“Teacher, tell me how to write an essay,” Ivan, a sixth-grader from Primary School “Lyuben Karavelov” in Koprivshtitsa, asks his teacher Marian Rankov. The stakes are high – a Space Camp Turkey scholarship. Space Camp Turkey is one of the three space education centers with simulators patterned after NASA in the world. So, Ivan starts writing, rewriting, editing, and correcting. He starts his essay from scratch six times to win the scholarship at the end.
Two years prior to Ivan testing the astronaut training simulators, however, his life trajectory does not seem so optimistic. He is one of the not so successful students at school. His grades are low, he struggles with writing, his parents do not have much time for him, and most of his teachers are content simply when Ivan does not bother them in class. He is bored at school and doesn’t feel like doing anything. “This is pointless, I won’t do it,” is the response that Marian often gets from Ivan during his first weeks of being his teacher. With a lot of perseverance, patience, and catering to Ivan’s individual learning needs, he gradually becomes one of the most hard-working students and even cheers for his classmates to be more active at school. Ivan participates in a big student conference in Sofia, collects points doing extra school work at Khan Academy’s free platform, starts working with Photoshop, gets his first good grades. He and his classmate, who has also received a Space Camp Turkey scholarship, shoot a video for their fundraising campaign to pay for their trip to Turkey and back.
Ivan’s story was shared at “Actors vs. Poets: It’s Awesome to Be a Teacher”, an event co-organized by Teach For Bulgaria, Actors vs. Poets, and Bar Friday which took place on Dec, 20, 2017. Teach For Bulgaria alumni participated by sharing stories from their teaching experience while the actors Plamen Dimov, Ivan Stanchev, Neda Spasova, Stanislav Kertikov and the poets Ivan Dimitrov, Stefan Ikoga, Ivan Landzhev, and Stefan Ivanov recited poetry, part of which was education themed.
“Ivan’s story has a happy ending. The harsh truth, however, is that there are many children whose story may not have a happy ending,” Marian Rankov shared. He is a Teach For Bulgaria alum and currently works as a Teacher Support Coordinator. He later added:
“We need to accept that every one of us is responsible to give all children the chance that Ivan was given.”
According to Marian, a teacher should not simply teach subject knowledge – it is much more crucial for teachers to believe in their students and to help them discover and take advantage of various opportunities for development.
“If you’d like to be part of the solution to one of the biggest problems in Bulgaria by helping students learn, complete their studies, follow their dreams, and grow, you should become a teacher,” Iglika Atanasova stated at the event.
She taught English for two years in the village of Oreshene, Lovech region and is one of the organizers of the initiative called “School Miracles”. “School Miracles” unites students from a few villages in the Lovech region; they meet regularly, discuss various problems in their communities, and work on community development projects.
Even while she was applying to participate in the program, Iglika knew that almost half of all students in Bulgaria were functionally illiterate, i.e., they could read and write, but did not understand the meaning of the text. It was not until she went to Oreshene, however, that she realized how severe the problem was. The village of Oreshene is situated in one of the poorest regions in the country and Iglika met students who did not have any winter clothes and shoes to walk to school through the snow drifts. She met fifth-graders who couldn’t come to class because they had to look after their younger siblings. She met girls in the eighth grade who would soon be married.
“The more problems there are, the more solutions you can find,” Iglika is convinced.
In order to work individually with students who needed extra help with their reading and writing skills, Iglika and her colleagues from the neighbouring villages organized a summer school. Various initiatives which brought together students from different schools during the school year, helped build teamwork skills. Iglika also started a robotics club where students could solve complex math problems and write code. And most of all, while she was at school she tried to develop the mindset in her students that they had the power to accomplish whatever they wanted in life.
Despite the sleepless nights, Iglika is certain that it was worth the effort. Because of Rozalinda who travels to school every day from her village. Because of Gloria, Kapka, Vida, Genoveva, and Lazarina who are about to finish their secondary education and will perhaps go to university – thanks to their parents who support them, but also thanks to four classes of Teach For Bulgaria participants in the region who have taught them that education is an investment that will someday pay off.
Take a look at the pictures from the event below and watch the videos to see Iglika Atanasova’s story as well as to enjoy a poem by Stefan Ivanov which he wrote especially for “Actors vs. Poets: It’s Awesome to Be a Teacher”.