The School Year Begins

Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a teacher, and I can’t wait to see what students will teach me this year.  On Monday, our sixth grade scholars return to school for a week of orientation and a chance to get a feel for the school without those intimidating seventh and eighth graders.  The following Monday, I officially begin my first year as and English Language Arts teacher with my eighth grade scholars, and I don’t think I could be more excited.  I’m not quite ready yet–I still have some planning to do and logistics to figure out before then–but I will be, and I have the most incredible support system in my fellow eighth grade teachers, as well as the academic supports and general coworkers, so I know that I’ll be okay.  I’m nervous, too, but I accept the fact that I will not be the most awesome teacher ever (I need room for growth!), but that I also need to trust myself–my training, my instincts–and not be afraid to ask for help.  I’m embarking on quite the journey this year, and I’m ready to be pushed out of my comfort zone, to do everything I can to juggle what I need to juggle, and to strive towards being the teacher my students need.

 

I’ll keep you updated.  

Love Letters

I know it has been awhile since I’ve updated this blog, so I wanted to clearly state that it will be less about travel and more about teaching from now on.  =)

I’m working at a middle school in Rhode Island, this awesome charter school that does everything in its power to support students in all aspects of their lives.  I’m a literacy coach, which means I teach intervention classes–small groups of students who aren’t at grade level for literacy skills–and also work alongside content teachers to support students as much as possible.

Right now, I have two interventions–one for 6th grade and one for 8th grade.  They both meet twice a week for one hour-long class.  It’s a decent chunk of time, but the long gaps between meetings doesn’t always help.  Lately, I’ve been very frustrated with my 8th grade class.  The nature of interventions is tricky–often, intervention students are the ones who act out because they don’t understand, they don’t typically have the most positive attitude about school, and interventions are not graded classes, so there is no extrinsic reward to get your work done and learn what you need to do.  I have eight students in my eighth grade class (fitting, hmm?).  They are each wonderful people when I work with them individually (during lunch, one-on-one in class, etc.), but when I’m trying to instruct the whole group, they really push the limit.

Some of my struggles are due to lack of confidence–or experience–in terms of classroom management, but they definitely give me a run for my money.  Untrackable, repeated farting noises.  Incessant humming during quiet writing time.  Shouting out (and over each other) during read alouds.  Often, the behavior happens all at once, is hard to pinpoint on specific students, and just gets me frustrated.  Some days, I was feeling like all I didn’t even have time to teach between redirections.

At the beginning of this week, though, I met with one of the administrators in my building who would be coming for a full-class, announced evaluation–during my eighth grade class.  We had our pre-conference about how I was expecting the class to go, what students might struggle with, and the general logistics of my lesson plan.  I told her about my struggles with classroom management, and she gave me some really great advice, which boiled down to this: make that class your absolute favorite class, and make sure they know it.  In reality, every class should be my favorite class.  Her practical suggestions were to celebrate everything–even if they were only being good for five minutes, celebrate it and make a HUGE deal out of how awesome they are.  Tell the whole school!  Make sure they know that I think they are awesome and that I love not only what they are doing, but that I love them.

My first class with them of the week–the one before she was due to observe–were actually my lesson plans from the Thursday before Valentines Day.  We had ended up with a snow day that Thursday, and the following week (last week) was our school’s February break (that’s a thing in New England, apparently).  Our scheduled read aloud was sample letters from the book Other People’s Love Letters: 150 Letters You Were Never Meant to See.  Their quickwrite following the book was to write a love letter of their own–to a family member, a friend, or a significant other.  They didn’t have to deliver it, but they could if they wanted to.  Taking the advice of my supervisor in stride, I added something to that lesson:  I wrote them love letters, too.

My letters were nothing fancy–two sentences at most.  But I found a fun penguin notepad to write them on, and I dug deep to find honest compliments for each of my eight students.  They ended up being things like “I love the confidence you have in yourself, the ease with which you laugh, and your work ethic.  I’m so glad you are in our group!” or “I love your sincerity, your patience, and your passion (for food or otherwise).  I’m glad you are in our class!”

I was a little unsure how they would take them, or if I was taking the advice I had been given too literally, but it worked brilliantly.  They weren’t perfect little angels, but I could start to feel the attitude of the class changing.  By writing those notes, I showed them that I cared about them as people, and that even if I wasn’t always happy with the way they were behaving, it didn’t mean that I didn’t like them.

I had my observation today, our second class after my decision to love my students, and so far, things are going well.  They still spoke out of turn sometimes, or randomly got out of their seats.  But they kept the farting noises to the hallway.  They raised their hands, sometimes.  They did the work I asked without (too much) complaint.

After the lesson, I got an e-mail from a colleague, sharing out with the rest of the staff some “teacher talk” tips he had received from a PD.  As I was scanning through them, one in particular stood out to me:  “You can’t complain your way to a better relationship with your students.”  I don’t know that I was necessarily complaining about my students before, but I was most definitely venting.  And while that may have helped me to feel better momentarily, it wasn’t helping my students, my classroom environment, or me in the long run.  But making a decision to consciously and loudly love my students?  That seems to be making a difference.

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

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“The truth is beautiful.  Without a doubt; and so are lies”  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

So begins The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma, a beautiful book about an unnamed, unreliable narrator whose life centers around his numerous attempts to make it as a writer while pining over The One Who Got Away and dealing with the his jealousy of his longtime friend, the now successful writer.  Crafted in twelve sections, the unnamed–or rather, differently named–narrator tells stories of his life, leaving the reader to decide what, exactly, is the Truth.

While I love the way Jansma toys with the difference between truth and Truth on varying levels–from telling a story and filling in a few holes to actually impersonating someone else–the part I most delighted in was one of the final settings of the book, Luxembourg City.  Having spent four months living in the city, it was almost surreal to read descriptions of a place I saw through the seasons.  Jansma’s description here is, from my experience, pretty accurate–right down to the commemorative plates and mugs sold after a Grand Ducal wedding.  He used the setting as a way to highlight the contrast between old and the new, which is definitely a defining feature of Luxembourg City–the way the fortress walls exist next to high-end stores or the headquarters for Amazon are located in an otherwise quaint part of the city.  Ultimately, though, this book isn’t about Luxembourg.  Instead, it’s about the creative process, the way we decide how something is true, and how we come to understand both our emotions and ourselves.

Jansma’s narrative style–one that jumps around a bit and leaves much of the navigating to the reader–reminds me of one of my favorite books, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.  Both books weave together stories–in this case, stories from the same narrator, although at different points in his life and with different names and specifics–that ultimately work toward a unifying story.  They are the kind of books that leave you satisfied at the end, but also wanting to read it all over again because you just know you’ll get so much more out of it the second time.  It’s the same sort of book that you don’t want to talk about too much, because you don’t want to spill anything that would take away from the process of uncovering the story for yourself.

Saying Goodbye

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I’ve come to the point in my trip where I’ve begun to say goodbye—to people, to places, to foods.  The first of the goodbyes was at dinner last night, when Tina and I had our last kebab (döner), a food I first fell in love with during my high school exchange to Berlin five years ago.  (I maintain that the ones in Berlin are the best, but I don’t think I’ll ever turn down a good döner kebab.)  I’ve been fortunate to have had multiple experiences abroad, and I’ve learned that it’s practically impossible to live abroad—whether it’s for three weeks or twelve—and not be changed by the experience.  Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”  I think this is true, but there’s something about being removed from all that is familiar that forces you to have those new eyes, to look at even the most everyday things in a new way, and that level of observation and reflection can really shape a person.

One of the things I did this semester more than I’ve done in the past is to travel to other places.  In the past, I’ve studied abroad, but I’ve stayed in that base country.  These four months, I’ve learned from the culture of hyggae in Denmark, I’ve sung “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” while prancing around the gazebo from The Sound of Music, and I’ve stood in a reconstruction of The Globe, suspended in a state of awe.  I’ve sipped wine in the light of a shining Eiffel Tower and hot chocolate in the fjord of Oslo, Norway.  I’ve wandered into bookstores, read on trains (and buses and planes), and eaten more delicious foods than I can name.  I have been so fortunate in my travels, but I’ve learned that trips aren’t all about checking off those big-ticket items.  The Eiffel Tower is great, but maybe there’s a really awesome bookstore you’ll love more.  Big cities have their advantages, but maybe you’ll fall in love with a small town just over the border.  Museums may display priceless artifacts from the past, but sometimes walking around a city can help you discover the wonder of the present.  Ray Bradbury said that “half the fun of travel is the esthetic of lostness.”  I do think there’s something valuable about being lost.  It comes back to that level of observation, of being outside of your comfort zone, and actively seeking things.  When you travel off the beaten path—or maybe just go to unexpected places—you can blaze your own way a bit more.  You lose even more of those expectations and just create your own experience.  When you’re lost, you try to find your way again.  When you travel, you create an experience, because everything is one big adventure.

Speaking of adventures, I think my whole experience this semester—with both travel and teaching—has taught me a lot about the value of being flexible, of making the best of situations, and adapting.  I’ve been reading a lot of quotes about travel recently, if you haven’t been able to tell, and I think one by John Steinbeck applies here: “A journey is like marriage.  The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”  You can plan, yes, but you don’t control what happens when you travel or when you teach.  There are too many other factors, too many other people involved in the process, but that’s what keeps things interesting, that’s what makes each day new and exciting, and that’s what, in the end, makes the whole journey worth it.  In my last lesson with my language section today, I had them do oral interpretations (readings) of the poems that we’ve read together this semester. (I also gave them the option of reading a poem they wrote this semester.  Two took this option, and I am so proud of them for doing so!)  The purpose of the oral interpretations is not only, for them, pronunciation practice, but also a chance to get to know the poem on a different level, because reading a poem out loud for an audience requires a closer analysis, and I wanted them to have that experience.  I also thought it would be a nice way for us to end our time together—hearing all of the poems we’ve worked on together, and just enjoying some good poetry.  My favorite poem of the class, though, was an unexpected one, something that I had not anticipated and something that I had no control over—they wrote me an ode.  We talked about odes (and the differences between odes and elegies) a few weeks ago, so it was something we’ve covered together, and it was perfect—and a perfect example of how, sometimes, the unplanned things are the best parts of the journey.

My 3eA Students

My 3eA Students

I’ve learned quite a bit about both teaching and myself this semester, which is definitely a good thing, but I’ve also missed a lot of things about being home.  At the top of this list is the companionship of the people I know and love, both my family and my friends.  I’ve made some really lovely friends here, but being away from everyone hasn’t been easy.  Katherine Butler Hathway said, “A person needs at intervals to separate from family and companions and go to new places.  One must go without familiars in order to be open to influences, to change.”  As hard as being away this semester has been, I agree with her.  Being away from everyone you know is just another way of stepping outside of your comfort zone.  In one of my classes last year, we talked about Julia Cameron’s idea of an “Artist’s Date,” where you go on a date with yourself in order to refresh your pool of creativity—you go out and just be, observing and noticing new things.  I feel like this whole semester has been one big Artist’s Date, a time away from everything and everyone I know, a period of heightened observation, reflection, and learning.

This student teaching experience is far from the experience I would have had in the States, but I am walking (or I guess walking, driving, and flying would be more accurate) away from the experience feeling more prepared for teaching than I was when I arrived.  Teaching here has given me the opportunity to meet some incredible people, learn about new cultures, and gain necessary experience in front of the classroom.  There are many things that I will miss about Luxembourg and my time here, but I know that I will take them—and the lessons I’ve learned here—with me as I continue on, both in life and in my teaching career.  I found a quote (lots of quotes in this post, I know) by Jack Kerouac that applies here: “What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?  —it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye.  But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”  I’ve experienced another part of the world this semester, but now it’s time to say good-bye.  I’m not quite sure what my next crazy venture beneath the skies will be, but I’ll start with celebrating Christmas with my family and finishing my undergraduate degree.  From there, well, “the skies” is pretty ambiguous—who knows where I’ll end up?

Klees’chen

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Since I’m not student teaching in the States, there haven’t been any homecoming pep rallies, school dances, or extracurricular activities, but what the Premiere students had today was what I would call a Christmas-themed pep rally.  In our school, students choose a section for the last three years, identified as Section A through Section G, each with its own concentration.  Section A, for example, is the language section, D is the economics section, and F is the music section.  Each section has an average of fifteen students (brought down by the five in the music section…most sections have about twenty students), and today they came together to throw a St. Nicholas’ Day party.

IMG_6723Apparently this is a tradition only at my school, and other schools do not do this, but earlier in the year the Premiere (that’s the last year of school) students formed a committee for the planning of this event, which took place for two hours this morning.  Students in the upper three grades are excused from class to either participate in the events or stand by and watch, cheering in their section.  At the beginning of the event, each section was announced and paraded in to a song of their choosing, dressed in various holiday-themed outfits (or random outfits…I’m pretty sure I saw a care bear).  Each section had one Klees’chen (St. Nicholas), who represented the group for competitions later on.  There were angels, Housécker (Black Peter, who leaves switches for the bad children), advent calendars, pieces of candy, and presents, among other costumes.  As they made their entrance, they threw candy into the crowd, and soon the floor was littered with candy.

Once the competitions began, it became clear that the classes were calling out a teacher to come join them in the competition.  Different teachers obliged, coming forward for three-legged races, walks down the catwalk modeling crazy outfits, and quizzes.  Points were accumulated and sections eliminated as the celebration moved on, and there was lots of candy throwing going on—both from the Premiere students into the crowd and from the crowd at each other.  I had no idea what was going on half the time, but it was really neat to see the students so united about something, so excited, and being so creative.  They are so often quiet and stoic; it was nice to see them prancing around like reindeer and getting excited—makes you realize how excited they can be, if we just give them the chance to do something they are passionate about, or approach something in their own way.

Let the Christmas Season begin!

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Things this week have been highlighted by the arrival of the Christmas Season!  I know many Americans begin celebrating right after Thanksgiving, if not sooner, but most Europeans wait until the first of December, when advent calendars begin, or the 6th of December, St. Nicholas’ Day.  I’ve been listening to Christmas music since Thanksgiving dinner ended, but I officially began the season on Saturday when my friend Kelsey (who is studying in Germany this semester) came to Luxembourg City for the grand tour, which included the Luxembourg Weinachtsmarkt (Christmas Market), which had opened the day before.  We followed this up with a visit to Trier for the Weinachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) there.  Luxembourg put forth a solid effort, but the market in Trier was even more fantastic.  If you’re not familiar with the Christmas Market, dozens (if not hundreds) of little wooden huts are erected around the main square of the town, and a wide variety of stores operate from inside of these huts for the duration of the season.  A good number sell food—potato pancackes, roasted almonds, wursts (sausages), various cakes and cookies—and drinks—Gluhwein, a warm wine, hot chocolate, etc.—but the rest of them sell actual items.  These items range from Christmas ornaments to fine woodwork to candles to little gadgets to small figurines.  Just looking around and taking in the atmosphere can be a lot of fun!

Kelsey and I also ventured outside of the Christmas Market, though, to explore the rest of Trier.  We visited two remnants of the time when Trier belonged to the Roman Empire—the ruins of the never-completed Roman Baths and what is left of the Roman Amphitheater.  We wandered around the Baths and underneath the Amphitheater thinking about how different things would have been then, and how awesome/strange it is that something you can see in Italy can be so incredibly similar to something in Trier.  Our Christmas-y weekend was topped off by a wonderful dusting of snow on Sunday!

The snow continued on Monday, making my trip to Vianden in the north of Luxembourg a little sloppy but a whole lot more beautiful.  I didn’t have any specific purpose there, I just wanted to walk around and explore the village—and I did!  I had already visited the castle there at the beginning of the semester with the MUDEC bus tour, but hadn’t had the chance to explore the actual town, so that’s what this return trip was for.  It was a successful trip, and I was able to see a town I had seen at the end of summer with a fresh coat of snow, which was pretty neat.

The rest of the week continued in a flurry of lessons, more snow, and the arrival of St. Nicholas’ Day.  Officially being celebrated at the LCD tomorrow with a celebration planned by the Premiere (the oldest) students, many primary school students did not have school today in light of the holiday.  Last night, Tina and I went with our host family to Jordy and Sophie’s school concert, where they sang a variety of songs having to do with St. Nick visiting their houses.  My favorite, I think was the “Weinachtsbackerei” song.  When we woke up today, we found that St. Nick had indeed visited, even leaving a bowl of candy for Tina, Megan, and I.

 

Maastricht, The Netherlands

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I recently read The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, and one of the many ideas it left me with was that travel almost forces us to be interested in a wide variety of things simply because they are all there and we’re not sure if we’ll ever be back again.  So we go from medieval churches to modern art museums to war landmarks in a single day without really thinking about what it is we have a genuine interest in.  Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong withs topping by at landmarks if you are in the area and have time, but we should be guided on our journeys by something more personal than an obligation to see what everyone else thinks is important and geographical proximity.

That being said, my adventures this semester have been influenced a great deal by my love of books, and the driving force behind my outing to Maastricht this past Saturday was no different.  I’ve had the idea for awhile that I wanted to go to The Netherlands, but wasn’t quite sure where.  Amsterdam is a bit far for a day trip, so I did some research and, with a bit of luck, found my destination: a bookstore in an old cathedral.  How awesome is that?  Bonus points for the trip came when I learned that Maastricht is allegedly the oldest town in The Netherlands (sharing the claim with one other town) and only about three and a half hours from Luxembourg City.

Armed with a book for the train rides and my camera, I set out around 7:00 on Saturday morning and arrived just before 11 to find a lovely little town.  A market greeted me as I walked out of the train station and towards the river on my way to the bookshop.  Maastricht has a rather large shopping district and was preparing for the opening of the Christmas market this Friday, so there were plenty of people milling about.  I found a few other churches (including Saint Severus) before locating the one I had come for, but it was definitely worth the trip.

Selexyz is a chain bookstore, from what I can tell, so it wasn’t quite as snuggly as it might have been had a used or independent bookstore been housed inside, but it was beautiful nonetheless.  Bookshelves and stairs had been erected in the middle of the building, while cozy couches and more shelves filled with books in all different languages line the alcoves.  The English Department at LCD has a book club meeting this Friday, and I had decided to buy the book—The Absolutist by John Boyne—at the store.  I found it rather quickly and then spent some more time just milling about, sniffing books and exploring the store.

After purchasing my book and heading back outside, I continued to pop in and out of stores, just exploring the city.  There are two nice plazas in Maastricht, one of which was pretty much closed in preparation for the Christmas Market, but I found both plazas, some churches, the government buildings, and an abundance of nice little shops as I wandered about, exploring one of the oldest towns in The Netherlands.

I didn’t really learn much about Dutch culture or traditions during my visit, but there’s only so much you can do or learn when you visit a place for an afternoon, and I was pretty satisfied with my (long) trip to the bookstore.  There was no need to visit Maastricht, but I wanted to because I had an interest in things that were there, and that in itself made the trip worth it.

Copenhagen

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Happy Thanksgiving!  I’m writing this in between making pumpkin puree (eventually pumpkin pie), stuffing, and mashed potatoes, but I wanted to take a moment to recount my trip to Copenhagen last weekend.  This week is going by rather quickly, probably helped along by the fact that I returned from Copenhagen Monday night, taking advantage of my lack of classes on Mondays.  The journey began, though, on Saturday.

My flight landed in Copenhagen at 4:30, at which point it was pretty much already dark.  I was visiting a friend from high school, ET, and the plan was to meet her at my hostel and then we’d go from there.  I took out some Danish Kroner at the airport, bought my tickets for public transportation, and found my way to the appropriate train.  Timing this wasn’t hard, as these trains come every four minutes.  I was people watching on the train and trying to see as much as I could out of the darkened windows when I realized that my friend had just gotten on the train!  Marveling over the chances that we would be on the exact same train, we had a happy reunion and began chatting about our various adventures.

Seeing Copenhagen with ET was probably the best way I could have experienced the city, and it’s hard for me to compare my Copenhagen trip to any of the other cities I’ve visited because it was such a different experience.  With most places I visit, I research a bit about the place before going and have an idea of what I want to see, and then we go and learn as much as we can from signs in various languages.  I did do some research before Copenhagen, but mostly I just let ET show me the city that has been her home for three months now.  The benefit of experiencing a place this way is that I learned interesting tidbits that no sign would ever tell me, ate at places I wouldn’t have found on my own, and was able to catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile.  Any one of those things on their own would have been wonderful, but all of it together made for a really fulfilling visit.

After I checked into my hostel, we grabbed dinner at a place called Nordic Noodle, a cozy little restaurant that served, well, noodles.  The Danish concept of hygge, I learned, is prompted by the cold and dark winters and encourages people to get cozy inside with friends, often sipping hot chocolate fireside.  Candles, therefore, are pretty much a staple in Danish restaurants and cafes, which creates the appropriate atmosphere but also creates a little bit of concern anytime anyone is swinging around a coat in order to bundle up before going back outside.  I didn’t witness any candle accidents while I was there, though, so that was good!

Our second stop was another candle-lit place, a café called The Living Room, which was equally, if not more, snuggly.  We sipped hot chocolate and chatted before hitting the streets for the nighttime Copenhagen tour.  ET took me down the main street and we window-shopped, enjoying all of the Christmas decorations before turning in for the night with plans to meet in the morning for a more thorough tour.

The next day was a little overcast, but I was thankful there wasn’t more rain—that would have made our mostly outdoor plans for the day much less enjoyable!  We started the day at Norreport, one of the main metro stops, and from there walked past a few of the things we had seen the night before.  As we made our way to the Little Mermaid statue, we walked through Nyhavn, which is the touristy part of Copenhagen, and also saw the Copenhagen Opera House and National Theater.  Amalienborg, the royal residence, was also on our way, situated just in front of St. Fredrik’s Church.

We took some time to explore the Danish Resistance Museum after visiting the Little Mermaid, which was really neat.  Denmark was occupied during WWII, but retained control of their own government because Danes were believed to be a part of the Arian race.  There was, however, a large resistance movement—Danes would sabotage factories, bomb railroad tracks so that deliveries couldn’t be made, and do pretty much anything they could do make things more difficult for the Nazis.  The Danes also rose up to protect their Jewish population, as depicted in Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, but helping many of them escape to Sweden.  The museum showed all different parts of the occupation, and it was neat to take a closer look at that period of history from a different perspective.

After the museum, we headed to another café, this one with shelves of books lining the walls.  We enjoyed a hearty lunch—and delicious brownies—there before exploring the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, which is an art museum.  We wandered around there for a bit, and then it was time for Tivoli.  Tivoli Gardens is the second oldest amusement park in the world, having opened in 1843.  There are lots of things that happen at Tivoli—rides, shows, that sort of thing—but we went to enjoy the Christmas season at Tivoli.  The park is open during the summer, then closes for a bit in September and reopens for a few weeks around Halloween before closing again to prepare for the Christmas season.  I caught it just as it opened back up—in full Christmas glory.  Little huts were set up all around, and there was a large Russian castle-like structure (we’re under the impression that the theme for this year is Russia).  There were even reindeer outside of Santa’s temporary house!  We walked around, enjoyed the sights/lights (and some licorice), and took in the wonderful scent of evergreens.

The next day was Monday, and ET had class, but I met up with her for breakfast at a bakery in town.  After we said our goodbyes, she headed to class and I headed to St. Fredrik’s for a quick visit before my flight back to Luxembourg.

Thanksgiving dinner is now over, and I had quite the adventure using teacups, tea spoons, and table spoons to measure out ingredients, but it turned out okay.  There’s nothing quite like Thanksgiving dinner with family, but we pulled together and made a decent meal out of what we had.  I have so many things to be thankful for, but family and good friends are definitely at the top of the list!

The Week in Review

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It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, but that’s only because I’ve been busier than usual!  Last week, one of the other teachers asked me to start helping out with one of her beginning English classes (fifteen-year-olds) on Thursdays, which means I now have at least one class per day four days a week!  Aside from planning lessons, grading papers, and having a goodbye dinner for our supervisor this past week, I also managed to do a bit of traveling.

View from the top of a memorial tower in Wiltz

On Saturday, Megan and I took a quick trip to Wilts, which is in the Northwest part of Luxembourg, and far enough away that it gets more mountainous and you almost feel like you are in a different country.  On Sunday, I did go to another country, as Kayla, Kit, and I made our way to a little town in Germany called Moselkern.  There’s never much open in Europe on Sundays, and especially not in small towns like Moselkern, but our real destination was Burg Eltz, a castle in the countryside beyond Moselkern.

We enjoyed a nice (albeit muddy) hike through the woods and then some fantastic views of the castle.  Unfortunately the castle is closed for the season, but Kit’s research informed us that the same family—the original owners—has lived in the castle for thirty-three generations now.  A friendly and well-informed man outside the castle (it seemed like he was just a fellow hiker/tourist) filled in the rest of the details:

Burg Eltz

Although it has been in several small battles, Burg Eltz has never been taken.  It isn’t built at the highest point, so many people thought they could take the castle from above, but catapults on the outposts stopped attackers from far away and archers from below stopped any that made it past the catapults.  Inhabitants of the castle were also able to sneak out back doors into the valley for food and water without their attackers’ knowledge.  After eating a nice picnic lunch overlooking the castle, we made the journey back to Moselkern and, eventually, Luxembourg.

In class this week I’ve tackled iambic pentameter and Petrarchan Sonnets (Shakespearean planned for Tuesday) with my 3eA class and the Premiere students finished up To Kill a Mockingbird.  I talked to the new class (the beginners) about Thanksgiving, which I think may have taught me more about their culture than they learned about mine.  Turkeys have only recently become popular in Luxembourg, and they don’t ever make the whole bird like we do at Thanksgiving.  They also don’t know what stuffing is, or sweet potatoes, or pumpkin pie!  Learning things like that make me glad to be an American.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, Miami hosted a nice Thanksgiving dinner at the Chateau for all of the students on Wednesday.  The dinner took place this week as opposed to next because the MUDEC students have next week off as a part of their program–it’s a study tour week for them–and won’t be in Luxembourg.  It was definitely worth the trek out to Differdange for some good turkey, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes!  (There was corn on the cob and an attempt at pumpkin pie as well–as I said, they don’t really make pie here).

The biggest teaching challenge of the week, though, was probably on Tuesday, when Isabelle and I arrived at school to find that Tony, the man who teaches the English Theater class, was at the hospital with his son, who had had an allergic reaction to something he ate.  As far as we know the son is okay, but Tony’s absence meant that Isabelle and I were in charge of an acting class!  Luckily my time stage managing Theater camp over the summer has given me a few go-to acting games and exercises, so we did our warm up and then jumped in to one of those, but it was a little nerve-wracking at first.  I’ll be interested to see what Tony says next week when we tell him what we did!

Overall, it’s been a successful week.  It’s hard to believe I only have one month left here!  Four months felt like forever when I first arrived, but the weather has gotten colder, a large Christmas tree appeared in front of the train station, and the days continue to fly by, each one filled with its own joys.

Host family update:  One of the rabbits had babies, therefore correcting their misconception that she was a boy.  We’re hoping that the babies make it in this cold weather!

Weighing in on the Length of Commutes

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When other teachers ask me to visit their classrooms, it is usually for a sort of question and answer session.  Stepping into that school, I suddenly become an expert on All Things American.  One of the funniest things for me is the consistent reaction of dread and horror I get when I tell Luxembourgers—both during these visits and otherwise—that I travel from Luxembourg City to Diekirch each day for school.

Diekirch is about as far away from Luxembourg City as my hometown is from Chicago, and many of my neighbors have chosen this location because of its proximity to the city—they don’t have to live in the city, but are able to commute each day from a reasonable distance.  Despite the similar commute time, no Luxemburger would dream of such a long commute.  A whole forty-five minutes!  Granted, this is about half the country for them, but I guess it just goes to how everything is relative.

Despite the apparently ghastly commute, I am often fairly productive on the train—I don’t have to drive it, so I can read, write, plan lessons, etc.  I don’t think the unwillingness to travel further distances shows that Luxembourgish people are lazy or unaware of the world, merely that this is not the norm.  This makes sense, too, when you consider that many people in Luxembourg (and, from my experiences, Germany as well) return to their hometown after University (or settle there directly after graduating high school).  While I have family in Washington state and Florida, a half hour drive is a long distance away from home for a Luxembourger to move.

Americans, I suppose, have always been up for exploration—for moving westward, being pioneers, staking out new territory.  Branching out and moving away is not only what got our country started, it’s also what lead to its expansion.  In Luxembourg, the territory was all discovered long ago, and, as the fortress walls remind us, it’s always been more about defending what you have.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say this sense of distance or explore/defend instinct is hereditary, but I do think it is a part of the cultural mindset.

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