A Tale of Two Systems: An English Teacher Abroad
By Jessica Keigan
Jessica Keigan is a secondary language arts teacher at Horizon High School in Thornton, Colorado, and a teacher leader for the Denver New Millennium Initiative. This post is the first in a multiple-part series.
When you think of Germany, what comes to mind? If you’re being honest, your top three thoughts are likely beer, BMW, and World War II. As is the case with most humans, we have stereotypes about cultures different than our own based on commerce, pop culture, or what we can remember from our time as students.
Prior to this summer, I had only passed through Germany’s airports. Thanks to my incessant habit of saying yes to every opportunity that comes my way, I can claim a much different perspective now.
In an effort to help students think more broadly about German culture and language, the GAPP exchange was created in the 1970s to allow students from Germany and the U.S. to have an immersion experience in schools and homes of their host country.
I, along with my colleagues Jason Herrman, Stefan Fenzl and Veronika Wagner, participated in a GAPP exchange between the Ruperti Gymnasium in Mühldorf am Inn and my home school of Horizon High School in Thornton, Colorado, this spring and summer. In April, the German students and teachers came to stay with us and we spent nearly a month with them during our summer vacation in June and July.
As an active member of the Center for Teaching Quality’s Denver New Millennium Initiative and Teacher Leaders Network, I was excited to learn about the countries’ systemic similarities and differences in education. I was not disappointed in my quest.
Just as there are cultural stereotypes about people and places, there are often stereotypes about professions and systems. People have ideas about what teachers look like (as Sarah Fish so eloquently described earlier this year) and do. On some level, I think there is a reason for this.
When I walked into the school, I was amazed at how instantly at home I felt, even though I didn’t speak the language or have a clue about the daily operations of the building. It wasn’t that the building looked the same or that teenagers from all over the world are a breed unto themselves. It was the atmosphere of learning and the energy that comes from critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration that felt familiar. But beyond that, it was the personal stories and personas of the teachers and students that helped me to understand that even with very different structures, school is school all over the world.
I’d like to dive a little more deeply into these personal stories and introduce you to a few of my new friends and colleagues. I am a firm believer that teachers have so much to learn from one another. I hope that in hearing the tale of two systems from those who live in each, you will have a better understanding of the incredible potential that exists for international collaboration and how pushing beyond the stereotypes of our profession on a global scale may just be what is necessary for us to find the kind of educational system we all want for our students.