Changing for the better #globalteachers

Changing for the better #globalteachers

This entry is going to deviate a little from the previous “here’s all the amazing things we did today” type posts.  We’re currently at the start of a five hour bus ride headed from Freiburg to Munich.  The countryside is absolutely beautiful.  It’s almost like driving through the Appalachian Mountains with the curvy roads, valleys, and forests.  Only the beauty is magnified by 1000.  It seems like around every corner is a little village nestled between green hills, the spire of the church standing up from the town center.  Since we’ve left so early, many people are sleeping and it’s given me some time to reflect on what this trip has meant to me.

If I’m being completely honest, I am not, by nature, a very adventurous person.  I am a homebody and often find it difficult to spend time with a lot of strangers or crowds.  The weekends are spent with my family playing at home or going to the park.  But during this trip I have been surrounded with amazing people whose only goal has been to see and do as much as possible.  Getting caught up in their enthusiasm, I have spent my evenings exploring picturesque villages, seeing buildings over 500 years old, and trying foods that are absolutely delicious.

The memories from this trip will last me a life time.  But what I’m starting to realize is this trip has sparked in me the desire to make more memories.  I want to travel more with my husband.  I want to experience more beautiful places like this with him.  I want my girls to remember a childhood filled with adventure and excitement.  More importantly, I want to be a role model for them and help them see how powerful it can be to see and do new things.

One of the goals of the Go Global NC organization is to foster global awareness and connections.  I already free like I have learned so much here.  While much of what we have learned isn’t necessarily in my sphere of influence to change back home, I still feel a connection to the people we have met and the organizations we have heard from.  That connection makes me want more.  I want to learn from more people.  I want to see and hear what other countries are doing.  I want to make those global connections.  And I think that is exactly the point of this program.  I feel so lucky to be a part of it.

Learning from Germany #globalteachers

Learning from Germany #globalteachers

On Sunday we visited the Reichstag, home of the German government.  I’ve been thinking a lot about that and their political system.  The biggest political difference between the United States and Germany is the fact that we have a Two Party system and they have multiple political parties.  This has some really desirable effects and creates some unique requirements for their elections and government.

The biggest advantage to their system is that no one party can get enough spots in the government to govern independently.  They HAVE to work together as parties in coalitions.  Because of this, their political season is much less contentious.  It’s pretty hard to cooperate with someone when 6 months ago you were yelling about what a terrible representative they’d be.

But one of the most profound things I’ve seen in Germany is an unwillingness to forget their history.  It seems at almost every opportunity they take the chance to acknowledge the terrible role their country played in the war.  The site we visited with a long section of the Berlin Wall and the WWII museum is called, on their website, a “documentation center”.  There seems to be this unspoken understanding that being upfront about the mistakes of the past contributes to not repeating them.

This, of course, leads me directly to thinking about our own situation in the United States.  We have had some pretty horrific events/eras in our country as well.  But we want to believe that they are in the past and don’t affect us today.  The thing is though, they are not in the past.  Prejudice and discrimination is still alive and well in this country.  Whether it’s against people of color, the LBGTQ community, different ethnicities, or even women, we can’t pretend this isn’t an issue that needs to be continually discussed, documented, and rectified.

In addition, the idea of compromise and bipartisanship has practically disappeared.  We view people of different opinions as someone to beat in a contest.  It’s either our opinion or theirs, someone has to lose.  Even I’m guilty of this.

How do we bring back openness to new ideas and the spirit of compromise for the better good?  How do we learn to work together to solve huge problems.  Does that need to start in the classroom?  I’ve been hearing for years kids who say, “I don’t want to work with them.  I don’t like them.” or “I can’t be in their group, I don’t work well with them.”  When did this become okay????  It isn’t a big leap from “I don’t want to work with them” to “I don’t want to be around them” to “They shouldn’t be allowed”.

I really don’t have any answers.  I think there are things that Germany can learn from the United States (especially when it comes to their educational system), but I KNOW there are things we can learn from Germany.  Namely a sense of cooperation and an awareness of how our past is still influencing our present.

Where Germany, the United States, & school intersect #globalteachers

Where Germany, the United States, & school intersect #globalteachers

Before I even get started in what we did today, I have to say how ingenious the Germans can be sometimes.  Since taking care of the environment is such a huge part of their culture, it only makes sense that they have edible jam cups at breakfast in the hotels!!


Ok, on to our day!

Today was the first day we were able to visit a German school!  We started our morning by visiting the JFK School.  This is a German-American bilingual school that accepts both German students but mainly serves American students whose parents are in the military, work for the embassy, are living in Germany, etc.  It is a K-12 school and was really, really fascinating to visit.

However, that being said.  I am going to preface this description by stating right out, the JFK School is basically a charter school.  It is application based, has highly motivated and involved parents, few resources for students with disabilities, and less than 20% of the students are low income or struggle academically.

I believe that in the current US system, and NC in particular, most charter schools are exclusionary and a form of modern day segregation.  When you do not provide transportation, free and reduced lunch opportunities, or classes/resources for students with disabilities, you are automatically setting up a system that is inaccessible to low income (and often minority) students.  Even when these resources are provided, low income families do not often have the knowledge or experience to know how to seek out these opportunities or navigate the school of choice world.  Add in to that charter schools that are run by for profit companies or ineffective boards and you have these schools getting public funds not being held accountable to the same standards as public schools.

I say all of this to help people take the information about the JFK School with a grain of salt.  Yes, their school is amazing.  There are things we can learn from them and maybe even take back to the states, but it is not a representation of an average German school.

Disclaimer over!

So we started our day at the JFK School speaking with the managing director (he is one of 4 principals elected by the group to be the managing director).  Fun fact: all of the principals still have to teach at least 6 hours/week!!  The school is completely bilingual and we definitely witnessed this!  The kids start at the school in the Entrance Class.  This class is a mix of both German and American children.  Everything is said in both German and English (this continues for two more years).  Once they hit 3rd grade reading/writing classes are conducted in their Mother Tongue and they also get language class in, what they call, their Partner Tongue.  Science, Social Studies, Math, and Music are all mixed language.  We observed a discussion in a 4th grade Social Studies classroom that started in German and midway switched over to English.  Both the kids and teacher switched effortlessly between languages!

The number one thing I noticed at that school is how normal everything was.  It could have been any school in the US.

We kept saying, “kids are kids are kids”.  Many of the school projects hanging on the wall were things that would fit right in back home (some I’m even going to share with my teachers for ideas!).

The other thing I noticed was how little technology there was.  Each classroom had a projector and a Smartboard but very few classrooms had computers and those that did only had two or three.  The principal stated that that is not a huge priority for them right now because they don’t believe that technology should replace the teacher and technology won’t just be an easy fix.  While I agree with those statements, it definitely sounds like they have not embraced many of the ideas around digital learning.

We ended our visit at the school by eating lunch in the cafeteria with the kids (we were there while 4th -6th ate).  Lunch was freshly cooked, though many students chose to grab a sandwich or wrap from the little snack counter.  Everyone used real plates, glasses, and silverware!  Students came into the cafeteria, ate lunch, and then went outside to play.  ALL ON THEIR OWN.  Let me emphasize that.  There was one adult floating around the cafeteria, but the kids all came in and sat wherever they wanted, bussed their own trays, and went outside with no direction!  I wish we had been able to stay long enough to see the primary grades eat.  They were putting out all of the plates and silverware on the tables for them when we left.


During the afternoon we visited Humboldt University to talk with some of their staff about the initiatives they’ve implemented to provide university studies to immigrants and refugees.  It’s really disgusting we don’t have the same mentality about trying to welcome and integrate those coming to the US.  We also were presented information about multilingual education in Germany.

The evening was spent walking around Berlin, visiting a German bakery and doing a little souvenir shopping.  Afterwards I got to do a Google Hangout with a 4th grade class and had so much fun with them!  They asked a TON of really, really good questions and I was so excited to share this trip with them.  It went so well, we’re going to try for one more time before I go home!

Tomorrow is an early day. 5 am departure for the airport to fly to Stuttgart.  It will be interesting to fly to a different region and see how it differs from Berlin (Brandenburg), Germany.

Getting lost has never been so fun #globalteachers

Getting lost has never been so fun #globalteachers

What an adventure today!  Sometimes the best laid plans don’t work out.  And sometimes those mistakes can lead to great experiences.  Today a large group of us were going to start the morning with a boat tour down the Spree River and then visit a museum.  Well, two other teachers and myself got held up and separated from the group.  We worked on catching up, but unbeknownst to us, we were going in the completely wrong direction.  However, we got to see a lot of the city (not to mention get A TON of steps in) and ended up going straight to Museuminsel (Museum Island).  Getting to Museuminsel so quickly allowed us to see both the Altes Museum (ancient Roman & Greek work) and the Neues Museum (ancient Egyptian works).  My favorite room of both was, by far, the Rotunda in the Altes Museum (which was built in the 1820s!!!).  Along the wall are lifesize statues of Greek gods and on the dome ceiling are images of winged figures and zodiac symbols.

Along the same plaza as the Altes Museum was the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral).


The first half of the afternoon included a short bus tour on our way to the Reichstag (German Parliament building).  We saw the Konzerthaus Berlin (I bet you can figure out what that is), the French Church (built in the early 1700s because the French wanted to go to a church that spoke French), and the German Church (built for the same denomination as the French church but with services in German), Checkpoint Charlie (the third, and most famous, Allied checkpoint between East & West Berlin), Trabi World (Trabant are a car unique to East Germany).

I’ve always considered myself fairly knowledgeable about history, but I’m realizing there is SO much I don’t know about the second half of the 20th century, especially concerning world affairs.  I’m starting to see just how superficial my knowledge is when it comes to the years between World War II and the new millennium.  And what little knowledge I do have is very US-centric.  I definitely need to go back and learn more of the history of this era.

We also got to stop at a well known chocolate shop.  They had these AMAZING chocolate sculptures.

Gotta love German humour…


After this tour we traveled to see the Brandenburg gate.  Just a few blocks away was where the Berlin wall passed and also nearby is the Reichstag.

The Reichstag has a very long and, in parts, terrible history.  Home to the German government, it was set on fire in the early 1930s with the rise of the Nazis.  Severely destroyed, it fell into disuse until the 1960s when it was rebuilt, but did not become the seat of the German government again until after German reunification.

My favorite part about the building is that due to the nature of German elections, the number of people elected from each party can change.  So seats must be rearranged to accommodate the correct number of people in each of the party groups.  So flexible seating has even made its way to the German government! 🙂

Flexible seats

That night I got my first experience riding the German Ubahn (underground train).  We traveled to see the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and then found a DELICIOUS German restaurant for dinner (I had the Wiener Schnitzel).

All in all, a very long, but exciting day with tons of new learning and appreciation for the city of Berlin and its history!

Day 1 in the books #globalteachers

Day 1 in the books #globalteachers

Wow!  The first day is already done.  The trip already feels short when looking at the itinerary, but if today was any indication, it is going to fly by!

After not much sleep on the airplane, today was a busy day of sightseeing and recovering from jet lag.  We arrived in Berlin and immediately hopped on a bus for a tour of the city.  What struck me right away was the juxtaposition between old and new.  Buildings that were built pre-WWII (18th & 19th century), right alongside those built 200 years later.  But what’s interesting is that even the “new” buildings look old.  Some of this is by design, but some of it is, I think, many of the new buildings are at least 20 years old.  I saw very little new construction.  Berlin, of course, is steeped in the legacy of the horrors of WWII.  Many of the older buildings still show damage from bombs.  It almost feels (structurally speaking) as if the effects of that war and then the Cold War are just beginning to lift.



First actual stop off the bus was a “documentation center” (basically a sort of museum), the Topographie des Terrors.  It had the remains of a basement wall of the building that became the headquarters of the SS. 20170617_040540

In addition, part of the site contained a large section of the Berlin Wall.


It’s so surreal to think about an entire city just split in half and not being allowed to go from one side to the other.

After that we visited the Holocaust Memorial.  There are 2,711 rectangular blocks to honor the Jews murdered during the war.  The story is that there is no significance to that number because the artist wants visitors to focus on whatever meaning they take away from the memorial.  Very breathtaking and seemed to stretch on forever in all directions.


A couple blocks down the street from the memorial is the site where Hitler’s bunker was.  What’s interesting is some sites around the city have been left as is, war damage and all, but other sites they have torn down.  The bunker is one of the latter.  They have completely filled it in with gravel and sand and then paved/built over it.  So this is what it looks like now.


I’ve got a cute little hotel room.  It’s MUCH tinier than most people from the US are probably used to.20170617_120229

But it’s got an amazing view.  Both during the day…


…and at night.


We ate very traditional German food today.  Lunch was a SUPER delicious bratwurst.  For dinner it was rouladen and yummy “pancakes” (crepe) with blueberries.


Everyone on the trip is so nice and I’m really enjoying hanging out with them and experiencing this amazing place.  Tomorrow we have free time and some “challenge by choice” activities to try.  We’ll see if I’m able to push out of my comfort zone a little bit!

Leaving for Germany #globalteachers

Leaving for Germany #globalteachers

A few months ago I was selected as one of the recipients of the Borchardt Award.  This program provides teachers from the Triangle area the opportunity to travel abroad with the GoGlobalNC organization and other teachers throughout the state to increase their global awareness to (hopefully) bring that experience back and share with their students and staff.    This year’s trip is to Germany and the day of departure has finally arrived!

A large part of why I applied to this program (other than the awesome opportunity to travel) is that I really believe it is more important than ever for people to be aware of the greater world that we are all a part of.  I want the students (and teachers) at my school to learn about and appreciate other cultures.   In the fight against intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, etc those of us in the majority have to learn how to remove ourselves and our experiences from the center of the conversation and give way to the voices of those who have been historically marginalized.  Learning about and appreciating other cultures is one small step towards doing this.

I hope to bring back a small piece of Germany and share my trip with everyone at my school and beyond.  I’m really excited to document the trip here and on Twitter.  I can’t wait to visit German schools and learn about Germany’s incredible renewable energy program.  This truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I hope I am able to capture all of my learning and reflection here!

There are 28 teachers on this trip and in true teacher fashion, today has been spent matching names to faces.  Our first leg leaves from Newark to Berlin at 6pm.  Between the 8 hour flight and the 6 hour time change we arrive right at 8am Saturday.  Needless to say, I will be trying to sleep on the plane.

Auf Wiedersehen!