Everyone remembers a good teacher, and Alvin Thomas meets one whose dedication to her craft and students is boundless.
As a young boy, I was always told to respect my teachers. But, only when I grew up did I truly realise why: good teachers not only work for your betterment but also can motivate you to achieve extraordinary things.
And sitting next to Monika Radzka-Bassil, I feel as if I’m in the presence of a great teacher and a very talented lady.
Today, she runs the Music Palace Institute, in The Walk, at Al Mouj, where she tutors children.
But as the Poland-born teacher points out, the reason for her success – reflected in her record of zero drop outs from her institute – is all thanks to the teachers who trained her.
“When I was in kindergarten I remember my teachers telling my parents that I was very helpful to children and that I would become a kindergarten teacher one day,” she says.
“They pointed out that l was not too shy to dance, act and sing in front of people, and suggested that I be enrolled in a specialised school to hone my talents.
“So, my parents put me in a folklore group, and later I moved on to dancing on the ice… until I met with a big accident.”
The accident left Monika with stitches, and was the end of her figure skating career.
“It was after that incident that I was put into music,” she laughs.
“I found a piano in my bedroom. Nobody asked me if I wanted it; they told me I had to do it.
“This is the way of life in Poland. Parents give you an activity and it is your duty to follow it till the end.”
Monika completed six years of piano before moving on to high school. She was then accepted into an arts institute for her superlative skills in singing and piano.
“I chose opera singing and then piano, too,” the teacher tells me.
Monika is a proficient soprano and pianist with over 26 years of combined experience.
“I started singing in theatre. I would travel for three or four months at a time. I was doing that for 10 years.”
But after that, she felt it was time to settle down.
“When I settled down, I decided to do it in Muscat. I met my husband – Michel – and since then there has been no looking back.”
Monika has been living in the Sultanate for more than 17 years now.
“It was here that I had my first child – David – in 2001,” she says with a smile.
It was after the birth of her son that she realised that there were very few professional training institutes in Oman.
“When my son was three I was struggling to find him a hobby.
“I realised that the best way to proceed would be to give all children an opportunity to learn and showcase their talents.
Thus, she started the Music Palace, with her husband.
“My students treat me like a mum,” she says.
“They can always be open with me. Even if they have not completed some work or forgotten to train at home, they can tell me. I will not shout at them. Instead, I will let them know that it is OK.
“This way they will be honest and that will help them train to be better artists and musicians.”
If the results of her students are anything to go by, then Monika is doing a fantastic job. All of her students have passed with distinction (at least 70 per cent) in their exams. One outstanding student also scored 99 out of 100.
However, Monika is noticing a change in the attitudes towards art and music in schools.
“Art is slowly disappearing from schools and homes as children are becoming more used to smartphones. “They think that art and music are not needed because they take many years to learn.
“My goal is to change that mindset,” she proudly says.
“So, to do that, I sometimes sit with the parents and explain that it takes up to six years or more for a person to become fully trained. I am still learning, too!”
Monika has a dedicated group of students, one of whom flies in from Salalah, weekly.
“Now we are trying to reach out through WhatsApp; giving lessons as well as making the student record for me to evaluate.
Talking about the challenges she faces on a day-to-day basis, Monika says: “In Poland there are many creative places for children to go to, and the student stays with you for a long time.
“Here, when I lose a student I have trained due to some reason, that upsets me. And I am mostly in tears when they leave.”
“Still, I have a lot of Omanis that are staying with me for a long time. All of them are immensely talented and enthusiastic in their journey to learn music and arts, too.
“They are the future of this country, and I must point out: the future does look fantastic.”
Have you got a unique story to tell or do you know someone who has? Contact us to have coffee with Y and be featured in Y Magazine.
Monika currently trains students in music and art, at her institute, which can be found on the second floor of The Walk, in Al Mouj.