It’s been about 5 years since my last first day of school. As I lay in bed the night before my first day as a teacher, I was reminded of the excitement and anxiety I typically feel at the onset of a new school year. This first day, and entire year for that matter, would be markedly different than any other I’ve experienced:
- It would be my first time as a teacher instead of a student. How would I earn the respect of my students when I’m ~20 years younger than all of my colleagues, and have significantly less experience?
- I’ve never felt this unprepared for a first day of school. That’s kind of a scary thought considering I’m a teacher, and not a student. I have no idea what the English proficiency level of my students will be, nor do I even know what classes I will be teaching. Lesson planning was out of the question, as I hadn’t seen any sort of curriculum yet.
- I would stick out like a sore thumb. I’ve never been one to call much attention to myself, especially in a classroom setting. This year, I’ve been warned that as the only American in my school (and likely, city), I’ll be somewhat of a mini celebrity. In other words, I’ll be the outsider. Fitting in might be difficult, and I’m not sure how I’ll feel about all the attention.
My dad keeps a note tucked into the corner of a picture frame on his desk at home that simply says: “Get out of your comfort zone.” I’ve always respected that subtle reminder he leaves for himself to try new things, and never get too comfortable. Dad, I think this qualifies as getting out of my comfort zone. That being said, while there are certainly many things about this new job that will make me uncomfortable, I can’t help but think they will stretch me, and ultimately help me learn and grow.
On the first day of school, I woke up extra early and made myself breakfast (both things that are uncharacteristic of me). I wanted to make sure I gave myself plenty of time to walk to school, as I had gotten lost en route just two days before. Once I arrived, I made my way to the teachers’ lounge and greeted my colleagues: “Dubro Utro. Zdrasti. Hello.” They seemed to appreciate my attempts to speak Bulgarian.
I’m surprised by how hectic things are. Teachers are scrambling to get things in order for their first week of classes. It’s funny to think that my teachers back in the States likely went through the same last minute fire drills. Being on this side of things is going to be interesting.
In Bulgaria, the first day of school consists of a big opening ceremony in the schoolyard. My mentor explained to me that several people would be speaking in front of the student body: “The principal, the mayor, the new English teacher…”
That’s right. It turns out that as part of the ceremony, I would be interviewed in front of the entire student body! “Oh, and since you’re trying to learn the language,” he said, “it’d be great if you could answer one of the questions in Bulgarian!”
I spent the next hour before the ceremony started frantically trying to learn one simple sentence:
“Желая ви чудесна утевна година с много Англиски!”
“I wish you a wonderful school year, with lots of English!”
The student body lined up by grade level behind the school. The ceremony started when a handful of students raised the flag before leading the group in the Bulgarian national anthem. Afterwards, the 8th graders who had previously been standing off to the side, processed through a tunnel leading to the rest of the student body. As the school’s new students, this gesture was symbolic of their new affiliation with the school. I was surprised when the older students gave the 8th graders carrots. I later learned the 8th graders are considered rabbits, because as the new students, they are shy and timid.
After a couple of musical performances by very talented student singers, the speeches began. I listened very carefully to every word, unsure of when I would be announced and what was expected of me. Everything was in Bulgarian, but I hoped I’d hear my name, or perhaps the Bulgarian words for “English Teacher.” Neither the principal nor the mayor mentioned my name…maybe it wouldn’t happen after all. Finally, a couple of students took the microphones, and called the new German teacher to the front. I knew that I would be next, so I nervously mouthed the Bulgarian phrase to myself a few final times.
The next thing I knew, I was being called to the microphone. A student asked me about why I had chosen to come to Bulgaria, what I liked about it, and what my zodiac sign was (I’m learning that many Bulgarians are big fans of astrology). Finally, she said she heard I liked challenges, and she dared me to say something to the student body in Bulgarian. I repeated my well-rehearsed line much to the amusement of the students. I’m sure my pronunciation was terrible, but I made the students laugh and applaud, so mission accomplished! I would later ask my mentor what grade he would give me for my Bulgarian. “B+,” he said. I’ll take it!
After the ceremony, we had an abbreviated schedule with 15 minute classes. I had a brief opportunity to introduce myself in each class, but the majority of the time was spent taking attendance and completing paper work. More on some of my first teaching experiences next time!