Teaching in Göttingen

Jan 25

Day 22 (Abschied)

Okay, let’s start out with some melodrama:

         Goodbyes are sad in every language.  I said goodbye to so many people through the day in school, and I really didn’t realize all the relationships I had formed throughout this internship. My host mother and I baked a Zuckerkuchen last night so that I could bring it in as a thank you to all the teachers. There were probably about 40 pieces of this giant cake and they were gone by 11 am. Oddly, without any knowledge of my schedule or plans to fly home, the teachers with whom I have yet to work (or for that matter hold a conversation) with began to introduce themselves throughout the day.  At first I thought that the other teachers had mentioned that I would be leaving soon, but as it turns out, most of these “new” teacher acquaintances only had a vague idea of what my job here was, since I was mostly involved with English and a bit of history and German. It could also be that I brought them cake, but most of them had no idea it was form me because people are constantly coming in and out of the 4 connected teacher’s rooms. Thinking about it now, only in the past few days, I’ve met most of the science teachers, a few math faculty, along with Spanish, art and sports instructors. Some had heard of me and some had not, but it seemed generally strange that this should only be happening now. I talked about this with both my supervisor and host mom, and they both said the same thing, something to the effect of “Germans always need a bit of time before they really talk with you”. It was only then that I remembered that when I was an exchange student in German two years ago, it was around two are three weeks that the German students finally started feeling comfortable enough to start up a conversation as well. As a student, I was sort of put-off and disheartened that after the first couple of days none of my new peers had really said more than just “hallo” or “Morgen” to me, because I expected things to be like they were at home. Granted, I was afraid my German wouldn’t be good enough and they were afraid their English wouldn’t be good enough, so that posed problem on its own.  Language differences aside, the experience of small cultural differences such as how appropriate it is to talk to someone you don’t know who is sitting next to you on the train (p.s. don’t do that in Germany… they think you’re a crazy person. Once, I even thought I was sitting in a “quiet section” of the train because no one was saying anything.) is really what makes these trips worth while and what forces you to realize that “your way” isn’t the only acceptable way. The lack of introductions and conversations that went further than greetings within the first couple of weeks was something I once considered rude or mean. Now, if I were in America, I might be correct in thinking so, but the fact of the matter is that I’m not in America, I’m in Germany, and I therefore have to play by Germany’s rules.  This is often a big problem that I think a lot of foreigners face, but it seems especially difficult for those of us who some from the states. We refuse to leave our rules behind and then take it personally or dismiss differences as snobbery, impoliteness or the like. This reaction, of course, leads to resentment for our lack of understanding, which then confirms our feeling of being disliked and then we have a problem. I kind of wish the unwritten rules of each country were written somewhere, preferably like board game instructions: Go directly to class. don’t say hello, don’t buy an Abercrombie shirt for $200 (seriously, I don’t understand how these kids buy a t-shirt that cost 5 cents to make for so many euros). But, I digress; this is about my teaching experience. I plan to write a long semi-meditative semi-nostalgic semi-analytical post when I’m back in the U.S. (that way, since I’m no longer in the country, my emotions will seem more legitimate). Until then, however, I want to talk briefly about the general effects I think this Janplan has had on me.

one: I’ve figure out, in some ways, what teaching is like, which was essentially the reason I came here, but the process of figuring this out was really unexpectedly a blast. Now, I’m trying to figure out whether I could do this long-term, and from what I can see it wasn’t simply the “newness” making it seem more exciting than it is, but I need more experience to know for sure.

two: I’ve begun to have a much more (I like to think) objective, or at least self-aware, view of my own actions as a student.  I honestly don’t believe you could be a teacher without pausing everyone once in a while to introspect; it just seems like part of the job.

three: If I were to become a teacher, I’ve figured out the group I’d prefer. (see previous posts for details)

four: I have become infinitely more comfortable with public speaking.  It is AMAZING how different it feels and how much more fun I had when the presentation I gave wasn’t going to be graded, when I was the so-called expert.  Having realized that this is purely a mental/perspective process, I will now (and by now I mean when I get back to Colby) try to apply this enthusiasm to my own public speaking opportunities.

five: My German has improved (woo hoo!)

six: I’m really tired, but promise to write a verrrrrrrry long final post ranting about my time here.  It was so damn fun and I met so many fabulous people that I teared up today when I said goodbye to my supervisor.  I can only imagine how I’ll handle leaving my host family. 

        My host parents have offered to adopt me so I can stay (difficult at the age of 20), and my host grandparents called me on the home phone today to wish me success and happiness and tell me multiple similarly incredibly thoughtful and adorable things. My younger host brother agrees with his parents that I should stay, because he says I’m “not as feminine as [his] other sisters”. Oh good. This is a beautifully executed backhanded compliment, because “other” implies that I’m considered his sister, but “not feminine” implies… well, not feminine… then again, that isn’t usually how I’d describe myself either.  More introspection! And while I’m introspecting, I’m going to stop using humor to compensate for my sadness about leaving.  I loved my time here, and I’m truly sad to know that it has gone by so quickly, but I’m happy that the people I’ve met or got to meet again have made what I can only assume will be a fantastic and lasting effect on my life.

Don’t know when I’ll be back again… oh babe, I hate to go (John Denver, anyone?)


Day 21

My prepenultimate (no, it isn’t a word, no, that doesn’t matter to me) post:

         Today was my last class with the 12th and 6th graders and the reactions were quite different, and logically so.  The 12th graders seemed perfectly okay with my leaving, though they were very nice and thanked me and the like.  The 6th graders, however, seemed (illogically) distraught by this.  I ended my time with the them by having them give group presentations on various English-speaking holidays about which they read.  The choosing of the groups was done through the random assignment of colored cards and the colors dictated the groups.  This may seem unnecessary, but it is for the simple reason that if you ask a group of 11-year-olds to divide themselves up into groups, it will take most if not all of the class and someone will definitely end up fighting… if it’s bad, possibly crying. Luckily, all this was avoided and I went around to each of the groups as they worked.  At about the same time, a couple groups claimed to be finished and ready to present, so I gave the rest about 5 more minutes and then we started.  After only two presentations, however, it became clear that they had not understood what they had read and so I asked them to go back and really try to present the information in a way that was clear enough that their classmates could take notes, which they were told to do at the start. I asked them afterward why they had said they were ready so fast and hadn’t asked me any questions when they didn’t understand. They said that they didn’t want me to know that they didn’t understand, which I found kind of sweet, kind of sad, and absolutely against the whole point of teaching. Obviously, the student that most people have had class with at one point or another, the one who does nothing BUT ask questions just because they want to convey that they know something or show that they’re participating is not the ideal. Nonetheless, questions, especially when something isn’t fully (or even partially) understood, are great pieces of evidence for the fact that a students wants to actually understand the material as opposed to BSing as they go. I thought it was funny and somewhat striking that the kids thought nothing of being honest about the fact that they were embarrassed or assumed they’d be somehow punished if they didn’t understand, but the lack of understanding itself was not so easy to admit.  I wonder if grades or teaching style has more to do with how we (as students) tend to view questions, especially at a younger age. On tests, for example, a wrong answer is punished by a lack of points or a worse grade.  In the classroom, where your piers (particularly in junior high) are able to then judge your answers, it becomes even harder to just raise your hand and say “uh…what?” I still struggle with that sometimes. after the presentations were finished, I gave the class adjectives, which I wrote on the board and had them use the comparative and superlative forms of the words to compare and contrast the holidays about which the had read. 

        I was trying to think of more adjectives, when I conjured (yeah, I used that word just now) the word “awkward” and remembered that there is no true translation for it.  So for the next ten minutes, I first gave an example of an awkward situation and then had the students define awkward (in english) by sharing stories of their own.  It was actually a really cool way to learn the definition of a word, because synonyms can only help so much.  In a sense, experiences and situations are how we truly gain a sense of a word in our (or any other) language. Every situation adds a new dimension to the definition; to understand the varying severity of embarrassment, you’ve probably related them to the time you tripped in front of a crowd, peed your pants in school as a child (or older), dove into a lake only to lose your bathingsuit bottom, etc. I like the “real life” aspect of our “awkward” conversation and I then had them do the same thing, but for Heimat, a German word for which there is no direct English translation. I feel as though the self relevance of the stories made the word’s definition much easier to remember than if I had just told them that it was when you feel uncomfortable because of an event, or whatever definition one might give.

        In the last 7 or so minutes, as requested by their regular teacher, I concluded by letting the students ask me questions about my life in the U.S., my school experience, etc.  The same typical questions were pretty much asked, such as “do you wear school uniforms?” and “have you ever seen the ocean?”, but one that I’ve been asked about ten different times, and one that depresses me slightly is “have you met any celebrities?” I was always confused by this question and the frequency with which it occurs, but I realize now that this is because when America is in the news, the majority of it is because of celebrities, and so it appears as though half of America is made up of really famous people.  [That’s a lovely example of the “sociology of knowledge”, or the idea that knowledge is socially given, maintained, and defined.] It kind of makes me think twice about what horrible misunderstandings out media has led us to… but that’s a topic for another blog.  For this one, I’ll just say that it reinforces the responsibility of educators to try and show multiple aspects of everything they teach, because if someone knows nothing of the subject before hand, you, as a teacher, can essentially shape their knowledge of the world. powerful stuff.  So, to answer their question I drew a (terrible) outline of the U.S. and indicated with a dot where I lived, where New York City is located and where LA was located. Then I drew a (somewhat accurate) to-scale picture of Germany next to it, marked Göttingen and Berlin on the map, and asked them if they had ever met a German celebrity. All of them said no, so then I asked them based on distance alone if they thought I had ever met a celebrity.  It was kind of flippant, true, but it got the point across, and it seemed to be a surprise to a lot of them that I didn’t somehow come from California. I think they were a little disappointed.  Anyway, I’m not going to sleep if I keep writing, soooo goodnight!

Bid Morgen,


Jan 23

Day 20

Schönen Guten Tag!

       Today was all about spontaneity, which I have found to be more and more necessary in the process of teaching.  I assume after some time that most teachers or professors get quite good at estimating how much time students need to complete the various tasks they plan, but as I am still quite new at all this, I sometimes have to make it up as I go along.  During one of my first solo lesson experiences, for instance, I got through the material much fast than I had anticipated, and upon realizing this I had to magically create a fourth quarter of the lesson while I was teaching the third quarter of it.  This is particularly important with the younger grades because if you give them more than a few second of down time (in the process of planning your next move) they usually take it upon themselves to create the entertainment you have apparently failed to provide. It’s actually pretty impressive how quickly fiddling turns into a newly invented, somewhat hyperactive game. If I had their spontaneity, I wouldn’t have to worry about lesson plans.  Point being, I’ve learned that thinking on your feet is a key part of teaching in the event that things don’t go exactly as planned.

         First two periods/hours of the day were spent with the 11th graders and because half of the class (11 of 21) were off on the school’s annual ski vacation, the rest of the class spent their time analyzing song lyrics from An Inconvenient Truth, Into The Wild, and some singer I can’t for the life of me remember at the moment.  Anyway, the songs they analyzed, they then connected to the current theme of globalization and “living in a global world”. (Just as an explanation, the ski vacation is for 10th, 11th, and 12th grades and can only happen because this week is sort of a limbo for the students; the second “half year” has yet to start, but the grades for the first “half year” are already set in stone and printed up, so the activities starting today will be a bit more relaxed than usual.  Oddly, this actually means that the teacher’s workload  doesn’t change, but the activities are a bit more dynamic, I think.) It was interesting seeing the different interpretations of the lyrics, especially since they’re interpreting something that isn’t written in their native language.  I can’t really nail down anything specific, but my general impression was that they were sort of translating it into German and interpreting what the German would mean, which obviously makes sense.  This produced what I considered noticeably different interpretations, because, as I’ve mentioned before, the nuances of a language make the word choices, especially in poetry and song rather unique to that language.  I guess it was a cool abstract sort of moment for me to listen to them present their close readings at the end of the lesson. Anyway, I’m going to go and do some work for tomorrow.  I have some essays to look over.  Will let you all know how the 6th grade goes tomorrow!

Liebe Grüße,


Days 18 and 19

Halli Hallo Hallöle!

       So, I’ll start by saying that A: This post is late due to internet problems on Sunday, but it was written and saved as a word document the day of; B: I know this blog is about my teaching experience, but since this weekend was less work oriented due to the semester nearly at an end, I don’t have as much to say about that; and C: weekends in Germany feel shorter. This could be because I had no Friday classes last semester, or it could be because the experiences are more novel. The work I had this weekend was mostly creating new texts about Holidays and general English-speaking culture for the 6th graders. I wrote or found texts on holidays and traditions in Ireland, England, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Scottland, Cameroon, Papua New Guinea, and Singapore (all countries that have English as the official language).   From these texts, I chose words that, according to their text books, they have yet to learn and made word banks (in German) from which they can choose the words that a most likely to fit the meaning for English words they don’t recognize.  I could have used footnotes for each of the difficult English words, but i felt as though footnoting the new vocab would just be too easy.  Yeah, I’m turning into that teacher… you know, the one that wants the students to learn.  No, totally kidding, but I have now reached 100 hours of work and I still have a three more six hour days to go. 

       As much as I have loved a lot of the work and learning some of what it takes to be a teacher, I was actually happy to only have a few hours of work this weekend, because I wanted to cross a few more things off my German do-to list (which, by the way, is much more exciting than my to-do lists at home). Anyway, because of my lighter-that-usual workload, I went out with some German friends Saturday and ate at a Bayrisch (Bavarian) Pub called Paulana, which my friends referred to as “the quintessential sausage joint”. I didn’t question it. The food I ordered (white sausage and potatoes in a sauce that could turn a PETA activist into a carnivore) slowed movement in my arteries by about 60 percent. This was made even better by the fact that we were surrounded by incredibly enthused soccer fans who were watching TV (the only modern part of a restaurant otherwise made of wooden barrels and stone) in two separate rooms, with one TV (the one in the smaller of the two rooms) about 5 seconds ahead of the other.  This meant staggered cheers and a fun game of predicting when said cheers would come. My only complaint about this experience and, I suppose, Germany in general is that nearly EVERYONE smokes here. Many roll their own cigarettes, but in every grocery, drug, and magazine/lotto store, you’ll find Camels, Marlboros, and Lucky Strikes prominently displayed in windows, at check-out counters, and in strange cages made specifically for stacks of cigarette cartons. Many pubs and restaurants have “no smoking” sections, but I still walk out of many restaurants with my hair, every article of clothing I wore and even my wallet smelling like tobacco. I can’t sit at a bus stop without inhaling second hand smoke from at least three other people and when I walk down the street, I walk through a cloud of the stuff every 6 meters. I’m not trying to be whiny here, but I find it really unpleasant.  Luckily, the smell of incredible bakeries is equally prevalent and negates, or at least makes up for, the majority of smokers. I have spent more than a number of, oh man, probably hours trying to figure out which bakery is best, which item from each bakery I should try next, and how possible it would be to fill my carry-on with nothing but my favorite baked goods.  I’ll let you know about that last one when I fly home and go through customs… I’m still completely shocked (and somewhat in denial) that I’ll be flying home in four days.  It just doesn’t seem like it, but I’m sure it will hit me once my suitcase is packed.

Bis Bald… zu bald,


Jan 21

Day 17 (the cities of sweat)

Guten Tag Leute!

         Sorry this post is a bit late; I wasn’t feeling well yesterday, so I went to bed early to fight the possible sickness off and never got to blogging. On the bright side, that seems to have worked, so YAY, but you guys probably don’t really care to read about my personal wellness or lack there of.  SO yesterday morning I started out by teaching German to same group of exchange student.  We reviewed the politeness lesson from last week and I brought in various German baked goods for them to try. I feel as though it’s hard to keep anyone’s attention at 7:50 on a Friday morning, so the food was a good bribe/energy boost. After about 20 minutes we really got into the lesson and I taught the subjunctive tenses (one and two) first with the typical lecture-and-chalkboard style explanation and then through the “art of music”.  German songs played include “Wenn Du nur Wüßtest” (or, If You Only Knew) and “Wenn Ich mit Dir Wäre” (or, If I Were with You)… both are kind of angsty songs, but I’ve found that using the “phonological loop” helps memory a lot, especially if the songs are kind of catchy.  Again, on a Friday morning, songs are much more effective than anything I could do.  After that, I had them write one page (150-200 word) letters home telling their family what they would be doing if they were in various German cities.  This took up another 30 to 45 minutes and they I had them swap paper and correct each others work.  If they had questions, they just checked with me before saying something was totally wrong. I feel like most of them had a pretty good grasp on it by the end.  I wasn’t so sure how they’d do after the first lecture-y section, because I don’t speak more than a few words in English the whole time, but they got into it eventually, and some of them have wonderfully active imaginations.  They’re all high school age so it’s a good time and we can joke around about their (and my) mistakes.  One of the students made the same mistake I made when I was first learning German; he was attempting to say “the cities of Switzerland”, and Switzerland in German is “die Schweiz” (and with genitive, “der Schweiz”), but instead he wrote “der Schweiß”, which actually means “sweat”.  So, actually, it was very poetic, and we had a great conversation about the hard work that must have gone into the development of Switzerland, making his  sentence a wise and artistic observation rather than a mistake.  That’s one thing about teaching that I personally feel is very important: correcting mistakes and making sure that they realize why they’re wrong is obviously necessary, but equally important is the way you point out the mistake.  In many cases, students don’t take it personally, but in light of my previous rantings on the student-teacher relationship, I feel as though it’s always important to make their mistakes, or more accurately, the act of making mistakes “okay”. One of the most effective learning techniques is making a mistake and having it corrected, and the more confident you are when you give the wrong answer, the more likely you are to remember the correct answer later. (in psych, this is called hyper correction. Yay double major). The balance to strike here is being encouraging and supportive without being unrealistic.  Unlike many parents, I will not be telling students they can do no wrong. Rather, I think a teacher’s job is to tell students when they go wrong without letting it affect the student’s  willingness to try (and fail?), to work, and to contribute.

I have to go, but rather than a fun fact or anecdote, I would like to bring awareness to PIPA and SOPA (bills which, although they have been shelved for the moment, still pose a threat). For more information, please visit one of the following links:
EFF: One-page guide to SOPA
reddit: A technical overview of the SOPA and PIPA bills
DYN: How these bills would break DNS
EFF: Free speech on the web



Jan 19

Day 16

So much talking.

      I gave my policy presentation three hours in a row today. My voice hurts. Not my throat, my voice.  It has been a rather lovely confirmation that I may not be as egotistical as I thought, because hearing my voice after all of that actually pains me.  BUT the upside of these presentations was that I enjoyed them immensely.  I really do love talking to people about things that interest me and about things that I feel are important to know. For a couple weeks now, I have immersed myself in German and U.S. climate change policy and I have found that I knew more about Germany’s policy than my own country’s, which leads me to believe that, aside from the critique of American policy they’ve seen in popular media, the student to whom I’m giving this lecture also have little idea of what our policies are and they probably have the wrong impression as to why those policies are practically useless. The younger students (even those who were only a year younger than the 12 graders) did, indeed, have trouble understanding the presentation, but not due to complicated English.  Instead, it was more to do with the content and the politics as a whole that they had trouble grasping. There is, or seems to be, a surprising gap between this class and the two year 12 classes to whom I’ve given the presentation.  The 12 years all seem to have a much better grasp on global issues, which could very well be because they’re all about to go out into the world after this summer.

      On a rather different note, however, the rest of this post shall be a sort of short meditation on grading and student-teacher relationships. Obviously, the student-teacher relationship needs to be different depending on the age, with lower grades needing more of an authority figure and the older grades (usually) needing more of a mentor.  That said, my parents sent me an interesting article written for Forbes by an economics professor basically telling students that teachers and professors are not there to ruin your lives by giving you “terrible” grades and they don’t judge your intelligence or your worth as a human being even if you completely fail there course (*I’d like to amend this by saying that this is the case if you’re failing their course DESPITE putting in effort and respecting them). Now, this isn’t true of all teachers, but in my experience it has been the case with the hefty majority, and having now been (for the incredible time period of 15 days) a teacher, I have gain *slight* insight into student-teacher relationships.

      Now, before anyone goes pointing out that I am not in fact the deciding factor in thee student’s “half-year” grades (which they get on Monday) and can, therefore, not possibly have the same experience as a regular teacher, I’d like to start by saying that the majority of opinions and thoughts I’ll be sharing come not from my experience with these students, but rather from my conversations with other teachers.  When one (namely, me) “becomes” a teacher, or is at least considered by the teachers to no longer be a student, the relationship changes considerably.  I had already experienced something similar with my teachers at Exeter in the sense that many of them became more like friends after I graduated, but we had, of course, had a relatively strong relationship during my time as a students as well. As such, these teachers have known me as a student, they know what kind of work I did in their classes, and they will always know me as a “former student” as I am so often introduced. Here in THG, thing are difference, because my although my supervisor helped to decide my grades, she never had me in class, and even if she had, being an exchange student isn’t really the same. I also only had four or five teachers when I was here and I’m pretty sure half of them don’t remember me, so here in Göttingen, I really am, first and foremost, a teacher to probably everyone but my host family.  This means that the other teachers talk to me in the same way they talk to the rest of their colleagues about students, grades, work, etc. and that is something I really hadn’t expected to be entirely different than the way I’ve interacted with professors or teachers before (except for one math teacher I had, aber egal). The fact of the matter is, that teachers almost always care about their students, but there seems to be a gap between the students’ understanding of what teachers are and the teachers’ understanding of what they are.  Much in the same way I believe everyone who leaves bad tips should have to wait tables, I also believe that students who complain about teachers should give it a go ‘round before they start bashing the professors they have. 

        I am, like many students who go to Colby, unnecessarily grade-oriented, but, having befriended my second grade teacher and having stayed in close contact with various high school teachers as well, the idea that what I consider to be “bad grades” was the teacher being “unfair” or malicious never really crossed my mind.  It is rare that I truly believe I deserve a better grade than what a teacher has given me.  My misunderstanding of the relationship lay not in harsh criticism of the teachers and their methods, but rather in a quasi-sycophantic worry that not getting an A meant that the teacher thought poorly of me, didn’t believe I was working hard, and didn’t think I was a particularly intelligent student.  I guess this comes from the fact that, in elementary school, the work was easy enough that the students with bad attitudes and those who misbehaved received poor grades and those who did their work and paid attention received good grades. This is, of course, no longer the case and this fact is one that I logically/mentally recognized a long time ago, but couldn’t fully grasp/understand until I had seen what it was like being in the teaching position myself.

       It’s actually surprising how automatic the separation between academic and personal assessment is, and I’ve spoken with teachers here who have flat out told me that they find certain students to be “obnoxious” or even “a bitch” while others are “totally sweet” and “wonderful”, but when I look at the student’s Zuegnisse (report cards) such opinions are nowhere to be found. I, too, find myself preferring the disposition of some students to others (after all, everyone prefers some people to others based on the interactions they have with them), but my judgments of their personalities are entirely independent of how well-developed their English accent is or how eloquent they are.  And, frankly, it seems somewhat odd that I ever felt as though my grades were a reflection of anything more than my work.  If you asked me why I didn’t give the kids I liked better grades and the ones I didn’t, worse grades, I’d be slightly offended and tell you it’s because I’m not an ass (even if I’m a mule… yeah, I know, bad colby joke). So, students (myself included), I’m going to quote numerous people here when I tell you that not everything is about you. I know our generation in particular seems to have some trouble with this concept, but it’s one of the truest statements there is. I have no illusions that, because of subjective grading aspects like participation and open-ended questions, it’s impossible for your relationship with a teacher to affect your grades; I’m not pretending that every teacher can sever themselves completely from their emotions. I also know that, in many ways, grades matter. They help you get into med school, or grad school, and good grades make your parents happy.  I would never pretend that they didn’t mean anything, because, if they didn’t, why would we have them on permanent record?  I would, however, like to say that remembering that grades are, by definition, an assessment of very little other than the work you do.

To end on a fun note, here is one of the things the 6th graders have told me:

During a conversation between classes: “You’re from America? I’m surprised you aren’t fat.” (compliment? why not? plus, it was grammatically correct!)



Jan 18

Day 15

Short post today:

      The day itself was rather regular.  I’ve found a rhythm and know my schedule and can’t believe I’m leaving in just over a week; I don’t remember my black smithing Janplan last year going quite so quickly. Either way, today is the shortest day of the week class-wise, but, of course, I am giving three lectures tomorrow (various forms of this climate change lecture), which need to be glossed and edited to fit different levels of ability.  Quick aside: Herr Koch, I owe you for the training. 

      The first two hours were spent with the 11th graders and involved a lot of essay correcting as they wrote for an hour or so on various topics related to Inconvenient Truth.  It’s interesting to see the range of mistakes made, and not so much in severity, but rather in the category.  I mean, I’m sure they’ve had different teachers throughout the years, but not THAT different, and it’s most likely that they’ve each had every English teacher at least once.  So, that being said, the fact that some were quite strong in grammar and lacking in content or spelling and various combinations thereof is a bit surprising.  Naturally, one would expect different students to have different abilities in general, but this wasn’t so much diversity in English-speaking ability as it was diversity in categorical linguistic abilities.  When talking about

      The last two hours of class today were the seventh graders in bilingual history.  If I haven’t explained this yet, I will now.  starting in the seventh grade, students who have previously done well in English begin taking, or at least have the opportunity to start taking biology, history, geography, and a couple other courses almost entirely in English.  So, anyway, the seventh graders are learning about the middle ages and today we had a long partner activity followed by a discussion, both of which focused on the topic of castles as “homes and fortresses”.  I’d forgotten a lot of my middle ages teaching from elementary school and junior high, so hearing words like “parapet walk” and “reeve” and “lower bailey” was actually somewhat nostalgic and therefore fun.  The other fun part about this internship is that I’m constantly learning new vocab, because in every class, they take the most complicated English words and translate them into German in addition to defining them in English.  This makes for great German lessons for me within the English lessons for them.  I can now proudly say I know the word for trebuchet in German, which is terribly useless, but still pretty fun. If you were wondering, it’s “die Blide” or “der Tribock”.  But, I find that feminine catapults are the best.



Jan 17

Day 14

Hokay, so:

      Really really happy about how things went today.  I gave my lecture on U.S. policy and global climate change.  At the start, I compared the environmental policies of the United States and Germany (good-ole venn diagram style) and explained the difference between global warming as a phenomenon and the category that it belongs to, negative anthropogenic climate change.  I myself, especially after the research I’ve done over the past couple weeks, am rather critical of U.S. environmental standards (because you can’t call them regulations when they’re almost all (98%) voluntary), BUT I don’t believe that stupidity is necessarily the cause for our lack of climate-related legal progress.  Instead, I focused on four of what I consider to be the main obstacles in terms of what makes America particularly difficult country in which to get things done: The size of the country in comparison to the government; the (super)capitalist mentality, including the tendency for propagandist words/phrases like “freedom” and “the pursuit of happiness” to be used when attempting to turn ‘people’ (whether politician, citizen, or otherwise) against a certain regulation; previous laws and regulations which counteract and/or hinder the ability of new laws to be passed; and the current disgusting amount of partisanship that occurs in congress and the government as a whole as well as among our country’s citizens. I found the questions and the feedback from the students to be quite interesting, but what left more of an impression on me than the immediate reaction, was the end of the conversation, which developed into something I found to be pretty cool.  We, as a class, came to the conclusion that the United States, much like Germany, is suffering from it’s past.  Of course, there is nothing in U.S. history on the same scale as the holocaust, and, in fact, the moments of our history from which we are now suffering are not our darkest, but rather those moments that most Americans would consider to be some of our best.  America has (whether correctly or not) always been depicted to us, its citizens, as the ideal picture of democracy, the standard of freedom to which other countries and peoples should hold themselves.  We are taught that what makes someone American is not simply their place of birth or their passport, but that indescribable feeling of justice, freedom, democracy and the smug sense of superiority that comes along with them. It is this sense of patriotism, however, that allows us to be so completely manipulated by those who want to make another billion or convinced that a regulation that could make the entire world a more livable and longer-lasting planet is, in fact, taking away someone’s freedom. This makes the law either unconstitutional or generally unwanted, and so the greedy folks get exactly what they wanted which is either a long long process or a dismissal of the potential law altogether.  Anyway, sorry for my rantings, but I thought it was a really fun and interesting conversation to have with students who don’t live in the U.S. with me. My supervisor seemed to like it as well, because we’ve now decided I should give the same presentation to four other classes working with the same theme of global climate change, and I may end up giving the lecture to a group of faculty as well, so I’m really excited about getting the chance to discuss this further. It’s actually rather odd, because I’m not super activist-y, and haven’t taken any ES or gov courses, so this is something of an independent study within an internship within language immersion.  Who (aside from the all-knowing professors K and S) would have thought?

        I was also teaching 6th and 7th grade today and those both went over really well.  I taught the 6th graders grammar and today we focused on the comparative/superlative forms of words. It was the usual sort of “if a word has two or more syllables, you use ‘more’ and ‘most’ unless it ends in ‘y’ in which case you change the ‘y’ to and ‘i’ and add ‘er’ and ‘est’.” They had some trouble with irregular examples like “good, better, best” but that is to be expected.  They also literally lacked the ability to focus on anything for more than 3 minutes at a time, and so that, of course, didn’t help their understanding of the material, so to fix this, I decided to divide the class in half and drew two pictures of houses/yards on the board.  I then told each half that they each owned one of the houses and they were to explain, using comparative forms, why their house was better. (I know, teaching them to be shallow at a young age, but I couldn’t think of anything else spontaneously).  Things like “well, my garage is bigger” and “you cat is lazier than mine” (because one cat was playing and the other was lying on the garage roof) were expected. However, one boy looked at the (gorgeous) stick figures I had drawn and said to the other group “I think your house is better.” and when I asked him why he thought the other group’s house was better, he said “Because the people who live in it have bigger smiles.” I still can’t tell if that is wise beyond his years, because he’s measuring the worth of a house by how happy it makes you, or if it’s the most shallow statement of all, because he assumes a better house makes you happier. I prefer to take the advice of The Life of Brian and always look on the bright side of life.  Anyway, I have to get up at 6 tomorrow, so it is now my bed time. I hope my political rantings haven’t particularly offended anyone (but if they have, too bad ^_^ just kidding… sort of), and more than that, I hope I haven’t strongly contributed to the greed of future generations.



Day 13

So, this was a tiring day.

      I learned that teaching preteens and having not really slept is an unfortunate state of affairs, not to mention super challenging.  I think I can describe the function of this difficulty with a moderated multiple regression (thanks psych stats), in which the greater the difference in energy levels (theirs being almost always higher, but it can go the other way around), the more difficult it becomes to keep their attention.  If they have a lot of energy, they can’t sit still, but if they have no energy, they’re falling asleep, which is all well and good if I, too, am bouncing off the walls or drolling on the chalk in my hand, but luckily neither of these is usually the case. Ah well, I suppose that isn’t really the point. The point is that I think I like teaching older students, even though the younger ones are adorable.  I don’t know that I could honestly be mentally satisfied teaching basic facts of the American Revolution and explaining what a shuttlecock is only to explain it again five minutes later when I use the word in a sentence, because the first time I explained it, half the class was too busy giggling about the last syllable. If I were to become a teacher, I would want to love the subject/material I teach both when I’m teaching it and when I’m outside the classroom, and I can’t honestly imagine myself being interested in only the basics. All of this really just boils down to the fact that it would be a better idea for me to teach high school or college, because at that level, even the intro courses can involve abstract thinking. All this is, of course, not to trivialize or demean the profession of elementary or junior high school teachers; I find their job far more challenging in a lot of different ways. They have to simultaneously parent and teach, which is, in my mind kind of like pottytraining a dog while teaching it how to read (no allegorical comparison of children and dogs is meant).  Bottom line; I love kids, I love babysitting, and I love teaching, but if I were going to make a career of it, I’d want to be able to teach and analyze books with more than 15 pages, if only for my own sanity.
     Today, I watched the rest of “An Inconvenient Truth” with the 11th graders and we talked about more of the filmic devices used to convince the audience that they need to take action.  I think we came to the conclusion that the film was more compelling than it was convincing, which was a good distinction to make, and they learned the word compelling.  For the 12th graders, who are about to start the movie this week, I’m giving my American global warming policy presentation tomorrow.  I’m hoping to avoid sounding like an arrogant ignorant stereotype, but considering I have so many critiques on the fact that nearly every EPA program is voluntary (98%) and the U.S. is behind China in a lot of environmental movements, I don’t think it will sound that way. In the seventh grade, I taught them sports vocabulary and in the eighth grade, more U.S. history.  This particular eighth grade class is rather advanced in my opinion.  They are understanding some political contexts that my supervisor was hesitant that I should even include as part of the ciriculum (and she is not an easy teacher ba any means).  One of the most unexpected findings for me in this whole internship experience has been the difference a single year can make in terms of maturity.  The 6th vs. 7th vs. 8th grade and then 11th vs. 12th is actually quite impressive.  I thougth there might be a slight change in cirriculum and a better handle on vocabulary or the like, but the atmosphere and general attitude of the students just a year older is really quite remarkable. I mentioned this to my supervisor and she said she felt the same way, although she doesn’t remember the current 12th graders being quite as “immature” (so to speak) as the current 11th graders are now when they were in 11th grade. I wonder if it happens over the summer or generally outside of school due to life experiences in combination with hormones and biology, or if the education they receive also has an effect.  It would be interesting to see if maturity and education are somehow connected, though maturity is not really something that is easy to measure.  Anyway, that’s it for now because I have to polish my presentation and think of activities to do with 6th graders. 

BUT before I go, fun history misunderstandings (before I taught them history, I asked if they knew anything about the revolution and this is what I got):

Paul Revere warned the Indians that the Americans were coming.

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1976.

The Minute Men were given their name because they were “very small” (mi-noot v. minn-uht)

And finally, the British were called lobsterbacks because the Americans were sick of both lobsters and the British.

Stay warm guys!


Jan 15

Days 11 and 12

Hey all!

     So this post probably won’t be a very long one, since the weekend isn’t a particularly active time for teaching itself, but I am, however, a little surprised at the amount of time I’ve spent working outside of school (once again, I imagine my professors giving me a good-natured “Duh!”). On the bright side, I’m sure I will end up having worked more than the hours required for credit.  Anyway, on Saturday I woke up early and headed to Hanover (about an hour or so by car… depending on how fast you go) with my host family.  My host brother had basketball tournament in Braunschweig and so, after dropping him off, the rest of the family and I drove the rest of the way to Hanover and spent a good portion of the day walking around the city.  My host father works there, so he gave me a sort of guided tour with some interesting historical and general facts about the culture, the architecture, etc.  I learned about Ernst August (the once-king of Hanover), the multiple uses of the city during the second World War, and the fact that street pretzels in Hanover are perhaps one of the most incredible foods on the planet.  Also, one of the street musicians was playing a grand piano, which he moved with a rolling platform. I found this rather impressive.  When we got back home, I worked on a lesson plan for the seventh and eighth grade classes, both of which I will again be teaching solo.  Sunday, I went for a long walk in the hills/mountains with my host family and their dog.  Afterward, my maternal host grandparents (I basically have an extended host family) came over for coffee, which involved the expected coffee accompanied by homemade cakes and muffins from both my host parents and grandparents.  After that, I didn’t have any plans and so spent the rest of the day alternating between working on my presentation for Tuesday and helping my host sibling with their English assignments. 

      As a result of my weekend work, I’ve decided the eighth graders will be continuing the U.S. history lesson we didn’t quite finish last time, which means more on the revolutionary war and the historical context surrounding the story they read, but I’ll also have them do some partner work with regards to historical figures.  Individuals such as Crispus Attucks, Benedict Arnold, and Benjamin Franklin will be among the possible choices.  The seventh graders will be working on vocab exercises, which are based off the content of their workbook.  This entails identifying items of furniture, a person’s hobbies, and their own personal interests.  The specific theme for tomorrow is sports, and I’ve made venn diagrams to be filled out based on pictures of two different bedrooms, word searches, and other such interactive activities if only because I’ve found it’s amazing how short someone’s attention span can be.  As for the presentation, it’s actually rather depressing; American environmental policy is hardly a policy at all. 95% of the programs in place to protect the environment are voluntary… I mean, I know we’re a supercapiatlist country, (if you haven’t read Reich’s Supercapitalism, take a look at it) but this is pretty ridiculous.  At the same time, after the Japanese nuclear disaster following the earthquake, Germany had decided to get rid of (or at least turn off) all 18 or so of their nuclear reactors.  The problem here is that there still isn’t enough energy from solar and wind power to support the whole country and, if the plants don’t explode, (which is a very risky if) nuclear energy is actually the greenest form we have right now. I’m not really sure how to give a presentation that says America refuses to do anything because of greedy businessmen and Germany is taking steps in the right direction but actually has no plan whatsoever on how to proceed after a couple of said steps.  It’s all rather depressing, but considering that these students have watched “An Inconveniant Truth” I suppose they’re somewhat prepared for such a talk.  Also, I’m a little nervous, because I’m not sure what their perceptions of Americans is… they’ve been nice to me, but I have some input as to the grades they get, but I’ve also already been asked if I believe in Global warming; this was possible the most insulting questions I’ve been asked about in a while.  Granted global warming and negative anthropogenic climate change are not the same exact thing, but it was still rather like being asked if I believe man has been on the moon… idk.  Will update you folks on how it all goes.