Sunday, August 21, 2011

Week 1 DONE!

This week was my first week at the International School of Düsseldorf, and I have to admit, it was REALLY fun! For someone who has never read my blog before, you will soon see, that I am a huge teacher geek. For those who've known me, this will come as no big surprise. The relief factor is so huge, words cannot even describe it. I was so petrified and stressed out about starting school that even one of my friends here told me that she could see a difference in me after a week because I had chilled out significantly! PHEW!

It is so great to be at a school again that values my professional opinion in my own classroom and just leaves me alone to do what I need to do! I was able to spend all of my classes this week getting the relationships, rituals, routines, and BID-NESS taken care of that I know, especially as a middle school teacher, are so important to having a good year!

Part of this week included teaching "Thinking Routines" and I have decided to make a quick procedural poster for each one that we'll do. So, the next time we do one of them, I can just quickly say the name for it and the kids will know what I mean! This (naming the routines and making posters of them) is something new I am trying this year as I think about making things as transparent as possible for the kids. And, since many of my kids are English Language Learners, this also provides a visual cue for things that might be a bit abstract. I don't put the poster up until we've talked about it and practiced the routine. 
Every day this week as I was getting excited about things and sharing my excitement with people, they would say "Welcome to an international school!" For example:

1. My largest class has 21 students. (Yep. You read that correctly. WHAT? I know.)
2. My kids ALL (and I mean ALL) say thank you when I hand them a paper.
3. Our cafeteria has a SALAD BAR and the food is actually cooked ON SITE!
4. I have an interactive white board, and asked for a document camera and VOILÀ...there it was!
5. ALL of my kids come with school supplies. (Even markers, scissors, glue, etc.)
6. Almost all of the kids speak AT LEAST three languages and have lived all over the world.
7. Kids seem a bit more accepting of differences because they're all inherently very different given that they are from/have lived all over the world.
8. The average stay at the school for kids is only about 1-3 years so they've all experienced being new and are extremely willing to help out other new kids, more so than I have ever encountered before.

Does it feel like I am cheating on public education? Yes, yes it does. I feel a little bit ashamed to share all this stuff with people who have had their class sizes increase to ridiculous numbers this year. But, this is what I am doing for at least the next two years, so I'll just apologize in advance if it seems like I am rubbing stuff in...I'm not trying to, just sharing my experience!

Our schedule is going to be hard for me to get used to from a memory standpoint. I cannot remember which class is coming in next, let alone what I have planned for that hour. I have toyed with about 5 different planning/organizing/documenting systems this week and think that I might have gotten one down. I had planned on trying to do it all in my ipad, but alas, I am a pencil/eraser girl.

This is my 9-day schedule. Instead of 5 day weeks, we have a 9 day cycle that goes by cycle day instead of week day.  The thing that I really like about it is that because the day of the week doesn't matter but the day of the cycle does, I see different groups on the last period of a Friday pretty much every Friday! Ultimately, this seems like it will really improve my instructional capacity.
Now don't get me wrong, it has not been all roses. I am expected to unit plan with some people who are not super happy that our head of department is requiring us to start from scratch this year. I can see why this would irritate someone who has been teaching a long time, but for me, it is nice because I am never good at teaching from someone else's unit/daily plans (hence one of the many reasons that I was always having issues at my English school) and so I like that I am given opportunities to do backwards-design unit plans from the very beginning. I think I've come up with some cool assessment ideas but it is really hard to share them with people who are not constructivist in the same way that I am.

Here's a link to a definition of Constructivism if anyone is wondering what the heck I am talking about....

Because I see all teaching/learning through the lens of inquiry, discovery, and constructivism, sometimes I have a hard time (and by sometimes, you will know that I really mean ALWAYS) planning with people who are not this way. I have been tested mentally already and am trying to apply some of my Cognitive Coaching strategies instead of just being a brat (like I would prefer to do though it is not very professional) and throw my hands up while saying "FINE! I'll just do it my own way and don't care what you want to do!" But, we are expected to do things together so I will continue to try. The good thing is though, I am FULLY supported by my head of department (UNLIKE last year...uh...just the thought of her makes smoke come out of my ears) and the school administration seems to think like me about assessment based on the book that they gave us at our staff training. And, just to demonstrate the extent of my nerdiness, you can know that, yes, I already read most of it. 

So, as week two begins, I am trying to actually plan some real content lessons and creating/searching for a lot of resources because I will be teaching some things that I have never taught before. I do have solid amounts of time during the school day to get stuff done (those white boxes on my schedule) so I am really trying to use that time the best that I can.

And, don't week wasn't all about school! I have some workout buddies (FOR FREE) at school. A few of us are just moving the tables and doing some Body Combat-esque videos which is perfect for me as I am in the hole about $2 million after having been unemployed for so long. Not sure what my gym situation is going to be but I will wait a bit to figure it out. For now, I am really enjoying the after school workouts and am having almost as much fun doing it as I would at an actual gym!  Plus, I don't have to go anywhere.

This weekend was pretty fun. Our administrators put €400 toward a bar tab at an outdoor café near school so we all went there after school on Friday. Saturday I did some farmer's market shopping, had lunch with my only non-school friends Barbara and Todd, got a pedicure, and went out to dinner with some new friends from school. The weather was DELIGHTFUL (like Southern California) on Saturday so I was out and about outside downtown a lot. Everyone else had similar ideas and it was very busy around town.

This was one of several "party bike" options that one can rent to ride around Düsseldorf.
If you want to drink any beer, there are literally options about every 2 inches (I should say centimeters since this is Europe but then it would be 2 inches X 2.54 centimeters = the distance one must travel in Germany to find beer!)!!
Another party bike! My Dutch friends said that is a Dutch invention that has since been banned in Holland because people would get wasted and fall off! If the Dutch are banning something, you know it must be dangerous! I think it still looks pretty fun. This is a bike/bar for about 12 people!
Yesterday, along the Rhein River, there was a random marching band. Hilarious.
Also hilarious is that my phone autocorrects the word "Rhine" to "Rheumatic!"
"Wine on the Rheumatic" doesn't have quite the same ring to it as does "Wine on the Rhine!"
Today I have been getting myself prepared for my week through the never-ending doing of laundry and lots of school-related activities. Not having a dryer SUCKS OUT LOUD! I really like my apartment. I can't remember if I have said this yet, but I do. Having my own place again is GLORIOUS! And, apparently, a lot of people here have a cleaner for hardly anything so (WHAT? WHAT?) I am hopefully going to have one too! What's not to like about that?!?
This is my room! You will notice the lack of any knick-knacks. That will come later.
I am still working on things like lightbulbs!
I have, at least, gotten a few frames and figured out how to print pictures so my house has some personal touches! 

If you've hung in through this whole post, thank you. I have been really busy during the week but am going to really try to make sure that I get to it on Sundays! I would really appreciate it everyone I know could have a blog so I too can keep up with the minutiae of your life as well!

To all of my CBMS peeps...I will be thinking about you this week! I still do not like starting a school year (or really working in a school at all) without you! I miss "the gauntlet!!"

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Let the fun begin (as if it hasn't already...)!!

This was my final week of training before school starts with kids on Tuesday. And, to be perfectly honest, it has been quite fun for a variety of reasons. Now some of those reasons are definitely related to the amount of free booze provided by the school in this final week, but many of the other reasons are related to professional (and not booze related) factors.

This week we had a guided city tour as part of our training and part of that included a drinking lunch at a nice restaurant downtown. Oh, private school life, how different you are!

Teachers don't usually get to do the "drinking lunch" without
going to jail or this one was pretty exciting!
Mostly I have just been hanging around with new teachers since we've only had one day back with the whole staff. There are 30 new people this year between the elementary and the middle/high school and so we've had a large group and gotten to know each other pretty well these last two weeks. The whole school has well over 200 staff members (including support staff, HR, etc.) and so there are obviously a ton of people left for me to meet!

Here are some other pictures from our city tour. We went up a giant tower (come visit and you too can go up a giant tower in Düsseldorf) and so we got some great views of the city!

Here's the giant tower! Fortunately there was an elevator to the top!

Our tour guide told us how Düsseldorf is a "young city" because it was only founded in the 1200's.
As a North American, this is just hilarious to me. 

Another view of the church that will have a straight steeple only when a "true virgin" gets married there.
It was reconstructed after the war to look this way because this is how it looked before WWII.
The very top was so heavy that the original tower started to twist and since that was part of the church's charm, they reconstructed it this way.

Düsseldorf is known for cartwheels. Also, hilarious.
It has something to do with men coming back from war (like hundreds of years ago) and all the boys doing cartwheels to celebrate. Nowadays, there is a contest every year that just recently allowed girls to be involved too (that whole "dress" thing got in the way when doing cartwheels apparently until girls were allowed to wear pants!).

View from the tower.
Düsseldorf's on the Rhein River in case you hadn't picked that up yet.

There are six suspension bridges in this area that are all exactly the same.
The old bridges were blown out during WWII.
85% of the old part of the downtown (the Altstadt) was destroyed because the Americans were right across the river and this whole area of Germany was home to many munitions factories.

The one part of the city that wasn't destroyed at all during the war. This area is called Oberkassel and it is on the opposite side of the river from the rest of the city-- the part of the city where the Americans were launching the bombs into the Altstadt so it was spared. The tram goes right across the bridge in just a few minutes from downtown.
Besides the great city and the great people that I've met so far, I am really enjoying working on curriculum design at my new school. Basically, from what I can tell so far, not a lot was actually written down in terms of a scope and sequence until this year when the department head (whom I love so far!) decided to just get it down on paper for a jumping off point (and we have our IB accreditation this year in January!). The big difference between this school and other places where I've worked is that there is no governing agency prescribing a specific curriculum. There are very (VERY) loose frameworks provided by IB for the Middle Years Programme (grades 6-10 in the International Baccalaureate program which shall henceforth be known as the MYP in my blog) but it is relatively general and centered on the big ideas of science like change, systems, structure/function, etc.

This is super exciting and scary at the same time. It is about as opposite as you could get from what I was doing last year where the curriculum was prescriptive to the millionth degree. It is also quite different from what I've done in Colorado too, but fortunately I had enough freedom at CBMS that I was able to arrange my units in ways that I thought worked best for my kids, etc. so I am familiar with curriculum design to a degree. Having to plan things for three grade levels basically from scratch (while trying to work with other teachers and reach agreement...always a hard thing) is definitely going to test my skills in curriculum design, but, is also TOTALLY fun and lets me be creative!

I am so thankful that I have had the opportunity to use Understanding by Design for unit planning where you design the assessments first and then plan for understanding while you work toward those assessments. MYP unit planning is very similar to Understanding by Design but has an additional layer because we have "Areas of Interaction" that are related to everything being internationally minded. The "Areas of Interaction" are like the lens you put on each unit. They are Human Ingenuity, Health & Social Education, Environments, Community & Service, and Approaches to Learning (Metacognition) and this is going to be the super-new aspect of the MYP for me compared to what I've been doing so far in my career. To give an example of how these are first unit for seventh grade is on human reproduction and factors that affect survival of fetuses, babies, and children. So, the Area of Interaction that we will use for this unit will be Health & Social Education and we will look at human reproduction/survival through the idea that different countries have different resources and that these factors often affect survival and health. I am sure that this is similar to "thematic units" that people did in the 80s/90s but the themes are just more broad and every subject area (including art, music, & PE) uses the same ones. I think it is super-cool and it is definitely pushing my skills and challenging me!

That being said, I do feel a high degree of self-efficacy so far because planning inquiry-based science units is one of my favorite things to do, professional speaking, and I am being supported here by my department head and my MYP coordinator to be creative! I just don't feel like anyone is going to come in to my classroom with a checklist (like last year) and repeatedly tell me how much I suck! I don't feel beat down and overwhelmed like I already did before school started at my English school. I feel like I might actually have a life here! WOO HOO!

Speaking of that, in about a month, I will begin an intense German class for six hours per week that will go until Christmas. I am going to take it at the adult education center downtown with another teacher from my school, Lauren. I am surviving okay not speaking German but I kind of feel like a jerk that my first question is always "Sprechen Sie English?" While we were getting our cell phones hooked up the other day, the guy in the store was apologizing (who, btw, was named Wayne! "Hi Wayne...Hi!" à la Wayne's World) because he didn't think his English was very good. My friend Lauren and I were embarrassed because we're in Germany and here he was apologizing for not speaking English (which he totally did but everyone always says that they don't speak it well and they they speak it about as well as I do!). I think after three months of six hours/week, I will have a good start and will at least be able to converse on the basics! I have definitely already learned a lot of random words just from being in grocery stores, restaurants, and out and about around town.

Düsseldorf is turning out to be a great place to live (except the fact that they weren't lying when they said it was referred to as "Drizzledorf" because it sure does rain a lot here!)! There is a huge variety of restaurants of various ethnicities and hilariously, Düsseldorf is a hugely popular area for bachelor/bachelorette parties and so there are always a lot of groups walking around the Altstadt in matching t-shirts. Last night there was a whole group of guys in the Mexican restaurant where we were having a beer who were dressed in Leiderhosen and leather shorts. Awesome.

Rhonda, me, and Lauren. I think that I've already had a better social life here in two weeks then I had in nine months in England. It is just a lot easier to meet people because everyone is in the same boat and is new instead of me being the only new person. We've already had lots of laughs!
So, the kids start on Tuesday and tomorrow we have a final day of meetings and prep time to begin with kids! I will only meet three of my five groups of kids on the first day but within the first three days will have met everyone! I am nervous and excited but no more so than I am every year at the beginning of the year! I was definitely more nervous last year considering that I was expected to start teaching science on the first day of school whereas here, I am given complete freedom to do what I know needs to be done to build community and establish classroom rituals/routines. That fact alone is a HUGE RELIEF because I know how important and valuable that is and really like being in a school who shares my values. YAY!

Any education people out there...the school is really focused on assessment and gave us the book "Making Classroom Assessment Work" by Anne Davies. I read the first half and it is excellent and very practical and useful and I totally recommend it!

So, in a nutshell...having a great time and really psyched for school to get going! But, I still miss everyone (LOTS AND LOTS!) so feel free to Skype with me when you can!

Tschüss!!! (Bye!)

1. Michelle Bachman. REALLY? REALLY? REALLY?
2. I am obsessed with my ipad because while typing this, I have been streaming NPR and listening to "Prairie Home Companion" and "Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me!" on KUNC. I realize that I could have done this on my regular computer but it is just so much cooler on Ichabod Pad. (Thanks, Mama!)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Here's my new city...Dumbledore...wait, I mean, Düsseldorf...

I've been here just over a week. I am having so much fun that I am scared to jinx it by saying so...but I'll risk it...I am having so much fun! People at school speak my teacher language! I am encouraged to plan things that are creative and new and my ideas already feel valued. Again, don't want to jinx anything but I just really am having a great time at school and out and about on the town with my new school friends and with my new out-of-school friends, The Brydens. 
These are my new friends, The Brydens. They rock! They just moved to Düsseldorf
too and we have a mutual friend, Rachel, with whom I spent many a ridiculous night at the Rio or the Pickle Barrel while at undergrad at CSU! Yippee for new friends!
This week we had orientation at school but a lot of it involved scheduled visits to immigration offices and to the bank so there wasn't a lot of scheduled time every day while at school. So, I've had plenty of time to figure out where things are- except the copy room, which I plan to find tomorrow, and to get acquainted with the various aspects of life at ISD. 

I was relieved to find out that I have my own classroom and as soon as I had found that out, I began to prepare myself for the beginning of the year. 

Anyone who has been in my classroom will know that these
exact posters are essential for me to start the year!
My dad had the idea for me to translate Be Brave, Work Hard, Have Fun into
German to put next to these ones in English and I am totally going to!
It made me feel productive to make posters like this (and, like coloring, poster making is bizarrely therapeutic) and also I am just so happy that my school values giving me the time to spend building my classroom climate and culture. I will start each year group (I have 6, 7, and 8) exactly the same in terms of setting things up and will worry about differentiating it next year when I already know the kids at the beginning of the year.

I feel like at this school nobody is going to walk through my room with a clipboard and a checklist telling me what a crap teacher I am every third day. Nobody is going to sit down with me and be like, "you need the basics of how to plan a lesson" like they did in my English school. Honestly, I feel a bit like I can just shut my door and do what I have learned through tons of professional development, what is good for kids! Any PEBC related people will be glad to know that my suitcases were packed (really heavy, so thanks!) with books so that I can share good resources with people at my school in terms of literacy! I have found that the elementary teachers here are my peeps in terms of our common values and common professional development. A lot of them have worked with Ron Ritchhart and Project Zero and  used the work of Ellin makes me excited that I have people to talk to about that kind of stuff! The high school people are more like "high school people" and very subject-area oriented and think I am kind of a silly (but not in a bad way) middle school person...but I DON'T CARE! That is who I am and I am proud that I am good with working with that age of kids, because not everyone is! 

I also got my schedule this week. I will have an 8th grade homeroom and then will teach two sections of 6th, two of 7th, and one of 8th grade. The schedule is relatively complicated and we have a 9-day schedule as if there were nine days in a week. So, we go by schedule day and NOT what day of the week it is. For example, just because it is Friday does not mean that it is Day 5. Day 5 would just be whatever day of the actual week it happens to fall on. So, once we do 9 days, we start over to Day 1. I have two or three 50-minute blocks off everyday which is AWESOME so I will be able to actually get lots of work done at school as long as I can keep my socializing under control...which is truly something I have to think about! I was so lucky at CBMS since I was on a team with the people with whom I socialized the most so we had to see each other daily anyway. But, I suppose seeing what is going on in the rest of building will help me with my secret goal of becoming an instructional coach. And, the Asst. Principal told me that once I get settled in here to bring it up because he would like to discuss some options. SWEET!!!

On a social note....
Here are some pictures from around Düsseldorf from the week!

These outfits are for sale at a huge department store downtown!
I might have to buy one, because, really, how can I not?

Took a river cruise on the Rhein around Düsseldorf (yeah, I know...big surprise, I took another river cruise) and here are some pictures of the city...

My new friend, Rhonda. She is another science teacher in my department
but will teach high school. She's Canadian but taught in Stavanger, Norway for the last three years.
I am trying to not be a snotty American and make fun of Canada like I usually do!! :) Curse you, South Park
for teaching me all those things!

I liked how this was an old tower and they just build a modern
building right around it!

I think that more than saying "I am obsessed with river cruises" what this
cruise actually taught me is that major cities are often built on waterways since
I have now been on cruises in London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen. Geography lesson, people!

It isn't just the picture- the church steeple is a bit crooked.
The legend says that it will be straight only when a "true virgin" gets married there.

See, still crooked.

MEAT! I cannot tell you how easy it is to do a low carb diet in Germany (if you can
avoid potatoes and bread because there are lots of delicious choices) because there is A LOT of choice when
it comes to meat! This was a meat case at a street market.

Gorgeous and cheap flowers too!

Bulk foods at the street market. Normally, I will shop a giant American-style
supermarket but on Sundays everything is closed but the street market.

First Brat! (Fed the bread to the seagulls...(this message just for Sally....just like we did
when we threw bread out the window driving my janky Plymouth Acclaim across Kansas forever ago!))

WINE ON THE RHEIN with Rhonda! Woo hoo!

German Wall Street. :) The B means two s's and Strasse means street.
But, this would be pronounced "vall-stasse"

There was a wine festival and these were the food options. Delish!
Who doesn't like wine and cheese in the middle of the day on a Sunday! Perfect!
So, I hope you get some idea of what Dumbledore, I mean, Düsseldorf, looks like! Many parts of the city are very modern because the majority of the city was destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II. Once school starts and I have my classroom set up, I will post some pics of that too!

This week we continue with orientation and then kids start on August 16th. I am pretty excited to just get on with it after the last 9 months without a job. Will update again soon!!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Return to the working world...

Just wanted to write a quick update about my first day of ISD. No kids yet! They start the 16th but today was our first day of training. We have 30 new teachers and so there were lots and lots of names to learn. But, we had a really fun day and I think by the end I know almost everyone's names. The day was loosely scheduled so we had lots of time to just sit around and socialize and get to know each other while filling out paperwork, getting our new email address, etc. I even got the digital pen to my Interactive White Board, which petrifies me completely as I don't even know how to turn it on! I saw some overhead projectors....phew! :)

I got my keys so I know I am real now! Today I will go do some work in my classroom and get all of my paperwork together to register for my work/residence permit! Thank goodness the school translates all of our forms because I am super lost!

The school had catered lunch for us and then in the evening, after a three hour break wherein we went to an adorable little cafe on the riverbanks of the Rhein, we had a dinner at an Italian restaurant near school. The dinner was super fun, and as all the teachers I have ever met generally do, the more wine flowed, the louder and sillier the teacher group became! (I know that happens to all people, but I feel like teachers are a special brand of let-loose-ers!)

New friends! They have all taught at places around the world fun!
So, to say it in a nutshell....I am having a great time, love my new apartment, and really like Düsseldorf. It is an easily navigable city without a car and I have found lots of stores, and even went to German yoga earlier this week. After living where I felt so stuck last year, I do not feel that AT ALL! Having a great time and since I know my social-butterfly self...I am going to have to work hard at school to not just spend my off periods chatting and actually being productive!

I got my schedule and will explain that later...but simply, I have two sections of 6th, two of 7th, and one of 8th grade...and guess what, unlike in my English school, the multiple classes in one grade level get to do the SAME it won't be how I had to plan something different for every group of kids. It will truly be three preps. YAY!

Off to "work"...