Saturday, September 15, 2007

Achtung Schulweg!

I thought this sign with the funny-looking child was just great. For the first day of school they had extra such signs put up to warn drivers that there would be more children around. On the first day of school (first grade) the kids get large cones filled with sweets. They carry these things around (which are bigger than they are), go to school and meet the teacher and walk around a bit and then go home. It's a cute tradition.

I am not teaching cute little children. I am working at two Gymnasien, the Gymnasium am Rothenbühl, which specializes in sports and English, and the Deutsch-Französisches Gymnasium, which is a bilingual German/French school. Mondays and Tuesdays I will be at the GAM, and Wednesdays and Thursdays I will be at the DFG.

Monday I went and met some English colleagues and just floated around, visiting a lesson here and a lesson there. I am spending the first week or two just trying to get a feeling for the kids' language abilities and student-teacher relations in Germany. Then I will start giving my own lessons. There are some younger teachers at the GAM and some student teachers, so it was fun to talk to them. We all had a free hour on Tuesday and went out for coffee. I went into one sixth grade class (second year English) and they asked me all kinds of questions I couldn't answer, like "What's your favorite football [soccer] team?" and "Who's your favorite athlete?" Then there were some easier ones, like "What's your favorite color?" "What's your sister's name?" So basic English questions. That was kinda fun. At that age, you ask for volunteers to read and they all want to read. You go into the seventh grade class and no one wants to volunteer anymore. So school is basically the same as in the US. :)

I met with the other Americans Wednesday night for "breakfast for dinner". We made blueberry pancakes with maple syrup...mmm...But it was interesting to hear from them, and what their classroom experiences have been like. Michaela, after saying they could ask her anything... was asked if after-prom was really like in American Pie. And someone asked Ben how much marijuana costs in the US! Oh man. Those high-school kids. I haven't really talked much in classes yet. I just sit in the back and observe. Probably next week I'll start doing lessons. And we will start by extinguishing all those stereotypes!

This picture to the right is in the DFG, the staircase leading upstairs to the teachers' lounge and the secretary. This is my "main" school, and there is a teacher here who is kinda assigned to my well-being. He met with me last Friday, showed me the school and took me out to lunch. I came on Wednesday and visited some of his classes with him. He also teaches French. In Germany teachers always have two subjects that they teach. For the foreign language teachers it's often French and English, but sometimes history and English or get the idea. His wife is French and they speak French at home. Almost every teacher at this school seems to have a similar story. The school is so unique, I just love it. You walk through the halls and there are students speaking French to one another, and German. Some of the teachers stop and greet each other with bisous, the way the French kiss the cheeks as they greet. I have been addressed in French and English, and I don't always know right away if a teacher or student is native German or French. But then again, it doesn't really matter because for the most part they're all bilingual and if I speak in Germany they understand, too. Some of the classes are filled with students who speak mostly German at home, some with French students, and some are mixed. The classes all have two numbers because the Germans count like we do (you start with first grade and end with twelfth) and the French count backwards (ending with terminale, 11th grade is first grade, tenth grade is second grade). So Wednesdays I have class 3bi (bilingual), 1L/11L (specializing in languages/literatures) then later 2L/10L. I work six hours a week at each school, but I often have free hours between classes so I am there from 8:00 to around 1:00.

To the left is the main hallway at the DFG.

In Germany the teachers switch classrooms instead of the students, so there's always a big hustle and bustle at the end of a class hour. They usually have five minutes passing time, but after the second and the fourth hours they have "große Pause" and all the kids have to go outside for 15 minutes. German kids bring some snacks with but they don't have a cafeteria and there's no set "lunchtime." Most kids bike or walk to school, but especially at the DFG a lot of kids take the train, tram or bus, since some of them are coming from France. Some of the teachers also live in France, and some of the French teachers live in Germany. When you live in a border region it's easy.

To the right, a typical, bare German classroom. As I said, the teachers move around so they don't really decorate rooms. Sometimes there will be a poster or two up from some project, but nothing like American classrooms. They are super clean, and students are in charge of wiping down the boards and sweeping the floor at the end of the day. But lacking character... Again, this is a Gymnasium (grades 5-12/13) so for younger kids they do put up a bit more, but not really past elementary school.

This is the room where I tutor. On Wednesdays and Thursdays I participate in an after-school program where kids can stay later and get help with homework. They get a meal, get help with homework and play together outside. I do this from 2:00 to 4:00. I don't really know why I'm there the whole time, since from 3:30 to 4:00 they have to be outside playing. But who knows. I'm still trying to figure it all out, too. :) I helped one girl on Thursday who needs lots of extra English help. I went over her homework for her (she has to learn how to spell, which is especially hard with vowels because the Germans say "a" for "e", for example). We worked together maybe 10 minutes and then all of a sudden she looked at me, "You're English, aren't you?" And me, "No, American." Ha, I love it when the kids just assume I'm German until I make some mistake. A woman at the market thought I was French...a woman at the bank looked at my ID and then said, "But you must have German ancestors, right?" But "Sederberg" is Swedish, and most Germans recognize that, too. Anyways, the after-school program. I need some good games now, because sometimes I have kids of different levels and they just want to practice speaking and it's hard to find activities they call all do.

And I always have Fridays off. Which is nice. I have a long list of things to do by the end of the week. Yesterday I got my visa, with minor complications because I have already had a German visa and for some reason was never un-registered from Schleswig-Holstein. But whatever. I had coffee with the girl whose room I am renting. She is in Nantes, France for the year. We would have gotten along really well, so I'm glad I got to meet her and who knows if I'll see her again this year. She left up lots of pictures of Paris, which is fine by me. :) Yesterday I also went for a run along the Saar, registered for a "refresher" French class, baked marzipan-plum muffins and took care of some organizational things. I have a library card and hope to start educating myself soon. :) The last few days we've had really beautiful weather, so it's hard to concentrate. Before that it was really cold and I really want summer/fall as long as possible so I am going to take advantage.

This picture is of the St. Johanner Markt, the main square. The street is only open to pedestrians and bikers, so there are lots of street cafés and this is where the farmer's market takes place. I love having coffee in the sun here...Everyone is out and about enjoying the good weather. Which is what I should be doing right now! So off I go.

P.S. It would be helpful if you post questions about the schools. You can ask anonymous questions, too!

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