Published: October 15th 2010October 1st 2010
I have to say, the idea of becoming a teacher in Berlin was quite a surprise and I was looking forward to the experience.... mind you, I also have to say, I had no idea what was in store for me! After the unexpected offer to teach in Berlin, I struggled to get everything organized for an early program graduation & departure. I was sitting in class at the University of B.C., watching the minutes tick by until my pre-arranged departure time, I walked over to the professor, got her signature to confirm that I had indeed passed the final course, and rushed down to mean with the education program coordinator to get the official signature stating that I had indeed passed the bachelor's of education program. With the fresh signature in hand, I bolted to the parking-lot, where my mother was waiting in a running car with my suitcase... we raced straight to the airport as I frantically dug out my German-tapes for the flight. Hours later, I arrived in Berlin, hauling my body-weight in luggage through the city (yes, I abused carry-on limits and also had to pay for an extra suitcase...). I managed to arrive
at my friend's apartment and after a whirlwind catch-up, was fast asleep on her couch, painfully awaiting my alarm for my first day as a true teacher.
Arriving at the school, I was rather shocked to be introduced to over fourty other brand-new employees (mind you, only one other part-time hire was actually new to the profession....). The natural hesitation and questions surfaced with all these new faces, but we all pushed through our fears and excitement, taking in our information sessions, and thinking about prepping our classes and lessons. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite as smooth of a transition as most of us had hoped. Some of us (me included) had the added challenge of no resources. You see, I apparently joined a 'developing school' and had not fully conceptualized what this vague phrase entails. My classroom was covered in dust, found in an old wing that had not yet been used or really attended to, and had nothing inside. Blank white walls, and a white floor were the extent of my 'resources'. I searched out pin boards, white boards, shelves and desks, but they were in short supply and a new delivery was promised to arrive the day
before our classes were to start... you know, just a little last-minute set-up required. I paced the room, making plan after plan of how the desks would look and where the cabinets would sit... I visited other classroom, scavenging old outdated materials that were garbage-bound and salvaging what I could. I the few lucky classes that had resources from prior years (some were actually fully stocked with smartboards and everything your heart could desire!) and gathered ideas. I tried to plan some of the decorations, but ran into a myriad of challenges; no construction paper, no paper, in short... no materials. Our welcome basket had our class book, a stapler (though no paper), a hole punch (again though, no paper), post-it notes, black felts, an envelope of cork-board pins (terribly useful when you don't have a cork-board!) and one ring of tape.
Needless to say, the days were stressful and still somehow packed with things to do. The week vanished before we knew it and we pulled painfully long days and collaborated to work with what we had - and made all sorts of dollar-store and ikea trips! The classrooms came together and the teachers managed. We desperately latched
onto the few returning staff, exhausting their patience and time to try to sort ourselves out and try to figure out the intended curriculum and schedules. We had one textbook for the year (math), but it was to be arriving a few weeks late on account of delivery delays, so we pulled together our resources and planning skills and managed to make it work.
In the weeks to come, we continued to make our classrooms home for our new students and worked on community and inquiry based teaching. We began to sort out some of the common questions and routines, and found ways to fit our styles into the available teaching time and classroom needs. To my surprise, I was further challenged with the fact that our international school has a language policy that does not allow teachers of the first grade (yep, that's me) to teach any reading or writing skills since that is to be taught by the German teacher in the German time-slots in order to provide a sound basis in the native language of the student.... to be honest, I am not familiar enough with linguistic research, so I can't judge or evaluate the system,
but regardless, I did have to react as I am a first-grade teacher without the ability to ask the students to read or produce any written work until after Christmas.... that certainly did affect my lessons, not to mention teaching strategies and methods!
Needless to say, there have been more than a few challenges in my first weeks of teaching, and I am omitting many of the daily stories of my dear students, but I have to say that I truly appreciate and enjoy each student and I think that we have found a way as a class and as individuals to do the best possible for these students with some of the most recent methodology and using what I believe to be the most solid and meaningful methods of learning engagement for these students.
I am looking forward to the year ahead and I know that these children will be successful, wonderful Berliner's one day and this year, I will simply try to enjoy each moment I have to teach them...
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