Ada Abroad: Living and Working in Germany

An online journal recording two years spent as a Fulbright/Pedagogical Exchange Service Teaching Assistant at secondary schools in Germany. (2003-2004 I was in a village near Bautzen; 2004-2005 I will be in Nordrhein-Westfalen.)

Name:
Location: Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

I'm an American living in Germany, working as a foreign language assistant at a secondary school. Future plans: getting my Ph.D. (probably in Germanic Linguistics), becoming a professor, living an ethical and meaningful life.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Oh! So this is what a NORMAL school is like!

Hello readers. Please excuse my long absence from my blog. In the past few weeks, I've been taking care of various burocratic hassles related to the university, my visa (the kind that goes in your passport, not the little plastic card!), and my bank account; tracking down a new place to live in Münster (once I start attending classes I don't want to be commuting from the fire station in Hamm every day!); and, most importantly, getting to know my new host school.

Let me tell you, this school is fantastic. There's really no comparison between this school and the last one. Everything about it so much more pleasant.

I suppose I should stop talking in generalities and give you some specifics. Here goes:

The colleagues are great. The teachers here are actually friendly! People talk to me in the staff room just to make conversation, not just when I'm standing in their way or they want something done. They take me out to lunch, invite me over for coffee and cake, lend me well-equipped bicycles, and show me around Münster. I've even made a friend! One of the younger teachers and I have a lot in common, and we've started hanging out. It's really nice to have a social life and to be friendly with people at work. Most of the teachers at the last school didn't pay much attention to me, and none of them wanted to see me socially-- although the Sorbian teacher did take me out on occasional cultural excursions. To be fair, almost all of them were pretty old-- the median age for teachers at that school was about 50, and the youngest was in her late thirties. This school has a mix of all different ages, from Referendare (trainee teachers) who are only a couple years older than me to oldsters getting ready to retire. But then, the middle-aged teachers here are friendly, too.

The kids are smart! Well, yes, this a Gymnasium (public college-preparatory school); of course the kids are smart. But working with Gymnasiasten is really worlds different from working with Haupt- and Realschüler (remedial and comprehensive-track kids)-- especially from working with Hauptschüler! The main difference may not be actual level of intelligence, but rather motivation-- these kids want to learn, and many of them are actually interested in the subject matter. My eighth-grade girls are pressing me to start an after-school English club! Another difference-- there are hardly any kids here with severe behavioral problems. Not that they're all little angels all the time-- they aren't!-- but I haven't seen anyone swear at teachers yet or heard of anybody plundering the school cafeteria's cash box.

This school is multicultural. In a way it's kind of ironic that I need to bring this up, since in theory the school that I worked at last year was multicultural, too-- after all, it was located in one of the few areas of Germany with an indigenous ethnic minority (the Sorbs). But that school didn't feel multicultural-- the Sorbs and their traditions were hardly ever mentioned, and there were no non-white kids, kids for whom German was the second language, or kids of non-German citizenship. At this school, I have students who are (among other things): Black, Korean, Russian, Yugoslav, Thai, Turkish, English, South Asian, and Welsh (really!). The best thing about this is that no one makes a big deal of this-- in a negative way, I mean. At my old school, teachers routinely made racist comments. If something looked messy, the principal would say 'Es sieht hier wie in Korea aus!' ('It looks like Korea in here!')* I have yet to hear any racism from teachers here-- or from students, for that matter.

The classroom environment is so much nicer. My old school was, well, very Eastern Bloc. The kids sat in rows and were not allowed to speak unless spoken to. Lessons were teacher-centered: I was pressured to design lessons in which I did most of the talking-- a big no-no for language teachers, actually. Group work was discouraged because it resulted in 'too much chit-chat.' (Funny, I thought that learning a foreign language required conversing in it!) Students received deportment grades for Ordnung (orderliness, punctuality), Fleiß (being hard-working), Mitarbeit (participation and cooperation), and Betragen (not swearing at teachers, towing the line). There was no grade for creativity-- which, except maybe in art class, definitely was not encouraged. Here, some teachers seat their kids in 'table' arrangements, facing each other, like in American middle schools. The kids are allowed to talk during seat work-- even loudly!-- as long as they stay on-task and quiet down when the teacher needs to say something. It's much livelier and friendlier. And the best thing is that I'll get to have some more independence in designing my lessons. I don't have to just teach from the textbook. Bringing in outside materials (and even introducing topics not covered in the text) is ok, too.

Did I mention that I'm really happy here? :)

More soon, I hope!


*Note: Like many prejudiced comments, this statement is really stupid. Everyone I know who has been to Korea says that it is a very clean, orderly country. Not unlike, oh... Germany!

18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ada,

great to see that you reanimated your blog.

Great to read that you are happy in Hamm.

crowlix

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here I am again. Hope I didn,t make Hamm sound too bad. We were young and really did enjoy our years in Hamm. At that time we must have had over 100 American families in Hamm Most of us had young children who attended large British boarding schools as day students. The schools(boys and girls) were a few miles apart. Absolutely no English was spoken or taught in the local German schools at that time. It was a real culture shock after growing up in Western Michigan!

10:15 PM  
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hey, i'm really glad things are going so well this time around!

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