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.)

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.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

A Day in the Life

Lektüre: -Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Der Richter und seine Henker (German lit)
-Bastian Sick, Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod (German lite)
-Anne Frank, Het Achterhuis (Dutch)

Tagesmenü: -boiled potatoes with curds and linseed oil (the Sorbian national dish)
-a garden salad with dill dressing
-tap water

Nervensäge: hay fever

To give you a better idea of what Fulbright Teaching Assistants actually do, I’ve prepared a journal entry for you that gives you some insight into my activities on a typical day. On a typical Tuesday, to be specific—since my schedule is different each day of the week, I picked one day that I thought was fairly representative.

Here goes.

6:30 a.m.—Switch off alarm clock, remove earplugs, put on glasses, get ass out of bed. Eat breakfast (usually wholegrain rye bread with cheese or plum butter, plus a glass of juice), get dressed, make self presentable, head out the door.

7:20 a.m.—Walk to school. (This is not a lengthy undertaking, since I live about 200 yards from my workplace.) Greet various students (grades 7 through 10) who stand just outside the school gates, smoking cigarettes they’ve purchased from any one of Germany’s fine vending machines.

7:23 a.m.—Arrive at school. Greet colleagues in teacher’s lounge; hang up coat. If time, briefly access e-mail to see who’s written.

7:40-8:25 a.m.—Teach the 8a (Realschule), under the supervision of the infamous Boss. I’m not allowed to deviate from the textbook. The curriculum has to do with the US—albeit a rather stereotyped, one-sided view of the US. During a typical lesson, I introduce new vocabulary words, read texts aloud, let the students read the same texts aloud, and offer individual help during writing exercises. Here and there I try to broaden my students’ worldviews by introducing new concepts such as “not being hostile towards immigrants,” “yes, non-white people can really be Americans, too,” and “there is nothing wrong with a girl wanting to become a mechanic.” But I can’t do this too often, because it annoys the Boss.

9:15-9:35 a.m.—This is the students’ breakfast break. I usually spend it in the teachers’ computer room, checking my email.

9:35-10:20 a.m.—Teach the 10b (also Realschule), under the supervision of “Mr. A,” the school’s second English teacher. I can be a little more creative in my lessons here, but there’s still a lot of textbook work. Typical activities: debating an issue of interest to the students (cell phones in schools, etc.), reading longer texts, going over things like the use of idioms, how to use a German-English dictionary, etc.

10:25-11:10 a.m.—Teach the 8b with Mr. A. This is a Hauptschule class—remedial students. 18 kids with learning disabilities, ADHD, and/or difficult family situations. The hour generally starts with five minutes of Mr. A. haranguing selected members of the class about a.) their recent poor test results, b.) their bad attitudes, or c.) their general “laziness.” (He doesn’t seem to notice that this does not exactly motivate them.) The curriculum is the same as for the 8a, but the lessons end up being quite different because I spent most of my time making sure that everyone understands the directions, is on the right page (literally), writes in complete sentences, and actually understands at least some of what they’re writing.

11:15-11:20 a.m.—Meet with Mr. A. to discuss lesson plans for the following day. Usually he just tells me what pages to prepare. Sometimes he makes suggestions as to how I should approach an activity.

11:25-11:50 a.m.—Meet with the Boss to discuss lesson plans for the next week. Fill two and a half pages of notebook paper taking down her extremely specific directives. Worry about having forgotten something. (Note: I like Mr. A.’s approach to lesson planning better.)

11:50 a.m-12:30 p.m.—Check email again, write to family and/or friends, update blog, etc.

12:30 p.m.—Walk home, change out of work clothes, and make lunch. (Lunch is usually either leftovers or some sort of pasta dish.) Eat lunch while reading assorted books from the Bautzen Public Library.

1:30 p.m—Take a nap.

2:30 p.m—If the weather’s decent, I usually go for a walk in the woods. (My village may be boring, but it does have some nice walking trails!)

3:30 p.m—Prepare lessons for Wednesday, and, if time, for Thursday as well. Generally I type my lesson plans on my laptop first, then copy them into the notebook I use as a lesson book. Lesson planning is frequently boring and tedious, especially since it involves making my own answer keys—either German textbook publishers don’t believe in printing teachers’ editions, or my school didn't bother to provide me with one; I’m not sure which.

5:15 p.m.—Sit down with my German-English dictionary to work on Dürrenmatt, or with the Dutch-German dictionary to work on Anne Frank.

6:30 p.m.—Make dinner. (Dinner is a repeat of either lunch or breakfast—leftovers, pasta, or bread and cheese with fruit.) Eat dinner while reading library books.

7:00 p.m.—Watch the TV news while washing the dishes.

7:15 p.m.—Tune in to my favorite German TV program, Kulturzeit (“Culture Time”). Meanwhile, I either finish my lesson plans, review Sorbian vocabulary on flashcards, or do some embroidery.

8:00 p.m.—If a worthwhile program follows Kulturzeit (a nature program about moose in Sweden, for example, or a documentary about orphans in Mongolia), I might tune in. Otherwise I do some more reading.

9:00 p.m.—Shower, choose clothes for the following day, and set alarm clock.

9:30 p.m—Vent in journal. If I’ve had a particularly stressful day, I do this while drinking a glass of Beruhigungstee (sedative tea), which smells and tastes like unwashed feet, but is fairly effective.

10:00 p.m—Go to bed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

smelling unwashed feet is bad enough...but drinking them? haha!

by the way, is there a smoking age in germany? it surprised me that at a school of 7-10 grade, the students were smoking.

2:54 AM  
Blogger Ada said...

It surprised me too, the first time I saw it-- unfortunately I've gotten used to it now, though I still don't approve... Legally you are allowed to smoke cigarettes in Germany at 16, so most of these kids ARE too young to smoke. BUT there are cigarette vending machines all over the place-- and if you're tall enough to put money it the machine, you can purchase cancer sticks there. The other problem is that 'carding' isn't common practice here, so if you look 16, you could probably also buy them in a shop.

10:18 AM  
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7:08 PM  
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9:32 AM  
Anonymous Aymee said...

What is in the tea? Is it valerian? (or Balderian [or is it Balderien...] as they call it in Germany)

2:30 AM  

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