Diana Fodulska-Ogorelkova has been the principal of Primary School “Otets Paisii” in the village of Govedare in the region of Pazardzhik for 9 years. She has over 25 years of experience in the education sector and 16 years of teaching experience as a history and geography teacher primarily at small village schools. She has a degree in history from South-West University “Neofit Rilski”.
Primary School “Otets Paisii” in Govedare has been a partner school of Teach For Bulgaria since 2016. We asked Mrs. Fodulska-Ogorelkova to tell us more about her job, her partnership with Teach For Bulgaria, and her vision about Bulgarian education.
Your school has been our partner since 2016. Several participants in Teach For Bulgaria’s program “A New Way to Teaching” have taught at your school. What does this partnership mean to you and what are your impressions of our program?
I’ll start by sharing my impressions throughout the years first – “A New Way to teaching” and the EU project “A New Way for New Talents in Teaching” truly do what their title says – they bring new talents into the teaching profession (editor’s note: NEWTT (link in Bulgarian) is an EU project, some of the participants in our program from the class of 2016-2018 were also NEWTT participants. NEWTT served as the basis for the start of a new National Program called “Motivated Teachers” which was launched by the Ministry of Education and Science). This program is up to date with the latest trends in education and is exceptionally beneficial for all young people who want to teach. Our partnership with Teach For Bulgaria brings more young people to our school. Young people who see teaching as their calling and not just a job.
What would you say are the most important aspects when it comes to providing young people with the support they need in order to keep teaching?
First of all, the teaching staff at the school have to do their very best to support and encourage their inexperienced colleagues. They have to help new teachers learn how to do their job and, as we all know, a big part of their job is paperwork. This should not be the responsibility of a single mentor, but of everyone who works at the school.
Many of the students at your school do not speak Bulgarian as a first language. What is the biggest challenge when it comes to teaching these children?
All of our students are Roma, but they do speak Bulgarian very well. However, it is still hard for us to teach them not to speak in Romani at school because it makes our communication with them more difficult. We have a similar issue with their parents as well.
You work with the entire community at your school. You keep supporting your students after they graduate or even when they become parents. Can you give some examples of how you do that and what results you get?
Quite often our former students help our current students with their independent work on mathematical problems, Bulgarian language, or history. Over 90% of our students attend high school. We are currently working on a project called “Support for Success”. One of the educational mediators in this project is Velichka Marinova – our former student. She is currently working on her bachelor’s degree in primary school pedagogy at Plovdiv University.
One of the biggest challenges so far this year has been the transition to distance learning. How did you manage this transition taking into account that most of your students come from poor families and do not have access to smart devices?
The truth is that it has been extremely difficult. Only 10% of our students have computers at home and about 60% have smartphones. The rest of the students relied on one educational mediator who visited every family and distributed handouts. The feedback these students received was entirely on the phone or on facebook. To prepare for this school year we purchased tablets for 15 students which we can use, if we have to. We are also expecting several computers from the Ministry of Education and Science.
Describe your school in three words.
“A young mind in an old body” – we try to be innovative and modern, but we are hindered by the obsolete technology and resources we have. They are not up to date with the contemporary educational requirements and so we struggle to provide an equal start to our children.
We try to get our students engaged by providing them with different extracurricular activities – digital, chess.
For the third year in a row now, we host volunteers from 5 different countries – Italy, Spain, Germany, Turkey, and France. They come on volunteer missions here thanks to Earmus + and Focus Association (editor’s note: this started back in 2017 under the initiative of Ivaylo Ivanov, a Teach For Bulgaria alum who was a primary school teacher at the school. He is also one of the founders of Focus Association).
Take a look at some snapshots from the volunteer missions at the school:
The volunteers are 18 to 25 years old and they work with the students after school. They help our children develop a variety of skills such as teamwork, communication skills, emotional intelligence, etc. They also teach our students about their countries, cultures, and lifestyles. They teach them games from their childhood. Our students tell them about their culture, lifestyle, traditions, music, folklore, etc.
What makes a team successful?
I truly hope that our team is successful! Compromise, empathy, and mutual support are our strengths. Everyone’s ideas are valuable and no one is afraid to share or make suggestions.
What is the role of the principal in order for a team to be successful?
The principal should find balance, motivate the teachers, and support their initiatives.
What is the most important thing which has to change in our perception of school education?
I think the majority of people have come to the realization that schools are not solely responsible for the education and upbringing of all students. These two processes are our shared responsibility – teachers, parents, and everyone should lead by example.
Why would you recommend Teach For Bulgaria to other schools in the country?
I told you in the beginning of this interview that you find people who perceive teaching as their true calling and not just as a job. People who don’t focus on what this job can do for them, but on how rewarding it is to teach. People who are willing to tackle any challenge.
You can also become our partner.
We’ll start accepting applications for the new class of partner schools for both of our programs, “A New Way to Teaching” and “Model Schools” in the beginning of 2021.