Bulgarian math teacher reflects on time in America

Marissa Locke, Beginning Journalism student


Imagine walking through the streets of a foreign city, knowing no one, without a way to communicate with them. People you can’t understand, just walking by.

It was a brand new world for math teacher Anna Toneva when she first came to the United States nearly 17 years ago. She left her home in Bulgaria for a brand new life in the US.

“It was difficult for me to realize if I was doing the right thing,” Toneva said. “Am I overstepping my rights? That was the worst, not being able to read people.”

She compares her life in Bulgaria to the environment featured in the book 1984, by George Orwell.  It depicts a brainwashing society without freedom of expression.

 “You had no future,” she said.  “You had no dreams. You knew what was going to happen to you in the next years.”

 Toneva received her college education in Bulgaria including a Master’s degree in math and physics and her teaching certification. 

 To apply for higher-level education in Bulgaria, citizens must complete an aptitude exam and score a passing grade.

 “We were having an opportunity; everyone could go, if you were smart enough,” she said.  “Of course you had to pass a very difficult test.  The ACT is nothing.”

 While in college in Bulgaria, Toneva studied to become an astronaut for her nation’s space program.

“I wrote to a person who was from our area who was an astronaut,” she said. “I was trying so hard.  I had to go through the training and they said, ‘You have a great resume and everything’s so perfect but, sorry you’re a girl.’” 

 That was in 1984.

When she arrived in the US, Toneva never thought to pursue her interest in being an astronaut.

 “I didn’t have the guts to do that,” she said.
 Toneva said the hardest thing about moving to the US was making new friends.

 “I started everything over,” she said.  “I didn’t know the language so I felt as though I had to go from the bottom up.”

 After taking classes for one year and working odd jobs, Toneva began to pick up English. 

 “I’m still learning,” she said.  “I still can’t express myself, but just talking makes it better.” 

 Toneva taught in Bulgaria for nine years. Once her English was more developed, she began substitute teaching in the Shawnee Mission School District.

 “In the very beginning I taught English,” she said.  “I was subbing for a teacher in middle school.  It was such a joke, but we had a good time.  The kids were actually telling me how to pronounce the words. It was fun. We taught each other.”

 About a year later she got her job as a full-time math teacher at BV.  

Spanish teacher Jill Gouger said she appreciates Toneva’s positive attitude around school. 

“She just has a contagious passion for life,” Gouger said.  “You can’t be in a bad mood when you’re around her.  She’s such an easy person to get along with.”

Toneva, who is finishing up her 16th year at BV, said she couldn’t imagine teaching anywhere else. 

“I feel at home,” she said.  “I love Blue Valley too much.”