Honestly, there’s still a part of this whole thing that doesn’t feel real. It still feels like I’m dreaming.
It’s been ten long years since I was last in Germany. I used to live in a small town called Käshofen, which is near Ramstein, for six years because my dad was in the Air Force. I’m also second generation German through my mother. I like to think of German as being part of my cultural identity because of my family and because I spent much of my childhood in this beautiful country. When I heard that here was an international student teaching program here, I was ecstatic. Not only would I have the opportunity to return to one of my favorite places in the world, but I would also have the opportunity to experience teaching in a German school. When I lived in Germany the first time*, I attended a German kindergarten at the age of three. That was the first form of schooling I had ever had. Now, at the end of my undergraduate career, I am returning to a German school. It’s as if things have come full circle.
But like I said, it hasn’t quite hit me yet that I am actually here. It almost seemed like I’d never get here either; I had quite the adventure at the airport. When I boarded the plane that was leaving Frankfurt for Germany at 4:40pm, we were notified that one of the flight attendants had to get off because of a medical issue. Then, the the pilot realized there was a mechanical issue with the plane that hadn’t shown up before, so we continued to wait on the plane while the mechanic attempted to fix the issue. After three hours, they finally made us get off the plane and told us the flight would leave at midnight. Ten minutes before midnight, they told us the flight had been cancelled. It was a nightmare. I waited in a line of 200 angry people to talk to customer relations to rebook my flight. I finally booked a flight that was going to leave at 3:15pm the following afternoon. I spent the night in the airport and waited around the airport all day. The flight was delayed once again until 7:30pm, but it did actually finally leave at that time. The one good thing out of the whole situation was that hardly anyone was on that flight, and I got two seats to myself that I could lay across. I propped up three pillows and fell asleep watching the starry night. When I woke up, I saw Europe below me.
I did miss a day of school, which is a huge bummer, but my colleagues, Carly, Kristen, and Chris, filled me in on the details. It helped relieve some of my anxiety about my first day, because they told me what to expect. Gutenbergschule, the school we’ve been placed at, has a totally flexible environment. Typically, class periods are only about 45 minutes, but some of the older students have 90 minute periods. So far we’ve taught 5th graders, 9th graders, and 10th graders, all of whom are at a different level of English. It’s been interesting trying to adjust our teaching styles to fit the needs of the students. With the 5th graders, we played “I spy” to practice colors and had the students play charades to practice animals vocabulary. The 9th graders mostly do bookwork because they have a big exam coming up in a couple of weeks. The 10th graders actually cooked an “American” breakfast for us.
The teachers here bring resources from home and adjust each lesson to meet student needs based on previous lessons. Back home in North Carolina, my lesson plans would often be pages long and very detailed. However, there were many times that I didn’t quite stick to my lesson plans because of unforeseen factors and time management. I think this experience will help me develop activities or think quickly, which is a useful skill to have, even as an American public school teacher. The teachers here are well prepared for a variety of outcomes.
Another major difference I’ve noticed between Gutenbergschule and schools back home is the use of technology in class. Many schools in the US are pushing for increased use of technology in the classroom. The school I student taught at, Watauga High School, was a 1:1 school, meaning each student had their own personal, school issued laptop to use. At Gutenbergschule, the students don’t have laptops to use. Neither do teachers. There are about five laptops in the teachers’ lounge for the teachers to collectively use, and one computer lab that needs to be booked in advance for student use. The students used their laptops every day at Watauga; here, the students are even required to put their smartphones in a box before class so they won’t use there during class.
There are many other observations I’d like to write about, but I think I’ll save those for later. This blog post has gotten to be quite long, and Chris even just came in to ask, “You’re still writing?” We actually have two weeks off for Easter now, so we’re going to be doing some travelling (we’re going to Trier today!), but I still plan to write about my other observations about Gutenbergschule in relation to the German culture.
I’m planning on visiting my old hometown, Käshofen, and some family members around Rhineland-Pfalz during the break. Maybe once I see some familiar faces and familiar places, it will start to hit me that I’m actually back in Deutschland!
*For clarification, I lived in Germany two different times, for a total of six years. The first time was between 1996 and 1999, and the second time was between 2003 and 2006. We lived in the same house, in the same town both times.