Thursday, December 12, 2013

So This Teaching Thing...

"How do you see the world?" using pictures
 I came to Bulgaria as  Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. It's the thing that consumes my thoughts and my time. It's what changes a good week into a bad week and a bad week into a Great week. It hasn't been easy. It's the harder and happier things, the mix of both, that I find the most difficult to blog about. Oh, if you've been within ear shot of me since September, you've heard all about the ups and downs. Blogging was a different animal all together. Here is my attempt:

I teach 7 different groups of students once a week. Classes are 40 minutes long, a strange length that lands me with either too much to do or not enough. Fitting good content in that time constraint has been tough. I also co teach with my mentor teacher for two 11th classes on Tuesdays. My classes, while sparse, are scattered throughout the week in such a way that I'm at school most days for more than a few hours.
Co-Teaching, In Class Debate

Some differences about Bulgarian education: in most schools, the students are placed in "classes" and learn with only those students throughout a day. They stay in the same room. Rather than the teacher having more ownership in crafting a space, it's often up to the students. In the picture on the right, they chose the blue color that is banded along the bottom (though they complain about it now). My school has enough students [and a small enough building] to require two shifts: 7:30am-1:20, 1:40-7:30pm. Some classes are in the one, some classes are in the other.

We've focused on what I call Creative Critical Thinking this semester. It's a hybrid of writing prompts and creative analysis using the term "world view" as our grounding point. I've found that these students have a high level of comprehension and language skills. They are thoughtful and just as opinionated as I am. That being said, like most high school students, they don't always know why they think something. They consume insane amounts of popular American culture, can identify what it might be talking about, but aren't sure where that meaning came from.

Writing Prompt: Getting a New Perspective
There is talking, discussion. At this point, they groan with nausea if I even use the words "human" and "perspective" in the same sentence-- they know I'm referencing worldview question (What is a human being? Why is the world the way it is?). They also groan when I say, "Please take out a piece of paper". I consider this a win. Decades from now, they'll remember how our assumptions shape our perspectives and experiences.

Student relationships have waxed and waned with the changing seasons. I'm grateful for the times that we've hung out different places in town. One group had me over to bake muffins. Another taught me to make banitsa. There was the over-the-top concert by a famous Bulgarian singer (beloved of middle aged mothers everywhere). Recently, it's been the speech and debate club that's keeping me super busy. I didn't do either of these things in high school or college. Now, I'm running debate meetings where we have a 4 person team vs. me!

It's been a game of hit or miss. This week, one class filed a complaint about my teaching. It's easy to have confused expectations of each other. I'm in a system that is foggy and uncertain to me. Ways of handling conflict are extremely different. Teaching makes you quite familiar with regular rejection in all its subtle and blatant forms. It forces a joint presence of Choking-on-Pride-As-You-Attempt-to-Swallow kind of Humility... with Confidence and Poise and a constant request for Respect as a fellow human being.

The past three weeks have been the hardest. There were miscommunication and false assumptions on every side. I tried to grade and enter grades in our registers and then correct my entries when entered wrongly. As Christmas comes, attention has faltered and my own clear direction in lesson planning has faltered with it. Combine this with a sudden onslaught of suggestions and requests from class teachers, and I find that it's hard to feel like this first semester was much of anything. The other Fulbrighters who returned this year say that this is a normal stage; the second semester gets better.

I have simultaneously been marveling at the Lives I get to interact with so regularly. Some of my classes had a test (I called it a "review assessment"). As their heads were bent over their papers, and the grumbles rose in English and Bulgarian as they realized it wasn't going to be easy, the strangest thing happened: I had a "love burst". My mentor from Penn State describes this as a sudden burst of affection and happiness because of the existence of another person. Even my grumpiest students were the unknowing recipients. I wanted them to succeed so badly.

Now you have a better picture of Dana's new Life as Teacher. It's complicated folks. Keep me in mind as the days keep going!

1 comment:

Chelsea Cooper said...

Beautiful! Yes, teaching has such a way of bringing out our pride and I read your descriptions I'm thinking both, "Wow, I'd love to be a student in Dana's class!" and "Ugh, my courses are so much more boring...why don't I teach more like her?" There's something about performing in front of a group on a daily basis, with myriad expectations (internal and external) of what "good" teaching looks like. Also, I do NOT envy you a 1x-a-week 40-minute block. Enjoy the ups and remember that "teacher" does not define you!