Genre of the Week: What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali

Typical one-room school church
Typical one-room school house and church in Iowa. 

Teaching:  A profession that is undervalued, underappreciated and underloved. Teachers: People who enter the classroom with one thing in mind: to teach people the basics for real life and skills for their dream job. To teach people means to show them not just how to communicate and obey the structures of our society, but also how to be decent to others, how to be tolerant towards people from different backgrounds, and lastly, how to understand the feelings and reactions of others as well as adapt to different backgrounds.  Some people perceive teachers as travellers with a backpack full of books going from place to place to teach students. Others, like Pestalozzi, taught in empty buildings, where not even the basic necessities, such as a chair or table, or even a chalk board existed, and therefore they were forced to be creative and vocal in teaching their students.  In either case, the teacher brings out the best in each and every student, by finding and developing their talents, showing them how life works and people should be treated, namely, with decency and respect.

Many people enter the profession with high expectations, only to quit the profession after 10 years for the following reasons: lack of pay and benefits, lack of available resources (esp. with regards to technology), lack of respect from the students or other members of the faculty, but most importantly, lack of support from family and friends, claiming that teaching is a “loser job” that pays “Hungerlohn!” (German for salary that is barely enough to support even one person). This explains the reason behind schools closing down due to too many students, too few teachers and too little pay.  This goes beyond the bureaucracy, test guidelines and the political talk that makes a person want to write a novel series about this topic.

And for the record, coming from a family of teachers and having taught English since 2001 (all in Germany), I have experienced enough to justify even a mystery series in a form of Tatort, exploiting the ways to anger students, teachers and even parents. 😉

But what we all don’t know is why we teachers choose this profession to begin with, let alone stay in this profession for as long as the generations before us. From a personal point of view, if it has to do with money, you would best be a lawyer, lawmaker or litigator. You’re best needed there. If it has to do with status, you would best work in a corporation. If it has to do with family, you would best be a scientist, like Albert Einstein.

You should be a teacher because you have the creative talents, ideas, character, dedication and most importantly, the heart to make a difference in the lives of others. Plus you should be a story-teller, an example for others, funny, chaotic, crazy with ideas but cool under pressure and able to handle the stress like nerves of steel.  And lastly, learning from my father (who was a teacher), you have to strategize like you are playing chess- and actually have played chess. 😉

If you are looking for more reasons, then you should take a look at this Genre of the Week entitled “What Teachers Make,” by Taylor Mali. A 12th generation of the original Dutch immigrants of New York City, Mali once taught in the classroom, having instructed English, History and test preparatory classes before finding a niché as a writer, a slam poet and a commedian. He has written six anthologies full of poems and narratives, several audio CDs and three books, one of which is entitled What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the Worldpublished in 2012. The poem presented here comes from this book. Mali nowadays offers seminars and lectures to teachers and other professionals, providing them with an insight into the profession that is sometimes highly disregarded, yet one that is highly needed and, if one does make a difference in the lives of others, most loved.

So watch this audio by Mali and look at the comic strip provided by Zen Pencils, and then ask yourself this question:

  1. Why do you want to be a teacher?
  2. What aspects of teaching do you like?
  3. As a teacher, what difference can you make for the students? Yourself? Your institution?
  4. If people play down your profession, how would you convey and convince them that you love your job and the reasons behind it?
  5. Do many students come back to you years after you taught them? Why?

For nr. 5, it is very important for if you are in touch with them even today or come to you for a visit/help, then you definitely belong to this profession because you are doing a damn fine job.  🙂

And if you have the urge to write about it in your later life, then you really should stay in that profession until Jesus Christ tells you otherwise. That will definitely be my destination and my advice to all teachers out there, young and old. 😉

 

Link to Taylor Mali’s website you can find here as well as via youtube.

Video with soundbyte from Mali:

 

Image courtesy of Zen Pencils:

124. TAYLOR MALI: What Teachers Make

 

FF new logo1

In School in Germany: The Culling of Quatsch in German

book display

How to eliminate trash from the German language in order to make it more sophisticated

A few weeks ago, you know, there was like a cool article from that whatchamacallit online thing, where writers, like put down something like 15 words that should, you know, be eliminated from the vocabulary, because they are, like very dailylike and not good for use in college. Do you know wha I’m sayin?

First reaction from the audience: “Mr. Smith, can you please repeat that? I don’t know what you are saying.” (Typical reaction from a dedicated student from Denmark learning English for her job.”

Again: Don’t ya know, there was like an article on taking out stuff from the language, you know, English. It was like we cannot use these words because they are, you know, babylike…..

Second reaction from the audience: Basketball star Elena Delle Donne shakes her head in disbelief and puts on her headset listening to some iTune music, getting mentally prepared for the next WNBA basketball game. Yet at the same time, a hysterical mother of three stands up and says this as a third reaction:

“If you say one more like, I’m gonna pound you! Do you know how many likes you’ve said in a MINUTE?!!”

You can imagine, how many responses came out regarding the article that was posted in the Files’ facebook pages as well as the pages in the circles dealing with Anglo-Saxon and German cultures: in the short paragraph above, identify the words that probably made it to the list made by the newspaper and in the group circles.

While English is becoming more diluted with slangs and other expressions, which is making the language less sophisticated in both the oral and written senses, the German language unfortunately is suffering from a similar fate.

Take a look at the example that a former colleague from a German Hochschule where I taught for two years  received from a student of civil engineering via e-mail:

Hi, ich hab mal ne frage zur presentation, wir sollen die ja schon 2 wochen vorher abgeben, was is aber wenn wir später noch was ändern wollen, ich glaub kaum das ich schon 2 wochen vorher die finale version der presentation hab und die 2 wochen lang für gut befinde und nichts mehr dran ändere, auserdem wollt ich wissen wann ich jez eigentlich meine presentation hab jez wies aussieht alles nach hinten verschoben und ich weis nich mehr wann meine dann ist…..

In English:

Hi! I have a question regarding my presentation. We should hand it in two weeks beforehand. However, what if we have to change something? We doubt our presentation will be done beforehand. In addition, I would like to know if it is possible to push my presentation date back and if so, when. (This is a shortened translation of the German text, by the way.)

This is from a native speaker of German. Do you trust him constructing the next bridge carrying a German Autobahn? Especially the one being planned at Rendsburg over the Baltic-North Sea Canal in the next two years?

If you are a German academic or an expatriate who has lived in Germany for more than ten years, like I have, you will see the mistakes in less than a second.  Sadly, more and more e-mails, papers, documents and even theses are containing words that do not belong in the German language if a person wants to write like Goethe or Schiller- words like: geil, doch, noch, was and –ne, as well as some Denglish words, such as liken, downloaden, fischen, etc. While one could communicate them orally (but please, sparingly), they do not belong on paper.

So what is there to do about the erosion of the German language? It is a surefire fact that we need to eliminate some stuff from the German language in order to make it pure again, just like with the English language. And while Germans have adopted many words from English that can be used, and vice versa, there are some words that just do not belong in the vocabulary, period.

If you were a German teacher, which words would you like to see your pupils NOT use- both orally as well as written? Here are the English words that many people have listed that should be at least capped for use:

Whatever, like, awesome, umm, stuff, thing, honestly, irregardless, would of (instead of would have), actually, viral, addicting, just, maybe, really, very, went, that, literally, and absolutely.

Und du? Welche deutsche Wörter möchtest du zum Verwenden begrenzen, außer was erwähnt wurden? Her mit deiner Liste in the Flensburg Files Comment page, sowie in den anderen Seiten und wir freuen uns auf den Vergleich zwischen den englischen und den deutschen Wörten!

FF new logo1

In School in Germany: Children of Divorced Parents

Tunnel of Uncertainty

 

 

This entry starts off with a quote to keep in mind: Life is one long tunnel with uncertainty awaiting you. Run as far as you can go and you will be rewarded for your efforts.

The key to success is to have a permanent support group that is there for you whenever you need them. For children, the support group consists of family, such as parents, grandparents and siblings, but also your distant relatives. Yet suppose that is nonexistent?

Divorces have become just as popular a trend as marriage, for in the United States, an average of 3.6 couples out of 1000 people divorce every year, eclipsing the trend of 3.4 couples tying the knot out of 1000. This trend has existed since 2008, despite the parallel decrease of both rates since 2006. In Germany, 49% of married couples split up after a certain time, which is four percentage points less than its American counterpart, but five percentage points higher than the average in the European Union.  Reasons for couples splitting up much sooner have been tied to career chances, lack of future planning, the wish for no children, and in the end, irreconcilable differences.

While the strive for individuality is becoming more and more common in today’s society, the effects of a divorce can especially be felt on the children. In Germany alone, more than 100,000 children are affected by a divorce every year with 1.3 million of them living with only one parent. The psychological effects of a divorce on a child is enormous. They lose their sense of security when one parent has to leave and may never be seen again. In addition, families and circle of friends split up, thus losing contact with them. Sometimes children are the center of many legal battles between divorced parents which can result in intervention on the legal level. They feel isolated and sometimes engage in risky and sometimes destructive behavior, especially later on in life.  When one parent remarries, it can be difficult to adjust to the new partner, even if that person has children from a previous relationship.

In school, children have a sense of difficulty in handling homework and other tasks and therefore, their performance decreases. Furthermore, they can become more unfocused and agitated towards other people, including the teacher- sometimes even aggressive. Depression, anxiety and indifference follows. Surprisingly though, adolescents are more likely to process the affects of a divorce better than children ages 10 and younger. Yet without a sense of hominess and love, children of divorced parents feel like running through a long tunnel of uncertainty, with no end in sight, as seen in this picture above.

During my time at the Gymnasium, I encountered an example of a student, whose parents divorced a year earlier. He was a sixth grader with potential, yet after the parents split up, his performance, interest in the subjects and attitude towards others decreased dramatically, causing concern among his teachers. While I had a chance to work with him while team-teaching English with a colleague who is in charge of the 6th grade group, one of things that came to mind is how schools deal with students of divorced parents.

In the US, intervention is found on three different level, beginning with school counselors and peer groups on the local,  psychologists on the secondary level, who help both parents and children affected by the divorce, and the tertiary level, which involves forms of law enforcement, should the situation get out of hand.  In Germany however, according to sources, no such intervention exists, leaving the parents on their own to contend with the effects of the divorce, and teachers (many with little or no experience) to deal with the behavior of the students, most of which is that of a “one size fits all” approach, which is not a very effective approach when dealing with special cases like this one. Reason for the lack of intervention is the lack of personnel, cooperation and funding for such programs, with areas in the eastern half being the hardest hit. However such programs, like teacher and counselor training, peer programs for students and divorced parents, team teaching and even 1-1 tutoring can be effective in helping these children go through the processes and get their lives back in order, getting them used to the new situation without having their studies and social life be hindered. Without them, it is up to the teacher to help them as much as possible. Yet, as I saw and even experienced first-hand, teachers are not the wonder drug that works wonders on everybody. Their job is to present new things for students to learn and to help them learn and succeed. Therefore additional help to deal with special cases like this one are needed to alleviate the pressure on the teacher and the students.

 

This leads to the following questions for the forum concerning children of divorced parents and intervention:

1. Which school (either in the US or Europe) has a good intervention program that helps children affected by family tragedies and other events, and how does that work in comparison to the existing programs in the US?

2. Have you dealt with children of divorced parents in school? If so, how did you handle them and their parents?

3. Should schools have such an intervention program to help children like these? If so, how should it be structured? Who should take responsibility for which areas? What kind of training should teachers and counselors have?

Feel free to comment one or all of the questions in the Comment section or in the Files’ facebook pages.

 

I would like to end my column with the conclusion of my intervention with my patient. When I and my colleague team-taught, we did it in a way that one of us worked with him, while the other helped the others in the group. Being a group of 23 sixth graders who had English right after lunch, it was a chore and a half, but one that reaped an enormous reward when I left at the conclusion of my practical training. That was- apart from a standing ovation- a handshake from my student with a big thanks for helping him improve on his English. Sometimes a little push combined with some individual help can go a long way, yet if there was a word of advice to give him, it would be one I got from a group of passengers whom I traveled with to Flensburg a few years ago:

Things always go upwards after hitting rock bottom.

In the end, after reaching the light at the end of the tunnel, one will see relief and normalcy just like it was before such an event. It is better to look forward than looking back and regretting the past.

 

Author’s Note:

Here are some useful links about children and divorced parents in both languages that can be useful for you, in addition to what I wrote in this entry. Two of them was courtesy of one of the professors who had dealt with this topic before and was very helpful in providing some ideas and suggestions on how to deal with cases like this. To him I give my sincere thanks. Links:

http://www.familienhandbuch.de/cms/Familienforschung%20Scheidung_und_Trennung.pdf

http://schulpsychologie.lsr-noe.gv.at/downloads/trennung_scheidung.pdf

http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/lib/thesis/2009/2009landuccin.pdf

 

In School in Germany: Bilingual Teaching in the Classroom: An Author’s Perspective

Teaching History in the English Language: Teacher’s Task

 

This is a continuation of the series of Bilingual Teaching, the introduction of which can be viewed here.

Books closed. Exams completed. Chapter closed.  A sigh of relief for the pupils in the Gymnasium. Now moving onto the next chapter- but this time in your native tongues, please.

 

Having taught history in English, it is easy to tell who enjoyed learning in English and who was happy to see the camel be sent packing and speak German again. Yet to be that concrete and judgmental would not benefit anyone, even the teacher. In fact, since the US is too monolingual, this statement would be “too American,” for even my taste.

 

As mentioned in the introduction, bilingual modules were introduced slowly but surely beginning in 2009 in many parts of Germany. This includes Thuringia, which started teaching bilingual modules this school year.   The Gymnasium where I’m doing my practical training has had the module since the beginning of the school year, yet it had offered classes in English for upper grades years before the state passed the bill in 2009. There, courses in English, French, Spanish and other foreign languages have been offered in classes dealing with humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. History was one of the classes that has the module and has been completed. As I have indicated in my previous column entries, my theme deals with the USA in the 1920s and 30s and how it returned to isolation after World War I and watched the events unfold in Europe while it lived the lifestyle of the Roaring 20s. Apart from frontal teaching and providing materials and handouts, experiments were conducted to ensure that the students learn not only the history of the US but also improve on their foreign language skills, the concept better known as Content Language and Integrated Learning (CLIL), where foreign languages are introduced in the curriculum with the goal of students picking up skills in their respective areas of study. Such experiments included mini-presentations, using literature and video and mock debates, which best fits the subject of study in history.

 

And the results?

 

Looking at the results, one has to divide it into input (in terms of materials and teaching methods) and output (the reception of the audience). As there were no books available in the Gymnasium on history in the English language most of the activities had to be developed by the teacher himself, using the books at home (as well as one borrowed by another history teacher), as well as some creative ideas to garner the students’ attention. While Germany is conservative in many aspects, going by Konrad Adenauer’s “No Experiments” campaign, used in the 1957 elections for chancellorship, for bilingual teaching, it is important as a teacher to be creative and experiment with things, but make sure that the worksheets and activities to be presented to the students must be appropriate in terms of content and language (especially vocabulary). More important is that the students are able to retain the knowledge, which can be done orally, written, or both but at regular intervals. Highly recommended is a summary sheet with all the facts and vocabulary words for the class to learn and remember, especially when exams come up, and they will need them.

Apart from what I had mentioned earlier, in terms of Guessing Quizzes, The Mock Debate, Mini-Presentations and literature for analyzing, what was useful was using video and audio examples, like recordings of Roosevelt’s Fireside Speeches or the first radio broadcast in 1926. This way, students would have the opportunity to listen, analyze and interpret them in connection with the topic presented by the teacher.  Yet the preparation time is immense and it was not surprising that I, like many other teachers in the Gymnasium, had several late nighters in the row in order to produce the perfect task for the students in the coming session. While this is only a practical training semester (Praxissemester), and a future teacher can afford such experiments, it becomes even tougher when you are a full-time teacher. During an interview conducted with teachers, many of them feel that having worksheets and the book could cut down the time to prepare for classes effectively. The question is, how to order the right book without going broke? Many schools, especially in the eastern and northern parts of Germany cannot afford the luxury of ordering books for bilingual teaching, due to a lack of funding by the state. The problem has been ongoing for over 15 years now, and unless the German government and the private sector can step in to help, the budget will be thinner. This includes the availability of (interactive) technology, which is making strides in many countries, including the US, but Germany is lagging behind in many areas. Therefore we are left with being creative in producing our own worksheets and activities, in order for the bilingual class to work at all. From my experience, if there are no print materials available in the school,  get some from the internet and plan to prepare early, as one page of worksheet- produced from scratch- will take you an hour. A summary,  30-minutes per page.

 

As far as the students were concerned, the results were mixed. There was a wide correlation between those having basic knowledge of English, those having sufficient enough knowledge of English to start a conversation and those who are fluent and have excellent knowledge of English, which makes finding the medium rather difficult. Yet once found, the next step was garnering their attention and involving them. Apart from the fact that the target group were 9th graders, many of whom are going through or have finished “growing up,” the key problem found in the group was being intimidated by the fact that the teacher was a native speaker of English, and even more so from America, which means they had to be acquainted with an American accent instead of the British one that they were used to hearing before. But as mentioned in a previous article, the trend a shifting towards an international form of English, where American and British English were being divulged into one with no accent and words from different regions.    In either case, after a pair of sessions, many of them became more forthcoming with communication and learning vocabulary, which was done through chalk and board and pronunciation (the latter was important to ensure that they are spoken correctly).  In some cases, when only a fraction of the group is not forthcoming with English, one could call on them to speak in a given situation. Yet many of them fell back to German to better explain their answers and opinions, a clause that exists in the curriculum provided by the state, but can also hinder their attempts to better themselves in a foreign language, like English.  Despite being active in discussions and learning new subjects through various methods, one of the factors that makes bilingual teaching ineffective, if looking at it from the student’s perspective, is the time factor. Two sessions of bilingual History in English a week with 45 minutes per session may be a lot for students, but not enough to better understand the subject material and reflect on the importance of the theme with the subject, like History.  This holds true if a teacher plans a session only to find that half of the session was covered due to external factors. Therefore, when planning your sessions in another language, look at your students and their language knowledge. Test their knowledge in the first session before planning your curriculum. Choose wisely when working with a subject like this one I did. Do not be afraid to experiment as long as your students are able to follow. But make sure your time is divided in a way that you complete your task, but the students can profit from it, especially when working within the confines of time.

 

From the teacher’s perspective after experimenting with bilingual teaching (History in English), one can summarize that it is possible to teaching subjects in a foreign language if and only if one follows the guidelines:

 

  1. Know your group and their language level
  2. Know the time you have for the module as well as per session
  3. Know what materials you need to make in connection with the given topic
  4. Know that it is ok to experiment if no materials are available in the school and you need to develop some
  5. Know that the students will need to adapt to the language, regardless if you are a native speaker or not
  6. Know that some students, who either lack the knowledge or are shy, need a push from you and some help with vocabulary in order for them to improve their foreign language skills
  7. Know that the students will be happy to have a summary at the end of the topic so that they have something as reference.

As there is an expectation that there are no books and other materials available, you need to know that time and efforts are needed, preferably before beginning the topic as it will enable you to make the adjustments along the way. And lastly, if you are teaching a subject in a foreign language for the first time, don’t be afraid to leave a copy of your materials for your colleagues for future use. You will do them a big favor.

 

Now that the teacher’s aspect has been spoken, we’ll have a look at what the other teacher colleagues and students have to say, as a questionnaire and an interview was carried out in connection with the topic. More on that later in the series on bilingual teaching in the German school.

 

Author’s Note: The Files will continue its series on In School In Germany through the end of September. Reason for that was because of the World Cup and lots of other non-column commitments, including things related to the Praxissemester. Stay tuned. 

In School in Germany: Overture

Learning for the future. Unknown painting taken by the author.

8:00 in the morning on a Tuesday. Place: A German Gymnasium.

For all the readers wondering what I’m doing in a German high school, I have a confession to make. Even though I love writing, which is the primary reason why I run two online columns, I love teaching even more. For 13 years, I’ve been around the block teaching English to adults, college students, pupils with high school degrees that are pursuing their apprenticeships in the area of industry and technology, and even kids. This includes six years at three universities, eight years at three institutions of continuing education (German: Volkshochschule) and lastly many years as a freelancer at other independent institutions that are supported by the German Job Service Agency (German: Agentur für Arbeit).

Yet, like in the United States, teaching in Germany is a difficult job to keep for two reasons:

1. Educating the people, in particular students, can be an exhausting job- exhausting enough that many of the educators quit well before retirement to pursue another career. This can stem from having your authority be undermined by students and even staff members. It can also include losing interest because the demands of the students are different now than in the past. It could also be a physical problem, where you lose your voice or suffer from burn-out. In either case, teaching can be a chore but also a charm if you have the right ammunition full of creativity and materials to give to the students, and that they are very thankful for what you are giving them to learn.

2.  Many teachers at the university live off limited contracts ranging from a year to four years. In Germany, the average  amount of time an English teacher stays on at a university is only two years, with many states not allowing extension possibilities or even providing permanent contracts, even if you have a PhD degree.  While some states have clauses that keep people on even longer, others, like Bavaria, don’t even allow you to look for another job at another university in the state once your contract runs out, unless there are loopholes. This can be torture if your students are used to your teaching and enjoy every minute in class, only to have another teacher in your place for two years, with a “fresh set of ideas,” as one of my former colleagues put it, but whose teaching qualities are not to the students’ liking, most of the time that is.

 

Likewise pay at the university as well as the school is below what a person receives at a   corporation.  No wonder why teachers are high in demand and efforts are being taken to improve working conditions at all educational institutions from the bottom up.

 

After a two and a half-year stint at a university in Erfurt (which followed two years in Bavaria), it was time for me to find something permanent, instead of living a life as a nomadic lecturer living off limited contracts. Teaching is something I enjoy doing, and the safest place to get a permanent post is in a German high school. To do that, I had to go back to school to get a teaching degree, which I started pursuing last year.  At this time, right now in the present, I’m about to do a five-month teaching semester at a Gymnasium in the state of Thuringia (name and place are being kept anonymous for legal reasons).

In preparing for the Praxissemester (as Germans call it), I had a few questions that needed to be answered. First of all, how is teaching in a German school different than in the US?  Both countries have their own set of requirements for becoming a teacher and curriculum to be carried out in the classroom. Plus the mentality of the students in a German and American classroom is different in many ways.  Secondly, what are the people’s attitudes towards learning a foreign language in general? How can a person teach a foreign language to a group of 10-18 year-olds without having to lose them in the process? How important is history in the classroom, and how do people handle delicate topics?  What are the central themes that affect educators, parents and students today, which include psychological problems, like Burn-out Syndrome, or addiction to Smartphones, internet and video games?  And what makes a teacher an excellent teacher that is well-respected, appreciated of what he is doing and feels good about showing the students ways to their future of happiness and success?

 

Chapel at Cornell College in Iowa. Photo taken in 2011

 

In the next six months, the Files will go behind the scenes in a German school, uncovering some of the themes that are important in today’s educational environment, providing some tips on how to become a better teacher, and comparing the German and American educational systems and the changes that have been undertaken since 1996, the year yours truly graduated from high school in the state of Minnesota. For expatriates wanting to teach in Germany, some tips on how to obtain your teaching license and teach in German schools will be provided as well.  It is my goal to show the readers, like you, what life is like as a high school teacher, from multiple perspectives, but also show that teaching can be a great experience if you have the right tools to do the right job, the right support for feeling right about the profession, and the right frame of mind to help others make the right choices that are important in their lives.

My entries may not be daily, but the posts will come very often, and while there may be some people that will provide some articles as guest columnists, and interviews will definitely be carried out, almost all of the articles on this series will come from yours truly, who will be witnessing what school life is like live, for the first time since being a high school student 20 years ago, and in a country whose language is not English, but is screaming for native speakers to make the language fun to teach in Germany.

An outline of the themes to be covered can be found at the end of this article, but you can also provide me with some questions, either on the Files’ facebook page or via e-mail at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.

 

So without further ado, welcome to class everybody. Sit down and turn to the first article of the series…..

 

 

OUTLINE OF SERIES:

Education System in Germany and the USA

_ Structure

_ Training to become a teacher

_ Changing trends since 1996

 

Teaching methods/didactics (German: Fachdidaktik)

_General

_English

_History

 

Teaching in a German school (experience, themes, etc.)

_Tips on becoming a successful teacher

_Pitfalls to avoid while in school

_Expectations of American expatriates

_Themes affecting students and teachers in Germany

_Burnout Syndrome

_Right-wing extremism

_Financial support from the state

_Other themes discovered during Praxissemester