Where’s the RSS?

SHORT NOTICE: In the last couple of entries, I was informed by a lot of readers that they could not obtain access through the RSS. Although the symbol is difficult to see, you can find it right above the title The Flensburg Files in the upper right hand corner, where the feed me sign is located. The arrow is pointed in that direction as well. Should you have any questions or still have some issues regarding this, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do. You can also access the Flensburg Files through the Worthington Daily Globe online and there will be more opportunities in the future to access the files so that you can read them on a regular basis.Hope this helps and more of the files will come soon. Until next time, folks.

Jason D. Smith

Columnist of the Flensburg Files

Most wanted teacher

Teaching: the fruits of life
Teaching: the fruits of life Photo taken in 2007

OK, it’s official. I’ve just been declared the most wanted teacher on campus by the students!  Just when I was about to sit down and relax over a cup of cappucino, I was received by a storm of students whom I taught English in the last semester at a  university in Erfurt, Germany and their first question was: “Mr. Smith, can we join a class you’re teaching?” The next comment was “Mr. Smith, I’m really interested in taking part in your class. Do you think it’s possible to do it this semester?” Then came the next one: “Mr. Smith, we really enjoyed your class last semester. Is there a way to participate in one of your classes?” And another one: “We really miss you, Mr. Smith.”  The further the trend kept going and the more helpless I became because I realized a few days days earlier that my courses were filled to the brim with no elbow-space to manoever. While I had to tell them that it was not possible this semester (which I didn’t really like doing), it led me to conclude that patronism has reached levels that had not been seen until this afternoon. In the almost 10 years I have been teaching English in Germany, the only highlights that I have seen in my success, apart from climbing up the “corporate ladder” in the educational food chain starting with freelance teaching adults to teaching students full time at a university, were students patronizing my teaching by visiting my classes over and over again, while recommending my classes to others. Many of students I’ve taught over the years still keep in touch with me through all possible means of communication, and I help many of them out when they need it. This includes having an English gathering outside the university once a week, where we just sit and remininsce over a beer or ice cream. This also includes having an English section in my facebook profile, where many students pick up some interesting facts worth noting.  But still, what makes a teacher really good at what he is doing and what makes the students patronize you for your work?

It is not necessarily the qualifications you have.  People can go to college and obtain an education degree with very little or no experience in the classroom and they end up becoming the worst teachers in the institution they are working. It is even more striking with professors at universities both here in Europe as well as in the United States, as they are faced with, on the one end, the publications versus the people scenario and  on the other end, the publish or perish approach. That means that in order to become successful, they have to publish as many pieces of work as possible, even if it comes at the expense of interacting with the students and helping them when they need it the most. If they interact more with the students, they risk not spending time with their work and thus become expendible.  Sure training courses and obtaining a certificate saying that you can teach a certain subject may help a teacher become more successful, but practical experiences make it more rewarding, something that is lacking across the board for many wanting to enter the field.

This brings me to another point worth mentioning, which is the need for English teachers in general. In the past 15-20 years, we have seen the increase in popularity in the English language because it is being used on a regular basis, while doing business, travelling, and dealing with politics on the international scale, just to name a few. In fact, while over 375 million people use English as their primary language (in other words, they’re native speakers like yours truly), almost a billion people- a sixth of the world’s population use English as a secondary language (English as a foreign language).  The numbers are increasing and with that, the demand for English teachers is also increasing, as companies, academic institutions, and even private groups (like families, for example) are hiring people who either have the qualifications needed for teaching or have practical experiences or both.  It depends on who you are working for.

The only problem with that is as an English teacher, unless you have strong connections with your colleagues or if you can identify and expose any loopholes in the regulations, you are sometimes expected to be mobile, which makes it difficult for many who just want to settle down and work in one spot for more than two years. This was the case with one of the universities in northern Bavaria where I was hired there for only two years with no contract extension possibilities, and despite building my cartell with mainly the students and other personnel, I had to leave when the contract ran out. Fortunately I did land a job elsewhere right before I left, but it clearly shows that flexibility and mobility are  also important for a teacher,  albeit it does have its disadvantages regarding gathering experiences, developing ties with other people, and settling down and having a family life just like everyone else.

This brings me to the topic of cartells, which can reap rewards if you develop your ties carefully with the right people. The success as a teacher can depend on the following factors: 1. Whether or not you can get along with your colleagues, 2. Whether or not you can get along with your students, and 3. Whether or not you can adapt to the system that is present at the place where you are teaching or if it collides with your own set of ethics. From my personal experience and based on my personal beliefs, it is important that you have your own code of ethics on how to interact with people, work with them so that they are very successful in the end, and be yourself when you’re in front of the class teaching them some new and interesting facts. By the same token, one also has to adapt to the environment and make some compromises between the teacher, the students, and the rest of the people working in the institution, so that everyone is on the same page in the end.  However, sometimes things do not work the way they should and you just have to make the best judgement and hope for the best.

One factor that a teacher should be aware of is the student-teacher relationship, which is a big deal in the USA and is becoming more and more of an issue  in Europe. This is really fragile as it can either help or harm your career, pending on the interaction between the two. While some students are better off being students, and some will become friends, there are some rare occurances where one will become your “coach” for life, changing your life and world around to your benefit. However, laws are being put into place forbidding this type of practice which has split the public into two. Proponents claim that it would avoid any types of scandals affecting the institution and the reputation involved, opponents claim that it would poison the relationship in the classroom where it should be relaxed and enjoyable to both the teacher and the students.  There is an interesting article on this topic which is enclosed at the end of this file.

But all of these factors that I’ve just mentioned only represent a fraction of what makes a teacher an excellent one. Qualifications help but practical experience counts the most. The need for native speakers and those with a solid background in foreign languages (in this case, English) is high. The relationship with the students is also important. But the secret to being a successful teacher is being you. Based on my personal experience they include:

Being creative and spontaneous in teaching some new things to the students

Finding the trouble spots and exploiting and covering them

Being there for the students when they need your help regardless of the circumstances

Being sensitive but stirn to the students- meaning man has to know his limitations regarding what is allowed and what is not allowed.

and most of all, if anything goes wrong, it is ok to admit your mistake. This is the pitfall for many teachers who claim to be Mr. Perfect but defers every single bit of responsibility to others without looking at himself first.  Students will understand if you admit and apologize for the mistake and will respect you more if you learn from them.

What makes it also useful is to develop your own set of guidelines and add the rules as you go along, whether it is on a sheet of paper or making a mental note. In either case, it helps you remember, based on your experiences, what you can do and what is not allowed. This helps you in future dealings with situations that you dealt with in the past.  The more rules, the more you’re respected by your peers because of the set of morals you have, and in the end, the more people you’ll have on your side when you need them.

And best of all, while you are the man who provides the students with the materials and stories for them to learn, it also helps to take some lessons and ideas with you from the students as they will be useful in the future.

Every great teacher has his own roots at the beginning as a novice and if he can proceed in making a difference in the lives of the students while at the same time be himself, then he will in the end become profi in his work. While my ideas I mentioned above are just my strategies in becoming successful, others may have their own set of ideas. The main point is to be yourself and be true to your students and let the success  and the patronism on the part of the students take care of themselves.

This takes me to the fazit which I can say that while many students from my last semester have to wait until the next semester when the opportunity arises, many have expressed interest in my next English gathering, which is once a week and off campus. It will be interesting to see how many of them will show up at a café in the city center for a good beer and some good conversation…

That concludes the files. Until next time, folks.

Links:

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=401935
For those interested in teaching English as a foreign language, here is a link that can help you:
http://www.tefl.com/

69 days: A tribute to the miners

They went in as miners, they came out as heroes- 69 days later! They were leading an ordinary life when they entered the mines on 5 August, 2010. They were leading unusual lives underground for 69 days- cut off from the world and over a half a mile deep into the earth, having nobody to care for but themselves. What became the light of day turned into 69 days of perpetual darkness.  They hardly knew each other as they were drilling for copper when the mine crashed down onto them. They became brothers in the 69 days they were trapped there- each one of them helping each other out through the whole ordeal and helping the people above them as they tried to guide them to freedom.  They took life for granted, having a daily routine of their own, having a family to support and to come home to. They have since valued their lives more- like a valuable resource- brought their families closer together, strengthened bonds with each other and to God, and became better men  both physically and spiritually. They considered their Chilean president as their leader. Now they consider him their father as he was there to oversee the progress and welcome them when they finally came out of the darkness and into the light,  one by one. They were the forgotten ones before the accident happened. Now they made history- for themselves, the mining industry, and the people who rescued them. They went in as miners and came out as heroes. Even if they shall pass on as miners, their legacy shall live on in the books, the memories of those who were there and the generations that will follow, and finally to the country of Chile, as the people’s spirits, which were high during the ordeal, are now much higher now that the miners are back home with their families and life  returns to normal, much happier than before.

The writer of the Flensburg Files would like to dedicate this short narrative in honor of the 33 miners who were trapped for 69 days in the San Jose Mine near Copiapo and survived the whole ordeal as one big group. They took massive efforts helping rescuers free them, and drew our attention to an event belonging to history. What was mentioned above was based on the events and how they came together and drew everybody together, showing us the value of love, life, and happiness, something that we sometimes forget in this hectic world. I hope this will make readers and others rethink this and do something for the better. I know I will.

Update: Here’s a video of the event and what became of the trapped miners, courtesy of Al Jazeera. A heart-felt story of survival and redemption- a chance at new life.

Until next time, happy trails until we meet again….

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Look, Listen, and Learn

Biking on a trail going along the Baltic Sea Coast, I had to put away my thoughts and fears that were affecting my everyday life and embrace the unknown. I had never been up to the Baltic Sea for a long time, and the area I was visiting- Flensburg, Sondernburg, northern Germany, and southern Denmark- was untouched until I got off the train at the station and explored the region that I hadn’t seen before. The first thing I did was get to know the people up there, the culture, and the surroundings. I looked, I listened, and I learned. It started with a trip down the beaten and rutted trail that snaked its way through the forest, after crossing the wooden bridge into Denmark north of Wassersleben. The various jumps up and down the hill, the sound the wind breezing in from the sea, and the multiple shades of green and brown are all that occupies me opens up new doors to the things I’ve never heard and seen before. However, the dangers have to be figured into the equation: The trail was rutted, rocky, and really run down. It had pine trees placed in and along the road, and the down hill ride was filled with the unknown. I looked, I listened, and I learned.  By the time I ended up in Sondernhafen (Danish is Sondernhav) enjoying Europe’s finest hotdog and Danish ice cream at Anne’s Hot Dog stand, I had mastered 15 km of rugged terrain and gathered some images that were worth taking with me. I tried some Danish delicatessen, listened to the good humor of the Danes and learned about the long-standing relationship that they had with the Germans, that consisting of love and hate, trials and tribulations, toil and tears, and division and unity. Both sides had their differences that had to be settled through military conflict- among other things the war of 1864 between the then Prussians and the Danish kingdom which included a lop-sided Prussian victory at Dubel (near Sondernburg). There was of course the battle over Flensburg and who possesses it as both sides laid claim to it until 1951 when it was considered a border town for both the Danes and the Germans. This was in addition to World War II and Hitler’s quest for breathing room. But today- they live in peaceful co-existence for one reason and one reason only: because they looked, they listened, and they learned. They looked at the benefits of coexistence, they listened to each other, and they listened to each other.

Leaving that as is for another time, I took this experience with me and re-entered reality- a reality that is filled with multicultural diversity but it is the target of xenophobia, cleansing, and pure hatred. This multicultural diversity does not necessarily have to do with the place of origin or ethnical, religious, or cultural backgrounds. It can also focus on family tradition, socio-economical backgrounds, and even the preference of a certain group disregarding politics, themes worth talking about, or even sexuality.  Each of us has its own set of values, thinking, and ideal world that we feel comfortable with. The problem with that is we are being sounded out, played down, browned off by factors that don’t want us to be who we are, let alone share our views with others. Through the actions of these factors, consisting of harassment, intimidation, and even verbal or physical assaults on our identities,  we are vulnerable to a change that is against our nature mainly because the factors don’t look at us, listen to us, and learn from us. It is no wonder why so many people take their own lives and those with them- because they feel that they don’t belong to society and need to express their frustration to the rest of society.

When I read about an 18 year old taking his own life because he was gay and therefore was cyber-bullied, or a 17 year old storming a school to pelt others with bullets before providing his own head with one, it makes me ask myself, why are these people doing this. Like us, they had a right to live and share their experiences with others without being ashamed of it. But the people who bullied them to a point of suicide did this because they were afraid of seeing them in their world. These are the people who are careless because they don’t look at the people for who they are, listen to them and how their lives developed the way they were, and learn from that experience and perhaps can relate to them. By being wreckless, ignorant and fearful, what happens to the victim actually comes back to haunt them. It’s like travelling along that rutted path through the forest, that I mentioned earlier- the careless and faster you bike, the more likely that you will create a very nasty fall that will cause injuries (some serious pending on the degree).  If you look at the incidents that has happened over the past decade: Littleton in 1999, Erfurt in 2002, Cold Springs in 2005, Red Lake Falls in 2007, Virginia Tech in 2008, Ansbach and Winnenden in 2009, and now a slew of suicides that has been happening over the last six months, including the aforementioned cyberbullying that resulted in a suicide in Massachusetts, they all follow the same pattern.

So why don’t we all be careful with what we say or do with other people? Is it necessary to be wreckless and take action without thinking of the consequences? And what is wrong with embracing other people and cultures? It’s free and priceless. You learn more about them and make yourself a better person at the same time. You become more popular to the community because of your openess, tolerance, and acceptance of other people and their views on life. And the most valuable experience from all this is you may end up befriending the person whom you wanted to bully to begin with.  It’s very easy to do. One just has to look, listen, and learn.

I would like to close with some food for thought, looking at this topic from a historian’s point of view. If you look at the picture at the end of this entry, you’ll see a fort that was built at Dubel in 1864 as a fortress to fend off the advancing Prussians and protect neighboring Sondernburg. While the defense was not successful and the Danes lost the war, both sides 87 years later realized that there was no point in wasting lives and resources not only in fighting each other but also erecting memorials comemorating the battles, so they took the cheapest and easiest way out and built a bridge connecting the two cultures and embraced each other. They didn’t care about their backgrounds or their differences, and it’s understandable why. We spend more money, resources, and nerves on conflicts and the memorials commemorating them than we do when we spend the few precious free minutes of our lives to say hi to another person and get to know him/her. And the benefits of just a few minutes to learn from the person far outweigh that of ignoring or even bullyiing them. So instead of spending that money on defending ourselves against people who don’t fit in society why not build a bridge for them and do what we should be doing in the first place- look, listen, and learn.

And the file closes with the pics worth taking with you. Until next time, happy trails until we meet again.

Photo taken by Jason Smith in May, 2010

Fort Dubel near Sondernburg- the source of the conflict between the Danes and the Germans in 1864 and the symbol of division and the fear.

SOLUTION: BUILD A BRIDGE AND OPEN UP!

Photo taken by Jason Smith in May, 2010

FAQ: This bridge, built in 1926 did serve as a symbol of unity between Germany and Denmark. Up until the Schengen Agreement in 1995, the bridge was guarded by the patrolmen on both sides, who maintained peace free of conflict, and people had to present their passports before crossing. Since then people can bike across freely and the patrolmen’s house on the Danish side is all that remains.

 

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Here’s to You, Steve.

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This file starts off with a question for you to try and answer: What do Hunter, The Rockford Files, The A Team, and The Greatest American Hero have in common? Any guesses? (guess first before scrolling down)

 

 

 

 

 

They are the work of a famous Hollywood screenwriter. That’s one hint. Any further guesses? (down further AFTER you take another stab at it)

 

 

Last one: He was famous for his closing slogan with him typing on a typewriter one second then ripping out the page and flies away forming the letter C.   One last shot……

 

 

OK.  So there are many who probably don’t know this person. I know in Germany and parts of Europe, almost no one has heard of this person. But people like yours truly did grow up with this writer and enjoyed much of his work during his career. Unfortunately because of his sudden death on 30 September of this year as a result of melanoma- the deadliest of all cancers- we are now mourning an icon who plastered the airwaves with his work, most of which came from the 1970s and 80s. His name was Stephen J. Cannell.

Since many people probably don’t know much about the gentleman, this file entry will take you through his life and his work briefly, while at the same time discuss the importance of his closing slogan, something I never knew to have existed until stumbling across a website with a library’s worth of archives over the weekend. So without ado, let’s go to work.

Born in 1941 in Los Angeles, was raised in Pasadena and a graduate of the University of Oregon, Mr. Cannell’s career as a screen writer began when he submitted a script entitled “It Takes a Thief” to Universal Studios in 1968. He was hired by the television arm of the studios and started his career as a writer straight away, gathering not only a number of TV shows he wrote and produced over the years but also gaining his popularity. In the 40+ years he was in the business, all but two TV series he wrote for  were distributed through Universal, even though his office was at rival motion picture studio Paramount. This included the quartet of B.A., Hannibal, Face, and Murdock, deserted Vietnam soldiers who helped people who were in need when the law did not help them. The group, known as the A-team, spent four years on TV in the USA (1983-1987), and inspired much of the youth of that time to become like them and take the advice of the actor of B.A., Mr. T:

Don’t be a fool! Stay in school!

The two that were written by Cannell and were not distributed through Universal were the same ones I mentioned earlier: The Greatest American Hero and Hunter, the latter was a series consisting of a male cop named Rick Hunter and his female partner Dee Dee McCall, whose mission was to fight crime for the city of Los Angeles. That series lasted six years, ending in 1991. The Greatest American Hero depicts a teacher who encounters a UFO, is given a red flying suit and special powers to help people and take out the criminals.  It was around for only three seasons (1980-3) but the theme song still plays on in many radio stations, and even the actor, William Katt is creating a comic strip based on that superhero dressed in a red piece caped outfit.

But of all the TV shows he had written plus at least a half a dozen books he wrote over the years (the last one “The Prostitute’s Ball” was released shortly before his passing), the most important feature that was typical of Cannell was the closing slogan. For those who don’t know, the closing slogan is produced by a motion picture studio and runs for only a few seconds right after the end credits are presented. This is only common in the USA as one can seldom see it in Europe. In fact, closing slogans can normally be found through state-run public TV services like the BBC in the UK and ARD and ZDF in Germany.  During the time of the Cold War when both Germanys were divided, there was nothing of that kind in East Germany, where I’m living (specifically in Erfurt).

One might think that the closing slogans of a motion picture studio represent the tiniest aspect of life- a mosquito which flies around saying Here I am. I’m ready for the next meal! only to be quashed by its irrelevance. However, when I found out about Cannell’s passing and came across the website containing the archives of closing slogans for all motion picture studios- disregarding the type that exists- I found that there were people out there that have a passion for this hobby and wanted to share this with the rest of the audience. Well, they gained one this past weekend as I went through the library and saw how each closing slogan was described in detail, ranging from its appearance on TV to the music score, to even the degree of frightfulness of each closing slogan!!! This is weird; especially with regard to the third variant, but to understand it more further, I have an example of one with regard to Mr. Cannell’s partner, the motion picture studio Universal and its TV studio arm.

We all associate Universal Studios with the revolving globe, but the origins of it go as far back as 1962, after the TV studios was created thanks to the purchase of Decca Records by MCA Inc. Decca owned Universal Pictures at the time of its merger.  Over the years up until its current slogan was introduced in 1997, the only changes that were made to the globe were the size and type of the fonts, which remained gold and yellow in color, with the name Universal sticking out. The subheadings above and below the UNIVERSAL name were the only variants that changed throughout the years with the bottom subheading representing the company that owned the TV studios, MCA, which was later replaced with the website of Universal Studios in 1998.

As for the music that went along with that, up until 1985, the score consisted of something resembling a jazz ensemble, consisting of French horns, tubas, trombones, and in the case of one score that existed between 1976 and 1982, the rumbling of the bass drum into a crescendo. The degree of scariness was extreme, as there were reports of people having nighmares involving this music score. It was later changed to feature the keyboard, then the orchestra, and when the slogan was changed in 1990 (in connection with both its 75th anniversary and its purchase by Panasonic Inc.), the music score changed as well, and its mellowness served as a relief to those who were too sensitive to the loud blaring of the brass and percussion. Some examples of how the closing slogan of Universal has developed over the years can be seen in the website enclosed at the end.

Going back to Mr. Cannell’s closing slogan, it represented a unique way of ending an episode, and it inspired many small productions to be as creative in its closing slogans as he was. Basically it represented Mr. Cannell sitting at his desk, sometimes smoking a pipe, typing his script on his typewriter and after he reached the end of his page, he would rip it out and the page would fly away, eventually forming a C-shape. The music score represented an orchestra that started out in C major and eventually ended with an electric guitar blaring its signature score in E-flat major. A link to how the closing slogan looked like can be found at the end of this entry. Over the years, the attired changed together with Mr. Canell’s appearance and the music score was altered through the usage, swapping, and addition of musical instruments. This included the exchange of brass instruments with a single flute. But all in all, the format remained the same, and it inspired many TV shows to imitate Mr. Cannell’s signature closing, including the Itchy and Scratchy Show in the Simpsons, which was released in 1993. Can you imagine a cat and a mouse sitting down and typing up their own script about their own chase and catch adventures?

While it is unclear what the future will now hold now that the creator of the shows and his own production is now gone. But one thing is for sure: Whoever takes over will have two big pairs of shoes to fill, as he or she will have to have learned the secrets of Steve’s success in order to continue navigating the ship, which includes being creative in the TV shows to attract an audience and not beg for more money- something that Mr. Cannell only had to do once in his entire 40+ year career. Plus that person would still have to maintain strong ties with the production facilities that worked together with Mr. Cannell in the first place; namely Universal, which is now owned by GE Inc. but is part of the NBC-Universal Television consortium under the name Universal Media.

But most interesting is how he or she would have to create a new closing slogan, while at the same time not alter the signature one that was used by Mr. Canell for all those years. Long gone will be the typewriter,  the vintage lamps, the wall of degrees and certificates and the library of books in the background, one will have to resort to either a PC or laptop, a printer, a state-of-the-art LED reading ramp, wardrobes hiding all the literature, only a few pictures in the back-and  foreground, and a music score representing techno-music.  Can you imagine a closing slogan like that? If so, I dare you to try it in his honor.

In either case, if there was a piece of advice I would have for anyone wanting to become a successful writer, it would be to refer to the works of Stephen J. Canell, as he presented some of the best and most unique pieces of work in recent memory, both in terms of screenwriting as well as his books. Some of the former has been adapted to motion picture films, like the A-Team, others will be rerun on many cable channels. The latter you’ll find in many book stores or you can order online.  But from my perspective, he will be remembered for attracting many people to the TV screens on a Friday night for an hour or two of the shows that became famous when they came out of the typewriter and will remain famous to not only those who have seen them already, like yours truly, but also those who have not seen them yet but would like to; especially after writing this eulogy in his honor. Now I wish I had a typewriter to rip this last page out of this file instead of typing it on a laptop- while travelling by train on top of it.

😉

 

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Links:

http://www.closinglogos.com/page/Universal+Television

http://www.closinglogos.com/  The closing slogans for Stephen J. Cannell can be seen on the front page

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Front_%28The_Simpsons%29

http://www.cannell.com/