Three teachers from Teach For Bulgaria’s program “A New Way to Teaching” talk about the lessons they have learned after one semester of teaching
One of the main myths about teaching is that teachers learn a specific set of concepts which they then have to pass on to their students. It is actually quite the opposite – teachers never stop learning. This is true both for distance and in-person teaching.
One of Teach For Bulgaria’s main principles of teacher training and support is that it is crucial to develop students’ growth mindset and enable them to act like true explorers in the classroom. Teachers can only develop their students’ growth mindset, if they have it themselves. This is why “A New Way to Teaching” is a leadership and professional development program and we ask our participants to share what they have learned on a regular basis.
We are sharing some of the lessons that three teachers learned after entering the classroom in their new role for the first time in September of 2020. Here are their big takeaways after one semester of teaching.
Knowing that you are doing something meaningful gives you strength when it gets tough
Vasilena Dincheva’s biggest lesson is that when the going gets tough, you should focus on the fact that you are doing something meaningful.
“I learned not to give up, not to feel sorry for myself, and to keep going,” says Vasilena, who has been teaching math at 27th Secondary School “Acad. Georgi Karaslavov” in Sofia since September of 2020. “There have been times of utter exhaustion, times when I have felt like my body and my mind would not be able to take it anymore, but I have managed to keep going guided by the responsibility I have taken.”
Vasilena has always loved math. She got her high school diploma from the National High School of Science and Mathematics “Acad. Lyubomir Chakalov” and majored in industrial management at the Technical University of Sofia. However, she decided to pursue different dreams after graduation and worked on a ship for about a decade. She returned to Bulgaria hoping to start a family and become a teacher.
She was already a mother of two when she heard about Teach For Bulgaria from an interview on national television with Neli Kocheva, Head of Admissions at the organization. Then she found more information about Teach For Bulgaria’s work. Acquaintances who have worked with Teach For Bulgaria teachers told her that the organization wasn’t just blowing smoke.
So Vasilena applied at the last possible minute and half a year later entered the classroom as a teacher.
„What Teach For Bulgaria managed to accomplish in the summer months of training allowed me to start the school year feeling confident, strong, and ready,” says Vasilena. She had the chance to experience Teach For Bulgaria’s first online Summer Academy. “I was able to compare my level of experience with the abilities of my colleagues who had not had the chance to be trained entirely online and I was definitely at an advantage. I liked that because I was able to help my colleagues.“
Children can be very mature
„My biggest lesson came from my students,” says Lili Petrova, first grade teacher at 97th Secondary School “Brothers Miladinov” in Sofia. “I had just gone to the cafeteria to grab their afternoon snacks and when I came back [to the classroom] they were all sitting quietly at their desks. They had never been this quiet before! At first, I got very worried, but they said they wanted to surprise me and I got teary-eyed. This is my biggest lesson, when kids do a random act of kindness that you never really expected, it was a very authentic experience.“
Lili majored in special education for children with visual impairments at Sofia University and has lived in Italy for a while. She is very well aware that it takes a lot of dedication to teach primary school students to adhere to specific norms and values. According to her, one of the greatest challenges when working with children is aggressive behavior – something she has experienced first-hand. This is why she is so happy that her students keep surprising her by being eager to apply what she has been teaching them.
Petya Kechezhieva has also been very pleasantly surprised by her students’ level of maturity. She teaches English at Secondary School “Dimitar Blagoev” in Provadia (Varna region).
„I used to see my students as children, but they are actually tiny adults. My students are much more mature than I was at their age,” says Petya. She joined “A New Way to Teaching” after working at a bank for 10 years.
Every word matters
As a first grade teacher Lili has learned another key lesson: teachers should be able to communicate clearly because at times even one wrong word can cause problems.
This is especially true for parent-teacher communication, but it is also valid for student-teacher relationships. As Lili says, “kids are like sponges, they copy every little gesture or phrase.”
„“The sooner you realize where you are and how your actions impact the people around you, the better. People used to tell me that teaching was a calling, not a job, and I remember thinking that it sounded like a cliche, but now I see that it might be true.”
Children enjoy learning when they see how useful it can be
Not too long ago Petya experimented with gamification in her 4th grade English class. She had to teach her students about healthy eating. To make sure all of her students were engaged, Petya organized a simulation – her students had to imagine they were at the supermarket and they had to pick healthy food items for a special menu. Her students seemed to respond to that approach quite well and Petya was able to teach them new words and phrases they could use while shopping.
“I think it is quite important for students to see the practical implications of the things they learn about at school. Not just for primary school students but for older students as well.”
Her 4th-graders are about to learn how to ask for and give directions. Petya hopes to be able to organize a practical lesson outside.
Distance learning has had a great impact on some students
Vasilena, Lili, and Petya agree that online classes have pros and cons, but they can surely be effective, if everyone is clear about their roles and responsibilities, has access to the online classroom, and basic digital skills.
For example, some of Vasilena’s students were not interested in math before the first lockdown, but currently perform much better. More advanced students have also made great progress, partly due to the variety of online learning resources available to them thanks to Vasilena.
Where there is a community, there is a way
They may be a little insecure as first-year teachers, but Vasilena, Lili, and Petya are adjusting quite well to all specific requirements of teaching and feel more and more confident each day. All three of them are convinced that their successful adaptation is entirely due to the professional support they’ve been getting from their colleagues at school and Teach For Bulgaria.
Petya and Lili are grateful that they have a fellow program participant from their class at school. They are able to exchange ideas both internally at school and externally with teachers all over the country thanks to Teach For Bulgaria’s strong-knit community.
Vasilena is the first Teach For Bulgaria teacher to work at 27th Secondary School “Acad. Georgi Karaslavov”. This, however, is probably going to change by the end of next summer because her principal is looking to hire another program participant as a Bulgarian language and literature teacher.