Bogdana Dencheva: Of Our Education System on Both Sides of the Screen
This is a translation of Bogdana Dencheva’s interview, first published at shash.bg
Even though currently our main focus is on the strengths and weaknesses of our healthcare system as well as on the professionals responsible for our physical survival, there are other very important people who, I believe, also deserve applause and gratitude – our teachers. I chose to speak with one of my personal role models in the teaching profession – an exception, but a lucky one. I’m happy to have known her since we were children and to have spent many years talking, listening, and learning from every moment we have shared.
I am grateful to have her in my life and our most current conversation makes me a little less worried about the future because of people like her and because the future that we see when we look into our children’s eyes is in her hands.
Her teaching career started when she joined Teach For Bulgaria’s program. Today, against all odds and despite any challenges, she is still growing and thriving as a teacher. To me, she is one of the heroes of our generation.
Bogdana Dencheva – English teacher and role model – both in the classroom and outside of it. She treats her students with respect and humanity.
What is the education system like right now on both sides of the screen?
On my screen it is dynamic and brings a smile to my face because children are also dynamic and happy, so I do all that I can to be the best version of myself for them. But are we in tune with the hundreds of thousands of other monitors? The system is like a puzzle – some pieces fit together perfectly while others are missing. The current situation is no exception.
What are the biggest challenges for teachers in this situation?
The first challenge was the reaction time. They declared a state of emergency on Friday afternoon and teachers were teaching online by Monday morning – having barely slept, but with all of the materials they had prepared during the weekend and with fear in their hearts.
The second challenge is the invisible and unacknowledged overtime. This has always been a part of teaching and now it is mainly caused by the specific format of the teaching resources and many other details.
Children’s cyber security on some platforms is an even bigger challenge. Some of my colleagues already had problems – someone hacked their meeting link, got into the online classroom, and played an inappropriate video on the shared screen. They had to specifically check their settings afterwards.
Last but not least, the demands of societal pressure at a time when everyone is asking the same question, “They are learning, right?”. I, on the other hand, ask myself how successful we are in providing psychological support to children at a time when “the world is coming to an end”, but every adult in their lives wants them to stay focused and learn things which seem suspiciously useless in dealing with future similar crises. Because children will have to deal with future crises, right? We love “reminding” them that they are the future when we are the ones who determine what it looks like.
What are the benefits of remote learning?
Children benefit from the opportunity to develop important skills – time management, taking ownership and responsibility for their own learning and results, and getting to know their personal learning styles in their own time without the stress of having to compete against the clock or their classmates. They also get to sleep more which is crucial for their physical and cognitive development.
“This crisis triggered a mini revolution in education – the transition to remote learning strengthened parent-teacher communication. We have highlighted many times how crucial this communication is when introducing new teaching methods.”
This was the comment Krasimir Valchev, Minister of Education, made in the first week of the current state of emergency. Can we say that Bulgarian education is finally on its way to become modern and relevant?
Apparently, there had to be a crisis for us to realize that technology can be used in the classroom. A revolution in education, however, is not to study from a tablet, but to be able to apply what you’ve learned independently and in a meaningful way. It is also the opportunity to develop global mindsets which could help you become (at least) the next minister of education.
Are parents understanding and how important is their support right now?
The parents I work with are exceptionally understanding and supportive. This process wouldn’t have worked without their support. They are the true heroes of online education because they had to balance their children’s classes with their own personal and professional engagements and they had to do it in the confinement of their homes. Some parents started speaking languages they never had before and solved many mathematical problems because of their children. I hope they will be even more understanding from now on because they currently witness the peculiarities of our profession daily.
Which education practices are going to change after the state of emergency, in your opinion?
Teachers will definitely use less printing paper. The focus this month was on the “how” and this was completely normal – we were trying to figure out the technicalities of online education on the go. I would very much like to shift the focus to “what” we learn and “why”.
Can we say that remote learning will have more benefits than harms in the long run?
Children are flowers. Wonderful flowers. You can’t tell them, “There’s a crisis, so I won’t water you today and you should temporarily stop growing.” It is harmful not to have any type of education – offline or online. It is harmful for children to have bad role models, to read fake news, to be confused, especially if the responsible adults in their lives go from one extreme to the other – either panicking or not following the recommended regulations. I do believe that there will be more benefits because the lessons that we learned far outnumber anything else. And I don’t mean academic but life lessons. Learning goes on.
Check this video about Bogdana during her Teach For Bulgaria fellowship: