Saturday, May 17, 2014

This is It...

It’s hard to believe that in a few short hours I will be a WKU alumnus. The last few days have been filled with emotions, memories, and stories to tell. It has all culminated into today…my graduation from Western Kentucky University, with a double major bachelor of arts in history and social studies.
The last few days in Werne were bittersweet. Saying goodbye to my host family and the students and teachers of Anne-Frank Gymnasium was much more difficult than I thought it would be. In the few short weeks that I was able to step into their lives, I feel a mutual respect and love was developed. I can’t even imagine the difficulty of trying to leave after a few months or a year, so perhaps three weeks was the best amount of time to stay. I was able to make some great friends, meet some wonderful colleagues, and be part of an international family. These are contacts that I hope to stay in touch with all of my life.

The student teachers did get an unexpected amount of extra time together as our flight home to Nashville from Newark was cancelled; causing us to spend the night in the airport. We once again huddled up in a section of a terminal to spend one last night together. Although it was very inconvenient on our time schedule, I’m glad that I was able to spend some more time with the people I had come to know so well over the past few weeks. We left Kentucky as strangers and came back as the Class of 2014 Germany Student Teachers. I hope that I will be able to stay in contact with most of these great people as well, even when our paths eventually go in other directions. We were able to make the memories of a lifetime together, and that is something I will always treasure.

So this is it. My last blog post for this journey in my life. I have grown in the short few weeks that I was able to study and travel abroad. I have broadened my horizons in knowledge, cultures, and relationships in the short amount of time I was away. Now, its time to prepare myself for the real world. These last few years of college have helped me to develop into a teacher that I didn’t even know I was capable of being. I hope that I am able to have an opportunity to find a job in a school system soon, and to be able to begin my career with all the knowledge and experience I have gained. The Bible verse Romans 8:28 is on my heart today. I feel that I have been lead to this career, and I have the opportunity to impact children and be able to help and support them as they continue on the journey that I am just now finishing. Thank you to all the readers who took time to read this blog…and GO TOPPERS!

Romans 8:28 - “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Last Full Week in Germany

I truly cannot believe how fast this week has flown by here in Werne. This week was fully of great teaching experiences, meeting new people, gathering together with family, and of course more traveling and visiting. Let’s jump right in!

First of all, this week at school has truly been an awesome experience that I will always remember as an educator. The gift of being able to go into a classroom and teach students is such a wonderful blessing. The ability to be able to positively affect their education, be a role model for them to follow, and provide them with opportunities are all things that I love about the career I’ve chosen. It’s still hard for me to grasp the fact that I have been given the chance to do this in another country other than my own. There are too many amazing experiences to write in one blog post, however, I will provide the most memorable ones. One of my favorite memories of my time so far at Anne-Frank Gymnasium were the small group discussions I have had with my Q1 (11th grade) English students regarding Romeo and Juliet. These students will be taking their final examinations over the course on Tuesday, so the students really need to be familiar with the text along with other information studied throughout the year. It was definitely an honor and a great responsibility to help make sure these students were prepared. In order to help students in the best way possible, my mentor teaching and I collaborated to be able to have all students working at all times. While he taught whole group instruction over various parts of the text, I would take small groups out in the hall and do group discussions over the key aspects of the different scenes. After 8-10 minutes, I would send the group back inside and Herr (Mr.) Fölling would send another group out to me. This way, all students would have the most possible review time and be able to discuss different aspects of the text. In my 7cd Geography class, I had the opportunity to lead a Fishbowl Discussion with a group of wonderful 7th grade students. Frau Eckert allowed me to jump right in and moderate the discussion that the students had prepared for concerning an environmental issue in Chad. The students were very hesitant to speak at first, but once they saw how interested I was in the discussion after I introduced the various speakers, they really started to enjoy it and more and more students were trying to get involved and share their opinions. I also really enjoyed my time with my 9th grade students in Frau Osthoff’s class. Having the opportunity to get to have the students introduce each other through peer intereviews, be able to introduce myself, and then talk about a variety of subjects relating to culture, history, and literature; was such a great way of getting to learn about the students and share information with them.

There was also a lot of fun that happened away from the school during the week. Our group of student teachers had the privilege of meeting the mayor of Werne, Lothar Christ. He asked us to share our opinions about the schools and what we thought about the city. I actually was quoted in a local newspaper for one of my statements regarding how great the students were, and how I was glad to see them not use technology as a crutch but instead use other tools and study more in depth in their research. This was something that I really enjoyed being recognized in a local German newspaper for my positive comments. I hope that the parents of AFG will feel pride in knowing the impression they give on complete strangers because of their work ethic. This was really neat because our group had been in several newspapers and on TV; and had now been quoted in the newspaper and interviewed on TV. I joked with my host family that I “came to Germany as a student teacher, but may stay to start my film career!” I also had the opportunity this week to meet a Member of Parliament, Sylvia Jörrißen. Our group was able to talk to her about our experiences in Germany and also about her job as a member of parliament in both large and small city operations. Our group really appreciated her time and we were all astounded that she would take the time out of her schedule to come see such a small group of students. This really showed what type of person she is and why she is so popular and respected here in Germany. On that same day, our group also had a Professional Development meeting with Heike and three other student teachers, as well as an independent teacher. This was great to be able to learn more about the differences and similarities between completing the teacher education program in Germany and completing it in the United States. We also were able to a variety of games and “tricks” to use in the classroom in order to help facilitate thinking and support memorization and cooperation. 

On a personal note, I had a great time with my family this week. We did so many things together and were able to share a lot of fun memories. My family and another student teacher’s family are related so we were able to take part in some activities as an extended family, which was really fun. One day we went to two local castles, Nordkirchen and Burg Vischering. I am always amazed to be able to go into or walk around actual castles due to the fact that they are just not something common or so ancient in the United States. We also had an awesome family BBQ this weekend. My family and the Henning (relative) family got together to grill out, play games, and share stories. It was really cool for me to be able to help my host dad grill (one of my favorite things) and even use the BBQ sauce I brought them from my favorite restaurant in Owensboro. This was one of my favorite nights of the week and we all had so much fun spending time together. I also went to Dortmund with my family and went to the Gasometer Museum to see the various works of art and light show. One of my favorite things this week was being able to go to Signal Iduna Park, the stadium of the BVB football club. This is my family’s favorite European football (soccer) team, and being a huge sports fan, I have come to love the team myself in such a short time. I loved being able to go to one of the most premiere and loved football clubs in the area. I was able to take some great pictures and tour the entire stadium; even the locker rooms, team bench areas, and tunnel where the players walk together onto the field. 

This week has been such an incredible experience and I feel so very fortunate to be able to do the things that I have done. I still have a few days left in Werne before I come home, and I want to make sure and live them to the fullest.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Back from Bavaria

I am glad to be back in my “own” bed here on Sunday night on the 4th of May. The last five days have been jam packed with fun memories and awesome experiences. There is no way I could describe them all in detail in one blog post, but I will share what I can!

Right after school on Wednesday myself and four other student teachers traveled to Kempten to stay with a friend of one of our host families. We were very nervous about this meeting this man for the first time as he picked us up at the train station. However, he ended up being one of the most fun and interesting people we have met thus far. The next day, the plan was for him to drive us to Fussen to check into our hotel. Instead, we ended up touring Kempten, hiking with him through the Bavarian side of the Alps once in Fussen, seeing historic building and towns along the way, and traveling into Austria to Lake Plansee. It was such an unexpected and awesome day. This was unanimously our favorite day on our trip because of the places we were able to visit with our new friend that we would have never known to go. Later that night we went to a small local pub and enjoyed some of the local cuisine and actually had to share a table with another group of people; which was an experience in itself!

Friday we toured the castle Neuschwanstein and were able to see the main areas of the finished castle. We were able to learn about Ludwig II and the construction of the castle on the guided tour. We also toured the outside area on our own and another smaller castle in the area. After the tours, we got on our train and headed to Munich. After arriving in Munich, we checked into our hostel and went out to explore the city. We ate supper at an extremely popular restaurant called the Hofbrauhaus Munchen. This is a huge restaurant that is a popular tourist location due to its atmosphere and great food. This was by far our favorite restaurant we had eaten at during the whole trip. The authentic German music and food was a great experience for us to soak up some of the culture of the area.
Saturday we headed to FC Bayern Munchen football (soccer) stadium to get the guided tour. Being that we had three big sports fans in our group, we wanted to be able to see the stadium and learn a little bit more about it’s history. However, when we arrived the tour was all sold out. We did however get to see the field through the fences around the stadium and get some pictures of the inside. We then went to the fan mega shop in the stadium to get some gifts and souvenirs. We spent the rest of the afternoon going through smaller shops and touring “downtown” Munich. That night we went to the Hirschgarten, one of the oldest restaurants in the area.

Sunday, it was time to head home. Before we did though, we went to Dauchau Concentration Camp. Several of us had been to Sachsenhausen while in Berlin, but two of our group had never been to one before. It was definitely still not easy to see the sights and think about what all went on there. This particular day had been one in which the Jewish Nation was remembering the events of the Holocaust, and so a large group of Jewish people were singing songs and having a memorial service. We actually were able to hear a man named Max Mannheimer speak. He is a survivor of the Holocaust and one of the spokespeople for these events. This was a very neat surprise as we did not plan this at all. It truly made us think about the significance and the reality of the events that took place not only in Dachau, but all the concentration camps.

We left to catch our 7 hour train back to Werne, reminiscing on our favorite experiences of the week, playing cards, and of course napping. It was nice to finally be home after being gone for what felt like such a long time. I was glad to get to see my host family and have dinner with them. They loved hearing my stories about my experiences and seeing all the pictures I took. Now, it’s time to go to bed to start another week at AFG!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Welcome to Werne

It has been an event filled past few days here in Werne. After arriving Sunday, I finally got to meet my host family. We have done a great job of communicating over the past few months, and it was great to finally meet them in person. We had a WONDERFUL traditional German supper of pork, potatoes, and white asparagus. We sat around the table and ate, told stories, and asked each other questions. My nerves completely went away after tonight and I felt very at home with my new family.

Monday morning came very early, and it was time to finally go to Anne Frank Gymnasium for the first time. My family gave me a bike to travel around town, and I used this to travel to school with my host brother David. We arrived at school and I walked into the teacher’s lounge to see all my other student teaching peers gathered around a table. Tensions were high as everyone was nervous to go to their first class. Luckily, this day was very stress free. We had the opportunity to meet some students and teachers and get to know how daily routines and procedures of the schools. All of this while being video taped for a segment on the local news!  After getting acquainted with the school we traveled to the town center to tour the building and areas of interest. I was even interviewed and featured on the segment being asked my favorite foods! My host family and I watched this together the next day and my host mom exclaimed, “I know THAT boy!” when my segment came up. It was really neat to be able to have that opportunity. Afterwards we went back to school and were able to eat lunch and learn how we would be able to order food for each day. After the school day was over, many of the student teachers met in the town center to walk around and look in the shops. Later that evening, my host brothers and I watched “Harry Potter” and spent some time talking about where I’m from and the school I taught at while in Kentucky.

Tuesday was the day of reckoning! We went into our individual classes and met our cooperating teachers (more than just one) for the first time. My first teacher of the day was also my mentor teacher, Wolfram Foelling. I really enjoyed reading some of “Romeo and Juliet” to the students and getting to know Mr. Foelling and his teaching style. It was a very awesome experience to be in a classroom where students were able to speak both English and German with such fluency and ease. Mr. Foelling and I talked about possible lessons I could teach in the future and when our next class would be together. It will be different than what I am used to when I start teaching. Technology will be lacking, so the presentation tools that I am used to using will not be available. I will try to provide some handouts with images for the students so they will be able to see the visualize concepts I am talking about in my lesson. I believe this will be a good experience for me, the students, and even the teachers as we will all be working together to achieve our goal of student learning.

Tomorrow I will be traveling to Bavaria (south Germany) to tour some sites with 4 other student teachers for our long weekend while abroad. Hopefully I will have some great experiences to share when I return!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The End of an Era

I can’t believe it’s already time to leave Berlin. We arrived at 8:00 am (1 am Bowling Green/Owensboro time) on Tuesday morning and have spent the last several days touring the city to see the historical sites, going out to eat at both “sit down” restaurants and fast food, and learning more about living the German lifestyle. One disclaimer I’d like to mention is an apology to readers for a lack of posts over the last week on a consistent basis. This is my first and last blog in Berlin due to the fact that we have had limited internet availability and also very little time to be on computers. Everyday has been an adventure and we as a group have been touring the city from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep every single day. Very little time has been spent in the hotel. I will hopefully be able to write more once I arrive in Werne and have more time and better access to internet. That being said, let’s talk about the week!

It’s hard to summarize in one blog all the experiences we have had in the last week. Touring the Reichstag building, walking through the Brandenburg Gate, visiting the East Side Gallery, a biking tour of Potsdam and the surrounding area, walking the courtyard of Frederick the Great’s palaces, sitting in the courtyard of the Berliner Dome, walking through the Holocaust Memorial, stopping at Check Point Charlie, and walking through and touring Sachenhausen Concentration Camp. Words and pictures cannot do justice to all the amazing things I’ve been able to see and be a part of in this week in Berlin. A variety of emotions and feelings have been felt; awe and amazement at being at the Reichstag building and Brandenburg Gate as well as sadness and a heavy heart walking through the remains of Sachenhausen. I have experienced things this week that I will talk about for the rest of my life. I have been able to see with my own eyes the places I had only heard about. Having the ability to say that “I was there” is such a great thing to be able to do from a teaching standpoint. I hope that at some point I will be able to incorporate my experiences into my lesson and show the students first hand the buildings and areas that most only get to dream about seeing. 

There have also been some culture differences that have been interesting to see and a big change in my lifestyle for the week. Being a person who loves a tall glass of iced sweet tea, I was out of luck once we got here. No sweet tea obviously, but even more interesting was the fact that drinks rarely had ice (3 pieces maximum was what I saw), were extremely expensive, and no free refills! That did take some getting used to. The food of course has been different. We have eaten in a variety of restaurants both on the street and what I call “sit down” restaurants. I cannot tell you how many new types of foods I have tried, but the highlights include schnitzel, bouletten, currywurst, donor kebab, and many others. Being a picky eater, this has been tough for me not to have Taco Bell ready at any moment with cheap food and free refills!  However, I have really enjoyed being immersed in the culture and experiencing the authentic lifestyle. I think the first thing I want to eat when I get home is a medium rare steak and glass of sweet tea (full of ice)!

I have taken so many pictures over the last week that I cannot wait to share with friends, family, and of course students of both my cooperating school and WKU. These images tell the story of a “once in a lifetime” trip. I will be posting this blog once I arrive in Werne and have internet access, and will begin the second part of my journey. Now Berlin is behind me, a great memory that I was able to share with old and new friends. It’s time to focus on Werne and the time I will be spending there. I can’t wait!