Secondary Education English
Class of 2015
ESL Educator- American University Bulgaria
Recently, UMF’s College of Education, Health, and Rehabilitation Services (UMF CEHR) connected with Caroline regarding her experience in UMF’s Education program.
UMF CEHR: What was the best experience you encountered in your UMF education program?
Caroline: The best experiences during my time in the UMF education program were my two field placements, Practicum, and Student Teaching. I had wonderful mentor teachers who gave me the support and confidence to push myself and it was so exciting to apply everything we learned from our professors in a real classroom.
UMF CEHR: What tips can you give our current students who are going to be entering student teaching?
Caroline: To current students about to enter student teaching, I would say to seize every opportunity to make yourself a better educator. Let your mentor teacher guide you but challenge yourself too. Get involved in the school community, meet the other teachers, and form bonds with your students. All these experiences will be so formative for your future career and are the memories you’ll cherish after graduation.
UMF CEHR: What did you do to sell yourself on the job market? What advice can you give our seniors?
Caroline: To sell myself on the job market, I’ve demonstrated the ways my various experiences working with students and living abroad are assets to potential employers. I made connections with other professionals in my field during my Fulbright grant and sought out their guidance when deciding what to do next, It’s important to build your network. To graduating seniors, I would say not to be afraid of challenging yourself and stretching the limits of what you imagine your future will look like. When I entered college seven years ago I never could have envisioned I would receive a Fulbright grant and be living abroad, but we’re all capable of much more than we often give ourselves credit for.
UMF CEHR: How did you gain experience while at UMF to prepare for the outside world?
Caroline: During my time at UMF, I worked as a peer mentor and a writing tutor which gave me experience different from traditional classroom teaching. I graduated with a wide perspective on the various ways I could work in education. I was a faculty aid which helped me develop a formative and valuable bond with one of my professors. It’s important for undergraduates to also seek out opportunities to work with experts in their field.
UMF CEHR: What experiences made your field placements memorable? What qualities did your mentors have that kept on encouraging you to become better?
Caroline: My field experiences were so great because I developed so much, both as a person and an educator, through challenging myself in the classroom. My students were also such interesting, creative, and fun people – they along with my mentor teachers made me look forward to going to school daily.
My mentors were patient as I worked my way through the ups and downs of being in the classroom but also pushed me to move outside of my comfort zone and try different projects and assignments. They encouraged me when I felt defeated and kept me focused on finding solutions to challenges and not giving up. I owe them both so much!
UMF CEHR: Did you teach your content area when you were a tutor on campus? What ages do you teach with your secondary education degree and why did you choose to teach that age group?
Caroline: I was a tutor at the writing center so I got to work hands-on with other students on essays, research papers, and creative projects – all things in the sphere of my content area, which was fascinating for me. I currently teach various ages, between age seven and adulthood! My secondary education degree, even though it wasn’t specifically for ESL as I teach now, gave me the lesson planning, classroom management, and differentiation skills that I use with all my classes here in Bulgaria. I’ve always enjoyed working with young adults the most but teaching so many ages right now is compelling as well.
UMF CEHR: Did you have a specific teacher that inspired you to go into the field of teaching?
Caroline: I had several teachers throughout my middle and high school years who inspired me to pursue a career in education. I’ve always loved writing and the teachers who supported and encouraged me to develop that passion showed me what powerful impact teachers can have in a young person’s life, which was my main drive to become a teacher.
UMF CEHR: What advice do you have for current students related to managing your classroom and building positive student relationships?
Caroline: I think the key to building positive relationships with your students is to find ways to show them that you genuinely care about their well-being and academic success. This will look different for every student because everyone needs validation in a different way, but teaching in both America and Bulgaria has shown me that wanting to be accepted and respected by their teachers in universal with students everywhere.
UMF CEHR: How did you manage the (lack of) age difference to show your professionalism as an educator with your Secondary students?
Caroline: Being just a few years older than my high school students has been challenging – especially in Bulgaria where people constantly tell me that I look too young to be a teacher! Setting boundaries are important with things like social media and classroom behavior, being understanding but firm so my students know they can’t push me around just because I’m young. It’s also important to always conduct yourself with professionalism and maturity as an educator but even more so when you’re a young teacher.
UMF CEHR: Can you tell me about an experience where you pushed yourself outside your teaching comfort zone where some awesome learning happened?
Caroline: During my Fulbright year, I had a few classes that were apathetic and low on motivation so it was challenging getting them to complete even simple assignments. I decided to take a risk and give them a long-term collaborative project about climate change and they ended up completely exceeding my expectations! It was tough for me to invest in something so time-consuming with them because it would have been discouraging if they weren’t responsive. But I promised myself that I would keep pushing to get them involved in the learning until we all got there together and it paid off in the end. The several weeks we worked on those projects are some of my best classroom memories from that year.
UMF CEHR: What is the Fullbright program?
Caroline: The Fulbright Program is an international exchange program sponsored by the US Department of State that funds research, teaching, and study opportunities in over 140 countries, with the goal of promoting mutual understanding and cooperation between the US and these countries. College seniors or recent graduates apply through their undergraduate institution by completing the online application (with transcripts and CV), writing two personal statements, and sitting for an interview with a panel of faculty at their institution. You apply specifically for one country and each country has different opportunities and expectations for their grantees.
I was a Fulbright/America for Bulgaria Foundation English Teaching Assistant (ETA) at a foreign language high school in Pernik, Bulgaria for the 2016-2017 academic year. I taught English literature and communication skills, as well as coached a speech and debate team through an NGO called the BEST Foundation. My Fulbright year was truly life-changing – I made great friends and taught lovely students, traveled to 10 different countries, met my amazing partner, and got to experience an entirely new culture and way of life. It was also a very difficult experience in many ways, as living abroad and teaching in a completely different environment can often be. But most importantly, I challenged myself to live outside of the bounds of what I always thought I was capable of and grew immensely as a person and in my professional experiences.
Since the end of my Fulbright grant, I’ve been teaching ESL to children and adults at the American University in Bulgaria. I also worked for a year as the Communications Director of the BEST Foundation and continue to volunteer with the organization. Teaching ESL isn’t something I had envisioned for myself during college, but Fulbright and living in Bulgaria has completely changed my perspectives and broadened my horizons for the future.
A side note: anyone at UMF interested in applying for a Fulbright grant is more than welcome to contact me at this email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) or find more information at https://us.fulbrightonline.org/fulbright-us-student-program. I personally highly recommend the Bulgaria program and I think a lot of students at UMF have experience that would make them good candidates for an English Teaching Assistantship. Information on the Bulgaria program can be found here: http://www.fulbright.bg/en/