School feels weird without a backpack.

Last week was technically my first full week as an assistant teacher at the Gesamtschule, wherein I visited multiple classes and did minimal teaching.  The point of the first week was for me to get a feel of how the school and the various class levels are run.  Apparent in the title Gesamtschule, it’s essentially a comprehensive school which, as I’ve mentioned before, runs from 5th – 10th grade.  Bear with me for a moment as I give you a quick overview of how the German school system works (or just read the Wikipedia entry) in my school.  The school is made up of students on different tracks according to their academic performance; the kids on track to go to a Gymnasium, take the Abitur (their version of the SAT/ACTs, sort of) and on to study at a university are labeled “G”, the kids who have 10 years of schooling and might go on to a Berufschule (vocational school) are labeled “R” for Realschule, and the kids who have 9 years of schooling and also might go on to the Berufschule are labeled “H” for Hauptschule.  The 5th graders are all labeled “F”, for Förderstufe (transitional stage, before they’re divided into different tracks).  I will be assisting in classes of F, H, and G academic levels in various grades. Somehow it didn’t work out with the Realschule classes, but I’ll have a few of those students in my AGs…

In addition to helping out during school, I’ll also be leading my own English conversation Arbeitsgemeinschaften, or AGs (workshops) for short.  Each AG is an hour and a half long, offered once a week for beginners (5th-7th grade) and once for advanced (8th – 10th grade) speakers of English.  My goal for the AGs is to simply speak as much English as possible so they get used to hearing it from a native speaker of American as opposed to the (sometimes) manufactured and/or British speech of the teachers.  Otherwise I’m approaching it with an open mind, giving the kids ample opportunity to express topics of interest to them…American cities (Las Vegas, NYC, LA, etc), holiday traditions, celebrities, food, and American high school have been some of the more popular ideas mentioned.

Working with the older students has been excellent so far; we had a great discussion about good and bad stereotypes of Americans (thank goodness they said I disprove most of the bad ones!), followed by a reflection on stereotypes about Germans.  My favorite analogy that is mostly true: Americans are peaches, and Germans are coconuts.  By this I mean that it’s extremely easy to “bite into” the soft, fuzzy outer layer of us, but you eventually hit a rock-hard core that’s very difficult to get to the middle of.  With Germans, it’s more of a challenge to break through the harder outer shell, but once you’re do they really are creamy and sweet…and might even tell you a lot more than you care to know about them.

As I said the first time I visited the school, the teachers are all very happy to have me.  I’m almost disappointed that I can’t have the chance to work with all of the students at least once a week; I just don’t have enough time in my contract to allow for that.  I’ve already noticed the difference in how attentive many of the students are when I’m speaking compared to when their regular teacher is leading the class.  Perhaps it’s because I’m younger, more difficult to understand, or just more exciting because I’m something new, but I hope their attention spans last…

The one problem I am having is with the beginner AG.  Small boys have short attention spans.  They also like to physically hurt each other at every possible opportunity.  I’m working on not feeling like a babysitter; all the kids voluntarily choose what AGs they’d like to attend, so if they are disruptive I can decide to kick them out permanently…ah, the power of being slightly in charge.

Otherwise things are going well overall.  I was in the newspaper yesterday, so once I get a clip of that I’ll try to scan it at school so I can upload it to the blog.  In the meantime, there are a few pictures of the castle in Laubach and surrounding town streets to give you an idea of what I’m looking at on my daily 20-minute walks to and from school.  The weather has actually been spectacularly lovely — fresh and sunny, early autumn temperatures.  I’m still in the process of looking for an apartment in Gießen, and I have three Besichtigungstermine this weekend to interview with some potential flatmates.  Wish me luck!

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One thought on “School feels weird without a backpack.

  1. I think our Gesamtschule might be different from yours. Our school has grades 5 to 13. Hauptschule goes to grade 9, Realshule to 10, and Gymnasium to 13. Gee the system here is so complicated!

    If you’re looking for a WG in Giessen, I think I may have some in mind. A friend of mine is moving to Mozambique for study abroad and has been looking really vigurously for a Zwischenmieter. I believe she comes back in March, but by then someone in the same apartment might have moved out. She and her roommates are all super friendly and know me pretty well. If you’d be interested, let me know!

    Oh, and I love your peach/coconut, American/German analogy. Very, very true, especially the part about Germans telling you more than you wanted to know!

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