In the weeks after the final days of our wonderful trip to Germany it's been hard to sit and write one last blog. This is partly because it's been nonstop traveling for me and but mostly because writing the last blog means this experience has officially come to an end. My time in the German classroom has really left me thinking about my future classroom and has given me endless ideas that I will someday use.
Some of this ideas and strategies include how the children interact with the teacher. As much as the teacher expects the students to be independent, they are still very caring and provide the support, emotionally and mentally, that the children need to grow and to learn. This is especially true in the case of Tanja's classroom. She would constantly allow the students to express how they feel about situations and to self assess their attitude and work. This is one of the things I found to be so vital to the way her classroom functioned and it was inspiring. I feel that if the students feel comfortable and open with how they feel it breaks down so many barriers and develops a relationship with learning that is affectionate instead of scary. In the U.S. it may be difficult to take as much time as we want teaching a topic because of the tests, and we cannot adjust an entire schools schedule in order to give the students a two hour, but I do think it's possible, and very important to make an effort so every student feels valued and appreciated in the classroom.
I think I value this so much because it meant so much to me that Tanja constantly was concerned with how others feeling. Even with myself, she would ask what I need, how I'm doing away from home, etc. I felt the love she gave all of her students everyday and it made me feel like my time in Germany was important to more than just myself. Traveling abroad has been, by far, one of the best decisions I've made for myself and my future career. I feel like I now have more of my own voice in regards to learning. Having another perspective of a system that I grew up with has enlightened me. I know what I can do to make myself different than any other teacher.
I'm so thankful for this experience that has taught me how important it is to reflect on everything we do. We reflect on how we teach, how we react to situations, what we say to others, how we adjust in a new environment and so much more. Take a look back and reflecting on my entire experience has been amazing. I feel that analyzing myself while on the trip has been the one thing that had taught me the most. Each time I go back and think about something I am remembering what I did well and what I can do to make things even better. As humans we all do this, but for some reason, this time abroad has made it so clear to me how truly important this is. Without self reflection and analysis, we cannot grow as educators, even as humans.
On Wednesday I had the opportunity in participating in a co-teaching method to create a lesson for the children of Frau Heinz’ class! We had so much fun creating and teaching this lesson to the first graders. Teaching a lesson in this grade proved to be challenging as the children just started learning English, but this also made it very interesting and fun. Being from the United States, or as they say, “Amerika-Land”, we wanted to teach something from our home. I decided early on that I would bring over mini American flags and some US themed pencils for the students as well. This is one of the reasons we thought it would be a good idea to focus our lesson around the flag and its origin.
First, another Buffalo State student, Laci, showed the children pictures of the many variations of the flag over the years. The students, without being asked, started to name some of the differences they saw, from the addition of more stars, to the change of formation the stars are in. They were extremely intrigued with this. We did this in a group circle so we could have a more personal discussion based lesson. I was very impressed by the students picking up some of the differences right away. We then went on to explain that each star represents a state and the more states we gained over the years, the more stars we needed. I believe it helped that I was able to write every single state on the board before we started. The children had a lot of fun trying to guess what state we were from! This was all discussed with very simple English, which made the lesson so challenging, as this material can get very in depth. It was extremely helpful to have Frau Heinz there to translate to the children the things they did not understand.
One point of the lesson I found very hard to discuss with the students was the concept of the stripes on the flag. After hearing the stars represent the 50 states, the children asked what the stripes are for. I found this to be a very advanced question and was really happy to see the connection they made between the representation of the shapes and colors on the flag. It was hard to explain that these can show our original 13 colonies. To explain the colonies clearly we would have to go very in depth about the history of the states, which was not possible as the children spoke minimal English. Instead, Jenessa told the children that a colony is what came before a state. This is when Frau Heinz made a comparison to Germany and what could have been considered a colony in Germany. I think this was extremely helpful to the children in their overall understanding of the flag.
The lesson at this point was going extremely well and before they did their activity, I decided to be brave and sing the states song to them. I am not a good singer, but I figured that children really don't care about that anyway! It was fun because I had all the states written down in alphabetical order already so the children could follow along with me pointing at each of the states I was singing! This was really fun but also a little bit terrifying. I guess it was good to come out of my shell in this experience overseas! After this we wrapped up with a coloring activity! We gave them their own flags and pencils and then we gave them an outline of the American flag and let them color it in themselves! It was so much fun and so meaningful to be able to teach them a little bit about the flag. I really enjoyed this experience and I was able to gain so much from it. It was such an exciting day and I still keep reflecting about it and learning so much!
One of the most impressive things I have experienced in Germany thus far has been the Kindergarten. I have been thinking about it for days now and decided my short time there is worth an entire blog, I loved it that much. The kindergarten we went to was the one that our absolutely wonderful host, Tanja, daughter attends. Franzi is five and has been at the preschool for some time now, just as Tanja’s other children once attended. We decided it would be a great opportunity for us to take a tour of the school and sit in on a morning routine.
The first thing we did was the tour of the inside. As you walk in there is a front desk to ensure the school knows who is coming in and out of the building. When you turn to the right there is a room with all of the children’s cubbies. This is where they go in the morning to drop of their bags and change their shoes. It was interesting to me that the children must change into slipper like shoes that have grips on the bottom. This allows them to run around with protection for their feet, but not drag dirt throughout the building. From here, the children are allowed to roam around through the many different rooms freely until they meet for their morning circle.
In the morning circle I sat in on, there was a group of six children and one teacher. We sat on the floor in a circle and started with a chat. I couldn’t fully understand what they were saying, as my German is almost nonexistent. The rest of the time, there was a story told and the children had to recall the events from the day before. We also sat as the teacher hit a large metal bowl that seemed almost like a gong and the noise was similar. She then walked around allowing the students to get close and feel the vibration of the sound in their ears. Even when there was no sound left, the vibrations still rang when the bowl came close. I loved this as you could really see the children's minds start to work. They had the freedom to interpreted the surroundings and to try to come to their own understanding for why the bowl was doing this. Allowing the children to explore and learn on their own was something you could find throughout the preschool (Kindergarten), and I absolutely fell in love with this. I have always believed that children need to use their own senses and make their own conclusions to truly learn, a hands on experience, if you will. This school demonstrated these qualities beyond my belief.
We were not in there long but what we did see blew my mind. One of these things was the construction room. With a “license” from the school you were able to go into this area to build and use all of the materials available. This included saws, hammers, screws, etc. In my school district we started using these and learning about them in sixth grade, not when we were six years old. There was a theatre room where children could dress up and perform, there were jungle gyms with different types of floor material, like carpet, wood, stones, and more, so children could start to feel and understand them all. Another room was made for the arts, as well as a room for things such as blocks. There was truly a room for anything a child may dream of doing at school. Even I wanted to stay all day to play!
The only thing I could think was “this place couldn’t be any more perfect”. Until, I stepped outside into the courtyard. There was a large playground where children were encouraged to run, climb, and go upside down, a sandbox, a man made stream to bath in, a tree fort, and of course an area to play soccer, known as football in Europe. I really thought I had seen it all, then Frazi’s group went on a walk to the woods. I thought this was a regular nature walk, instead I found it was a short hike to a cabin that the Kindergarten uses as a part of their daily routine. The children can run around and play in the woods, go into the tee-pee made of pine branches, jump off of old tree stumps, sit in the grass and gaze at the nearby castle, or do anything else they could dream up. My jaw dropped when I saw this spot. I can’t even imagine having this kind of exposure to the world at such a young age.
Leaving this place left me speechless and truly so excited about teaching. I even have been entertaining thought of perhaps one day opening a preschool like this one in the United States. I have never seen anything so extraordinary and I really am in love with this idea. Though this was not officially a Waldorf school, there were many qualities which seemed to follow that general form of education. I can only pray that my experience in the Waldorf school later this week is just as thrilling.
Over the past week I feel as if I haven’t even had a chance to sit down and catch my breathe, but of course, in the best way possible! We have been going nonstop from classrooms, to cities, to spending time with our hosts and becoming acquainted with the beautiful country of Germany. Each moment has been educational and has impacted me greatly, especially in the classroom. It has amazed me how each German classroom I have stepped into has a very similar feeling to the United States classrooms. They have decorations from counting charts to flags and pictures, and everything in between. However, the differences may not lie in the physical aspect, they truly appear in the scheduling, structure, and teaching practices.
To start, I would say the German classrooms I have been in have been are more relaxed in the teacher to student relationships. It is true that the teachers expect a lot of responsibility from the students, but the students carry this out very naturally. They rarely have to be told twice to do something. Yes, we have this in the States, but teachers at home tend to need a “teacher voice” for children to react to what they are being told. In Germany, it is more of a casual conversation. The teachers do not vary their tone of voice or level of volume too much from just a regular conversation to asking a child to stop interrupting, or whatever it may be. It is almost treated as if they are just talking to a friend. Perhaps this makes the students feel more grown up and respected, which I know I would personally thrive off of in school. Another more relaxed aspect of the classroom that I have noticed is the way the children interact with the adults. It is not unusual for the children to run and jump into the teachers arms as they would do to a parent. They may hang onto your arm, legs, hug you at the waist, and this is an acceptable greeting, in fact it is considered to be very cute! I have also seen a lot of children sitting in the laps of teachers. These are just a few things that may be frowned upon and cross some lines in the US.
As far as the educational aspect. The students at the primary level only have a few lessons a day. They are relaxed and their school day is not six hours long, with only small breaks, such as our own. It is typical to have at least a five minute break to run around outside between each class, and many times there is one longer break as well, normally 45 minutes. This is so impressive and smart to me as we know that getting kids up and moving can actually help to increase their focus. I don't believe children ages 6-10 need to sit at one desk for hours on end, we need to get the blood flowing! Once the students come back inside, they are ready to work. It really is quite impressive. The teachers move easily into their lessons without much need to quiet anyone more than once, if that.
The lessons themselves can be very casual as well. There is a lot of singing and dancing to learn things like the numbers and English. I have always believed that music in the classroom is so important, it has been so nice to see so much of it over here. This is one thing I really want to emphasize in my future classroom. One thing I have talked to teachers about is making sure they are getting all of their material covered in the lessons they teach. What I found is that they do not base these off of state standards, or sometimes not even school standards. Instead they move at the pace they are comfortable with and they feel is most appropriate for the class as a whole. Sometimes there is more English taught than sciences, sometimes more math than German. It really is up to the teacher. I love that this is not restricting and they are trusted to do what is best for the child and teach them as much as possible. They are not rushed into learning about something if they are still having trouble with the prior subject. This may seem like a simple concept, however I do not feel as if we have this in the states. For us, it is always a race against time to figure out how we can move onto the next standard as quick as possible to ensure we get through all the material that will be on the test.
I truly am amazed at how relaxed, yet efficient the German classroom is at the primary school age. It's hard to explain without seeing what I’m talking about first hand, but I just wanted to share a few of my very first impressions and the things I have been thinking about the most. Overall, I’m really enjoying this experience so far and can’t wait for the rest of my days in the classroom!
This weekend in Berlin has been amazing, and also extremely busy! My fitness tracker app in my watch says yesterday, Saturday, I walked eleven miles, but who knows if that is true! This is an amazing city with so much rich culture. One of the most interesting sites to me was the Holocaust Memorial. It has these large cement blocks in all different sizes arranged so the smaller ones are on the outside and the taller ones are in the middle. As. You walk further and further inward, and you start to feel very isolated and trapped. It really is an overpowering feeling. This experience really stood out to me overall.
Another place we visited that I loved was the French Cathedral. There seemed to be a million stairs but it was worth the view at the top. From there we were able to see each piece of Berlin that makes it famous. Maybe it’s the girl in me, but at the top there was a proposal being set up with rose petals and balloons and I think that may have helped to add to my overall experience in this cathedral. It was the perfect romantic spot and was just such a beautiful view!
Berlin was just as busy as I expected it would be! It was a big city feel, however, without the crowds like New York City. Even though we were in a big city, far away, it felt normal and did not feel like I was so far from home! Everything was beautiful and just a great experience for the first place I have ever visited over seas. The one thing that felt very different for me was taking the trains! I normally do not travel by anything other than a car, so I was really nervous about learning to use a public transportation system. Little did I know reading a rail map would be so easy! It was so much fun being able to figure that all out and feel so accomplished when I got somewhere on my own! I was just speaking with a friend about how I feel as if I have grown up so much in simply planning out this trip, saving up, making reservations, doing research, etc. This weekend made me feel even more responsible and grown up, especially when I realized I could navigate a German speaking city on my own.
The culture, people, and food we experienced in Berlin was exquisite. At some parts I really felt like I was in Germany, during other parts, I felt like that city could have been my home. There were so many parts I loved that I cannot name them all in one post! I am still learning how to upload the pictures on my camera to my phone using wifi, but as soon as I learn how I will include the many pictures I have from this section of our trip.
Bon Voyage! As my Dad would say, “we’re off like a heard of turtles”. As I sit on the plane to Germany writing this, I’m reflecting on a little scare we just had! Another member of the IPDS group, Jenessa, and I arrived at the airport with everything going smoothly until we were informed our status regarding the flight was that we were on standby. We were told that the flight was overbooked and that we were not guaranteed a seat on the flight. Well, as I mentioned, I’m writing this from the inside of the plane, so it is quiet obvious they found us a seat! Hallelujah! I was getting very nervous that we would miss the first day in Berlin! With 39 pounds of luggage stored safely under the plane (I hope), I can start looking forward to my German classroom experience. I simply can’t wait to greet all of the children and learn from them, just as I hope they will learn from me.
The past few days have been a little nerve wrecking for me! I’ve packed, unpacked, and re packed probably four times. I’ve gone over every detail of my lesson for the classroom and all I can hope is that the children, and my host teacher enjoy it! I will explain my lesson in detail in a future post, but just for a little preview, I decided to teach about the United States flag and everything this stands for. There may be some miniature American flags for each child in the class stowed away in my bag as well! For now, all I can say is that my excitement is growing each minute and its starting to finally beginning to feel real that I will soon be in a country that has meant so much to family, and will more than likely capture my heart as well. I look forward to sharing many details and stories!
Note: This blog was written days ago but is late to post due to wifi issues!
Growing up, my family has had a very non-traditional view on college and education altogether. Not only are we expected to have exceptional grades, but also put ourselves into a position where we may have exceptional experiences as well. One of these experiences was studying abroad, which was not just an expectation, but a requirement by my mother. As an educator herself, she knows how much this opportunity would benefit me and all of my future students. To have a teacher knowledgeable and well versed in the world outside of the United States is a true treasure, and that is something I have learned from being a student as well. My favorite classes were always those who had teachers drawing connections to the content from their own time overseas, whether that was Africa, Asia, Europe, etc. There is something about the depth of conversation when talking about the world that is vital to the education of children. There is one quote in particular I recently heard from a professor that relates to the experience of studying abroad, “Know enough to know you don’t know- then find out”. I realized that I do not know much about education in other cultures, in fact I do not know much about other cultures at all, as I have not experienced them. So, I was inspired to find out more.
But why Germany? Out of all the renowned study abroad programs Buffalo State has to offer, Germany stood out more than anything. The first of the reasons was because it is with an International Professional Development School, in a true German classroom. I would be living with a teacher, becoming emerged in the world of German education, all in the span of a few weeks, as to fit with my very busy major of both Early Childhood and Elementary Education. The second and more critical reason Germany fit my interests is because of the connections in my own family. Both my mother’s and father’s sides of my family are very German. My grandfathers both know a few phrases and enjoy sharing the history of our past relations with the country. It has always been intriguing to me to go and visit the places in which my family has heritage, starting with Germany. The other important connection that helped me to make my decision is the fact that my mother study abroad for a semester in Germany when she was my age. She studied at the teacher education school in Cologne, Germany, and she loved every second of it.
I’m beyond thrilled to follow in the footsteps of my mother, experience the memories and stories of my grandparents, as well better myself in my future field of work. Everything about the German education system interests me and has captured my attention. I cannot wait to see the differences in both classroom instruction and management. These are things I can evaluate for myself and decide to implement in my own future classroom. I’m thankful and feel very blessed for this invigorating experience and am proud to be traveling with Buffalo State. For now, I have 6 weeks and three days until departure, and I’ll be counting down each and every one.
Approaching my junior year at Buffalo State College, I am a combined major of Early Childhood and Elementary Education with a concentration in English. Teaching is the 'family business' and I have been passionate about the profession since I was very young. It is an honor to be apart of the IPDS Germany cohort this summer.