Where do I even begin?
My experience in Germany has been a whirlwind of an adventure. It feels as if I only just arrived there, yet the world outside tells me the opposite is true. In the five weeks I’ve been here, the bare branches of the trees have slowly evolved into limbs bursting with life and color. The way the world changes is not something that is easily noticeable each day, but after a period of time, the difference is clearly there. And I realize that I, too, have changed.
In this experience, I feel that I have done more learning than teaching. And that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I have learned a lot about myself as a teacher.
For one, I never realized how dependent I was on technology when it comes to implementing lessons. In the United States, the use of technology is encouraged in the classroom. Educators are evaluated on how well they integrate it in their teaching as part of a “21st century skill.” In Gutenbergschule, technology is pretty much nonexistent in the classroom. Some classrooms have old-school overheard projectors, and the only rooms that have projectors (which the teachers call “beamers”) are the computer labs. And the school only has two of those – one with desktops and one with laptops. I did have a conversation today with one teacher who said that some of the other schools in Karlsruhe receive more funding and therefore use more technology. The students are also not allowed to have their phones at all in class, and they must put their phones in the “Handy-box” before class begins (“Handy is the German word for cell-phone). I will admit, it has been nice not having to constantly tell the students not to text in class!
I have also realized the difficulties of co-teaching. In most cases, all four members of our cohort, as well as Heidi, our host teacher, were in the same room of about 25 students. Five teachers in one classroom is a lot! Often many of us would stand to the side and simply observe. We also had difficulties when it came to planning lessons because we all have our own way of planning and preparing. I found that I rarely took on the “main” role of a teacher, and I mostly assisted my cohort members in implementing their ideas, or I would chime in with supplemental information or instructions. However, this past Monday when Chris and I were the only two remaining student teachers, I decided to teach the 10th grade class about American politics. I was afraid that the topic might be too difficult for them to grasp, but I decided to give it a shot. And it went really well! I discussed with them some basics, such as the three branches of government and the idea of check and balances, the role of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as well as our voting system and the electoral college. The students told me that they enjoyed the lesson because they aren’t taught about the American government system, even through they always hear about American politics. It was also interesting to listen to what they had to say about America’s current political climate.
I will miss all of the students that I met at Gutenbergschule. They were bright and curious, and it was a pleasure to get to know them and have the opportunity to teach them. I will miss Heidi, as well. She went out of her way to make us feel at home and comfortable, and was always there for advice and guidance. She was absolutely wonderful host, and I am ever grateful to her.
I also learned a lot about myself outside of the classroom. As a lover of adventure and travel, I was surprised to discover that I don’t really enjoy traveling alone. I don’t mind sightseeing by myself because I can go at my own pace, but as far as transportation, I become far too anxious. Perhaps this started from day one, with my unfortunate experience at the Charlotte airport when my flight was cancelled. Whenever I traveled by train by myself, I was afraid that something would go wrong, like I’d miss my train or I’d have the wrong ticket. They were irrational thoughts; I knew I was prepared, but my anxious brain chose not to accept that. I like traveling with others even if it is simply just to have the reassurance that everything is fine. Plus, it’s just nice to have a someone to share experiences and make memories with. Luckily for me, I have a list of people who have said they’d love to be my travel buddies, so I’m looking forward to future adventures with them. 🙂
Additionally, I was surprised that I actually missed America. Even though I identify as German-American and have lived in Germany before, there were still aspects of the culture that were foreign to me. In America, I understand the culture and the way of life, and it’s not something I ever give much thought to. The German way of life, however, is not something that I’m used to, even though I’ve lived it before. I often worried that I was doing something wrong. For instance, sometimes when I’d smile or greet strangers, they would just give me a strange look. That made me realize how friendly people are in the American South; if you smile and wave at a stranger, they typically smile and wave back. It’s not an uncommon or odd thing. Maybe it’s a little silly, but I also missed free water from restaurants. In Germany, you have to pay a euro or two if you want some water. I will miss so many things about Germany, however: how everyone rides a bicycle, the ease of public transportation, bakeries with fresh baked goods around every block, ice cream shops around every block, Kinder Eggs, the wide variety of Haribo gummies, the wide variety of cheeses that don’t cost an arm and a leg, how all the shops close on Sundays and holidays so people have the opportunity to spend time with their families, different festivals every weekend… the list could go on and on…
And to that I’ll say, “Auf Wiedersehen.” In German, it means “goodbye,” but a more literal translation would be something more along the lines of “until we see each other again.”
Until we meet again, Germany. It was a privilege.