills and an Estonian identity is difficult but brings joy.


You have worked here at the Estonian School in Riga for three decades. How would you compare the desire and pain that learning Estonian involves back when you started and now when everything around us is increasingly digital?

The Estonian School in Riga has been my only job for 33 years. I have held several positions – teacher, librarian, head teacher, leisure time manager. I have stayed at that school for so long only by changing professions that bring new challenges and inspiring ideas.

Estonian is spoken in our school not only by Estonians, but even more so by Latvians, Livonians, Russians. In addition to the Estonian language, we are also teaching Estonian culture through folk dancing and singing, where we get a lot of support from the Estonian state and the dance supervisor Juris Zigurs, who lives in Tallinn and comes from Latvia. We have cultural history lessons where we introduce Estonian folklore, literature, history and geography. We have visitors from Estonia and Estonians from Latvia. We have an excellent cooperation with Latvian publishers who are publishing Estonian authors translated into Latvian. We are also visiting our twin schools in Estonia. School trips to Estonia every spring became a tradition in the very first years after the school was reopened. We are a small, lovely, cosy school where many students want to come.

In the early years, students found it much easier to acquire Estonian skills, they remembered more information and they were also keener to learn. Now they switch to English more often and no longer want to make an effort. Life has changed with the digital transition.

Teaching Estonian has always been a great challenge for us. We are looking for teaching materials and preparing them ourselves every day. We are rewriting textbook texts, adapting the exercises for children, look for games focused on movement, and we compose exercise sheets ourselves. Naturally, we are using digital options as well. We must follow our curriculum because we are a basic school and we must grade the skills of children. We buy the digital textbooks ourselves. The Estonian state offers some support but it is not enough. The job of an Estonian teacher in our school is the most difficult one but it is also creative. We are very happy when someone becomes so fluent in Estonian that their life takes them to Estonia or they remain connected to the Estonian language in Latvia. We are glad to hear our graduates tell us how they sing old songs they had learned at school when they get together or that they sing the Estonian national anthem on New Year’s Eve.


If you could wish for three things that would reinforce Estonian communities abroad, what would they be?

Not to forget and to preserve the Estonian language – by singing, listening, speaking.

To stay in touch with your homeland, no matter in what shape or form – through culture with songs, dance, theatre, literature, films, art etc. With information sources, staying up to date with public life, politics; through family ties, by speaking to your grandparents, relatives, and friends.

Estonia is so small on the world map and there are so few Estonians in the great melting pot of nations that we must all stick together, no matter where we live in the world.


Interview by Kätlin Kõverik



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