James Baxter

James Baxter učí anglický jazyk na gymnáziu. Študentom gymnázia pomáha s prihláškami na zahraničné vysoké školy. Veľmi rád organizuje a pripravuje žiakov na konferencie Model United Nations. Medzi jeho záľuby patrí turistika, bicyklovanie a futbal.

James, how long have you been training students for MUNs? Which MUNs are most interesting to you and why?
The first important thing to say is that I didn’t do MUNs as a student. It’s an activity I’ve only got involved with as a teacher. The first MUN I attended was in 2003 while I was teaching in Žilina. The students had visited the European Parliament in Brussels and received an invitation to an MUN in Leiden, in the Netherlands. It was a big event – 400 students or so – and an incredible experience. It became a tradition in that school to go there, and they still go there today.

When I came to EGMT, I was keen to do MUNs again, but different ones, partly to give myself some variety! We started in 2014 with ZAMUN in Žilina, and just four Year 1 students participated, including Daniel Dulla. Considering how inexperienced they were, they were fantastic delegates. I am loyal to ZAMUN because the main teacher in charge there is a good friend. It is also a high-level conference. And the reason we started going to ToMUN (in Torun, Poland) is because I’d met the main teacher there at that Leiden MUN in 2003, and we were friends. Torun is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to, and the sun usually shines when we go there, so I love that MUN.

What do MUNs mean to you? Do they make you progress as a teacher?
Firstly, they are a good way to meet other teachers from all sorts of different schools. Also, it’s difficult to imagine a better educational or social experience for students. It practises all the essential skills, they pick up in-depth knowledge and they make friends and contacts.

I also think MUNs make a teacher think about his/her role. They’ve taught me things about how to set my expectation levels, and to trust students to be self-reliant.

When we are at an MUN, it’s important to me to be a moral support for students, to enjoy their successes and sympathise with their frustrations (there have been a lot of both!) but I’m careful not to interfere too much in the way they are thinking about the conference topics. MUNs are for students, and teachers need to know when to stay in the background.

When you know pupils, what areas do you focus on, what is their preparation?
There is a difference between first-time students and the ones with some experience. The first-time students need some help because the conference seems very abstract to them ; they cannot imagine how it works, and having it explained, or even watching videos does not really help. They can only imagine what a conference is like when they have tried it.

We are a busy school, but I try to meet first-time students at least three times ahead of the conference, to set some aims for their preparation, discuss the country they will represent, explain how to prepare the country’s policy on the issue etc. Plus, I correct their written preparations and make suggestions for how to improve.

Once they’ve had at least one experience of a conference, it’s less necessary to do this. The students become very, very self-reliant, though some of them still love to discuss their country and issue. But they don’t really need my opinion or feedback. Now we’ve had MARMUN, students will be able to help each other much more.

What did MARMUN mean to you? Did you have any expectations that came true?
It meant the world. It was an emotional experience, nearly all in a good way.

Practically, it means our students‘ interest in MUNs has increased massively. When we were only participating in other MUNs, we had a group of maybe 12-15 seriously interested students. The day after MARMUN finished, I put up a message about ZAMUN and 12-15 expressed an interest within 15 minutes.

Also, the only students who can attend other MUNs are delegates and (very occasionally) committee chairs/presidents. To organise MARMUN, we needed students with all sorts of other skills ; to design graphics and physical materials, negotiate with sponsors, choreograph the ceremony, prepare snacks, take pictures, guide visitors around etc etc. The way so many students offered their talents over a long period of time to make this happen was just beautiful to see.

It could never have happened without our school community, but I also I think it’s created its own community, firstly inside our school, but also outside, between us and the visitors who participated.

Was there something that surprised you?
There are always surprises. An MUN is a big event. Simona Valkovska described MARMUN as a baby MUN, which it is compared to other MUNs. But still, we had more than 80 visitors here for 48 hours and over 40 of our students were involved. That’s a big event when it’s your first time. Perhaps the biggest and best surprise was the enthusiasm and hard work of our 1st and 2nd year students. Some of them were delegates, but a lot more were doing those really important jobs in the background.

How do you assess the organization of MARMUN?
I think it was excellent. I can say this because it had almost nothing to do with me! But it was much better than at this year’s ToMUN, and ToMUN has run for five years. Our organisers‘ attention to the small details was incredible. Of course, they made one or two mistakes and had to face problems that were not their fault, but they stuck together as a team, supported each other, and quickly put right the things that went wrong. Lots of visitors told us how good the organisation was. It can only be like that if you have a great team-spirit.

Has the interest in MUNs increased at our school? How do you see the future of the MUNs continuation?
I guess I’ve answered that. Definitely yes. The near future looks very good, the longer future depends on later generations keeping up the current levels of enthusiasm.

It was also important to us that our headmaster was so supportive of the event right from the start, and that he had chance to experience it himself. That was inspirational for us. Some of our colleagues visited the commissions too, which is good. The future should be bright when so many people in the school – headmaster, teachers, students – have seen how the event works.

What would you say to potential new entrants? Where do you see the strengths?
The first thing is that it’s great that they are interested. If you get into this activity in the 2nd year, it’s perfect. If it’s not for you, there’s still time in your school life to devote to other things. If you do like it, you could become an excellent, award-winning delegate in your 3rd or 4th year.

I should explain one difficulty we have in choosing a delegation to attend other MUNs. Ideally, at every MUN, we should have a mix of students with previous experience and students without. The students with the experience are the ones who will make our school’s reputation. They know what they are doing, so they can be among the leading delegates on their committee, and perhaps win best delegate awards or special mentions. It’s a real bonus and a thrill when one of our students wins an award, even if we don’t participate with that specific aim.

The first-timers have to observe and learn how things work. They should try to be active, but realistically, they are not going to be among the best delegates. That is for the next time.