Saturday, September 28, 2013

6 Week Reflection

My good friend Steph from Olaf began her year teaching English in France this week. From what I understand so far, she is basically in the French version of Rimbach. It is a tiny community (circa 9,000 people) an hour away from Grenoble, nestled between rolling hills. So far, she's found the people to be equally welcoming and helpful as I have in Rimbach. Knowing that Steph would be in France this year, living a parallel life to mine was a big comfort as I prepared to leave the US. Remember that "5 Happy Things" list I wrote the first night? was number 6..... Well, Steph being in France was number 2. 

I've been in Rimbach 6 weeks today, but I don't think I appreciated how much I've adapted to life here until I started talking to Steph this week. Hearing her process her arrival in Privas and figure everything out made me realize how far I've come since August 9th (another day maybe I'll share the story of the day I arrived in Germany. Its laughable). Steph and I were brainstorming ways she could start feeling at home in Privas and communities to be a part of. That was the same thing that I did my first weekend in Rimbach. When my friends Susanna and Philip visited my first day here, we walked around Rimbach gathering flyers for Church picnics, yoga classes and hiking clubs. I never actually went to them, but I know that I could have. What I realized talking to Steph, however, is that a big part of my happiness here in Rimbach is due to finding community within myself. I want to be able to say what it means to "find community within oneself", but I can't pin point it exactly, so I'll just let that phrase be for now.

But to contradict myself, my entire existence in Rimbach has been due to the generosity of multiple people. I can't count the number of times people have gone out of their way to do something for me. Like driving 20 minutes out of their way to pick me up. Inviting me over for meals. Taking me to concerts. Buying me laundry detergent. Helping me with tax forms. Despite finding community within myself, I am also dependent on the gifts of others. 

My Anthropology professor Tom Williamson had us read a book on the Kabre people in West Africa. The Kabre have an elaborate system of exchange, essentially an entire economy based on giving and receiving, which is a little bit how I feel in Rimbach. 

Bernard blossomed again last week. As you can see, I was pretty stupid last time to NOT realize what was happening until the actual flower appeared. I mean what else could that stem have been?

I like to think that Bernard and I are in an exchange relationship. Water (and love) for flowers. Just like the exchange relationships I am webbed into at the MLS. The first guest teacher I meet in America teaching abroad is going to get a good dose of Karma, I can tell you that much.

One thing I appreciate about my life now is that I have the time to invest in people in a way that I didn't always have at college. There is something about college that can make you quite self-centered, especially in the St. Olaf bubble. I hated how last year I hardly had the energy to give to my friends because I was so mentally exhausted worrying about my own problems, my own major and my own path to graduation. I don't want to live like that. My life has shrunk in a good way the past 6 weeks and I'm thankful for that. I'm thankful for having the time here to think about how I want to live. To create the habits and routines that I want to have in my life. To have the time to figure out what community within myself looks like and to be a part of exchange relationships. 

So as you see, this blog is expanding beyond just "the 31 guest teachers's year teaching at the MLS" because it is coincidentally the story of one twenty-two year old figuring out how to live after college. And I think I am quite fortunate to be tackling those questions in the dear little village of Rimbach. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Email Problems

Sorry, just a quick note of explanation.

3 months after graduation, your St. Olaf email address expires and everything attatched to it as well. Its the final step of booting you off the hill. I unfortunately had linked my Olaf email with this blog (dumb) which is why all previous blog posts are now writted by "unknown" instead of "Molly Grace" as it previously was. I just noticed that all my pictures are gone too :( which makes me very sad. Unfortunately, again, since was destroyed, I no longer have the power to edit those posts since only the author can do that. Ironic isn't it? St.Olaf has stolen part of my identity and I can't even access it.

So if anyone knows anything about this, like maybe an administrator power that can overrule anything I just said, please let me know!

The 8th Graders Sent From Heaven

Although I've been planning on going to bed early all day long, I was just lying in bed and noticed that I was in fact not sleepy at all. So I got up to share this story from yesterday.

Have I explained "Vertretung" already? Its when you have to substitute for another teacher. Apparently each teacher has 3 per month, but I've had ... many it feels like. Not that I mind! It gives me something more to do and I get to know more students. I know the 8d class quite well as I've had them 2 or 3 times in Vertretung already.

Actually, I thought I had Vertretung with the 8d class again yesterday. I planned to use my Jeopardy review game during class to help them prepare for the 8th grade english test everyone was taking today. After teaching for ten minutes, however, I learned that I was in the wrong class and actually was supposed to be teaching 8e. I panicked and quickly left the 8e class in a rush assuming that I would need to calm the storm that would be the 8e students.

Instead of a storm, I found a babbling brook.

I entered the classroom and caused more of a disruption than there had been previously. All 21 students were sitting, and working, quietly and diligently.


I literally gapped. Then our conversation went as follows:

"Wait, so you are all working?"
"You all know what to do and what to work on?"
"What are you doing?"
"English" (it was English class)
"You are all doing English work, and working quietly, and no teacher was here?"
"What?? You are all amazing. You are the best students. Gold Stars. Gold Stars for everyone. I'm going to make you cookies."

Not really sure where I was going with the whole Gold Star rant. I was still in shock and I'm not entirely sure the Gold Star compliment translates across cultures, but it hardly seemed to matter, because barely anyone was listening to me. Want to know why? Because they were all working!

It was pretty amazing. I look forward to meeting them again.

And with that, I think its time for real sleep now.

Monday, September 16, 2013

I Wake Up for Coffee and Other Routines

It's not surprising that routines are one way of settling in. I've certainly come to depend on my small Rimbach rituals in order to get through the days. I apologize for using the phrase "get through", as if my life is tedious or agonizing. Quite the contrary. Its just that, as I've eluded to before, life in Rimbach is about ten intensity notches lower than life at St. Olaf. For starters, I am no longer a student with tremendous amounts of reading and secondly, I am no longer living in an intimate social community where finding time alone was harder than finding a new friend. I don't think its too outrageous an exaggeration to say that within one week in Rimbach, I interact with the same amount of people I would have in one day at Olaf. And that is NOT to say that I am not fulfilled from all the daily interactions I have in Rimbach and at MLS. I love being at school. But, my routines, rituals or habits help me to fill out all the free time I never had the past four years. And while they certainly make me feel more settled, I think I they are helping me define a purpose, too. 

Let's start with Coffee. I wouldn't call myself a coffee person. I only recently started drinking coffee regularly and 75% of that craving was just the act of "going out" for coffee. In Portland, Oregon this summer, that wasn't a problem. I'm proud to say I made it through a frequent buyer punch card for the first time in my life. Germany, however, has a different understanding of what "going out for coffee" is. Some Rimbach bakeries will have a "Stehcafe", but its just a table to stand at while you drink and less appealing for my morning ritual. However, caffeine makes me very happy. On my first night in Rimbach, I was jetlagged and miserably journalling at 3 AM about how stupid Germany was and questioning why I came here in the first place. At the end of my dark, spiraling rant, I made myself write five happy things about my situation to fall asleep on. Number 6 was "Coffee. I can drink coffee in the morning and be happy." And then I fell asleep. Since that night, I wake up every morning and make a pot of coffee. Its not that I need the coffee so much as I need something to do. Its true that last week I realized I didn't even want to drink the coffee anymore, but the idea of a coffeeless morning made me sad. As the days in Germany turn bleaker (grayer, rainier, colder etc), the ritual of scooping out my daily coffee and turning on the pot each morning is becoming necessary in order to pull myself out of bed at 6:15.  

The first week of school, I ritually made an ice coffee and watched an episode of my favorite TV show immediately after coming home. It was my cure for the exhaustion of the school day. I no longer dependent on this routine like I did. Teaching and planning is easier now, but I still like that guilt free part of my afternoon where I can indulge in something for myself before doing the dishes and opening up the textbooks to plan. 

Saturday is baking day. My first Saturday in Rimbach, two friends visited so I made baked oatmeal for brunch. Since then, I've tried waffles, scones and muffins. Cookies of course. Many failures. Although, the second round of scones were better. And I think the waffle recipe doesn't match the waffle iron so that can be easily improved. And I just needed less nutmeg in the muffins and more zucchini. See, its also an educational experience. By the end of the year I will know how to bake in Germany. The cookies I made today were an 8 out of 10. They are the first thing I've made that I've actually be sad to give away. Baking on Saturdays gives me something to wake up for. Then I'm up, and despite my baking failures, optimistic about the day. 

Sundays I plan on going to church. So far, I've made it 1.5 times. This past Sunday, I arrived at 10:25 thinking church starts at 10:30. It starts at 10 (10:30 is chapel at Olaf). So I walked home, too embarrassed to have to walk in late. People stare at me enough as it is- I don't need to add to that my interrupting the service. When I'm not either in or trying to be in church, I usually go for a walk up the hill where you can get a great view of the Odenwald. I like like sitting up there the most when its rainy.

Apart from the repeating daily schedule of classes, sometimes school can be a black hole for routines. I've developed a few patterns, like sitting in the teacher's room after class to give daily grades or correct papers so that I don't have to lug extra work home with me. And plus I just like the environment of bring at school. But I don't really have a system for lesson planning. And I generally make more work for myself than necessary. I actually love being efficient. I thrive on finding ways to improve efficiency by manipulating variables, but when it comes to being a teacher, I'm often so afraid of running out of either things to do in class or things to do outside of class, that I chose the least efficient method possible just so that I will have something to do. I know there are faster methods of coping and stapling, but what do I have to do when I finish this? I know I could ask a student to hand out the dictionaries for me, but what will I do at the end of class if I have extra time? 

I think I keep busy less so because I am bored, but more so out of a fear that I will become bored and that I'll be bored and won't like it. The number one rule I taught myself in Rimbach week one was, "save something for tomorrow". Otherwise, what will you do tomorrow? I don't like to think of myself as a person who can't just sit and "be". Its not that I'm scared of "just being", but, sometimes I'm afraid of what I'll do after "just being". So I cling to my routines. 

I've decided to make running part of my routine. A teacher at MLS (who has run Ironman races) has offered to make me a training schedule. That offer coupled with the amount of time I have on my hands is too good to pass up. Plus, I figure it will put teaching 8th graders into perspective if I am regularly doing something more challenging than classroom management. To be honest, I actually hate running, but I don't do enough things in life that I don't enjoy so I think its a good lesson in self-discipline. I'll hopefully run a 10K this November, and then maybe something bigger in the spring/summer. I kind of have a "go big or go home" attitude about it; why not run a marathon? And then I remember that I actually hate running, so we'll see. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Back in the Game

Okay, I totally won today. Not that teaching is about winning or losing. Or, at least, it shouldn't be, but after last week, I was in the hole, and I feel like I am out of the hole. Granted its slippery and I need to stand my ground, but I'm currently very optimistic. I just laid down the law today. We finally went over rules (rules that I took for granted they would know already: mistake # 1) and consequences. I told them that I had a lot of ideas for the year, but I could not work with the amount disruption that has been going on to date.

Then we played telephone-pictionary which I didn't intend to do for over half the class, but, hey, sometimes you just have to make a cornucopia (which is a phrase that I coined last year after I spent five hours making a thanksgiving cornucopia out of bread dough rather than studying for midterms and writing important papers. Sometimes, you have to do the thing thats right in the moment, regardless of if its good in the long term. Like scrapping my grammar lesson in favor of a game. I'm hoping the phrase will catch on. I have a lot of power actually because people almost worship my native speakerness and trust that I know best. With all hope, I will have gotten enough control over the 8b class so that by Thanksgiving time I can teach them how to make a cornucopia, too.)

Tonight was Elternabend/"parent's night". That was kind of cool. When I got up to talk, the women in the back corner kept on talking. And then it was kind of awkward because the past three weeks I've gotten very good at waiting until its quiet before I speak, so I kind of waited out of habit and plus, I couldn't be heard, and then I felt weird waiting because I'm not THEIR teacher, but then I felt dumb talking over them as if I don't think that I am worth being heard. But they stopped eventually. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I think I spoke alright, although I don't hear my own mistakes so its hard to know. It was good to talk with the other 8b teacher's tonight and share experiences. I think we are collectively going to make a new seating arrangement.

Mondays are by far my busiest days. I teach an 11th grade compensation course the first two hours of the day (as I understand it, the upper grades need to choose two subjects to get supplemental help in and attend these weekly classes. So I have a supplemental english course). Today, was okay, but I should probably have a little bit more structure for next Monday. Its clear now that they don't exactly care about practicing their English when we are together. I made them answer Would You Rather questions to start class off. I hate when I plan fun things to do and then it feels like mandatory fun once I introduce the plan to the class. But they are such a silent group, I'm just trying to shake them up a bit. Then I teach 9th grade English, which is my 7 person class. We usually have fun together. They are writing short stories using Australian vocab. They are due tomorrow and the plan is to go get ice cream and read them to one another. Following 3rd period with my 9th graders I have a period off, and then have hall duty outside the cafeteria during which I occasionally try to reprimand a few rowdy 6th graders and then realize I don't have the vocabulary to effectively stop them. Afterwards, I spend a cozy hour with my 8th graders during the 5th period. And today, I was a substitute during 6th period in the 7d English class. SURPRISE 7d is so much fun! I wish I got to be with them everyday. One of the girls was in Martha's Vineyard this summer, so thats cool, because I'm from Cape Cod and MV is an island off Cape Cod.

Considering some days I only teach one 45 minute lesson, Mondays are jam packed. Especially when I am a substitute. Which has happened once a week so far. I'm okay with that. Honestly, I should volunteer to substitute more often. My world is small and I haven't exactly found ways to fill the time completely.

I had a moment today after school that was just sort of realizing that this is what my life is going to be like and feel like for a while. I don't really know what I mean, but I guess it was just recognizing the pattern that I have been in and knowing that this is the pattern that is going to continue. I think I'm okay with that. I used to be sort of pessimistic about starting a year long position when I'd much rather settle in somewhere for a number of years at least. But honestly, after packing up to move in between massachusetts and minnesota twice a year, being in one place for nearly 365 days is a gift. And, its such a relief to be teaching on an annual schedule versus a semester long schedule like in college. Its crazy to think that I will be together with these same students until July 25th!!! That is a long time.

But now, I am going to go to bed early with a book.

sunrise over the hills behind my house. one good thing about waking up early

yes. I did go back to school after hours and recreate a lesson and take a picture of myself on self timer. 

the 8b classroom. its got a lot going for it. 

Beyond the 8b and teacher's rooms, I spend a lot of time in the computer room where the computers seldom run efficiently and throw me into a panic each time I try to print something shortly before class and still leave enough time to copy it with double sides 23 times. 

Friday, September 6, 2013


This is a lot of Straw
This is the last straw
Frankly, I don't really know what my straw count is. It felt like my last straw was robbed today when I sent a student out of the classroom for lighting their shoe with a lighter and than lying about having the lighter ..... they also sit in the front row, so clearly they doubt my intelligence. 

The last two days have been pretty bad. And although the 8th graders I have are tough, a lot of it has to do with the learning curve of classroom management that I'm slowly ascending. Wednesday was GREAT! They were so well behaved in class, I didn't know what to do. I got nervous in the middle of class because I felt like I wasn't taking full advantage of how good they were being. I actually prepared a lot for Thursday. I consulted the teacher's guide for the first time and really felt like I had a good plan for the double period, but a series of things went wrong with my plan (ie technology) and they were antsy because it was the afternoon and really hot out plus the fact that they are 8th graders and 8th graders are a unique type of being that needs to be coddled the right way or they will explode. Then I couldn't explain well enough why you use the present perfect progressive and why you use the past perfect progressive and basically everything just sort of slipped out of control. I'm really not proud of Thursday. I don't blame them for being mad at me, because I haven't been consistent in the way I discipline them. And I know what its like to have an inconsistent teacher and I really don't want to be that. But I'll be darned if these 23 youngens don't learn to sit and listen to directions without whispering to their neighbors every 3 seconds. 

So I really didn't want to go to class today because I was still in a bad mood from yesterday and I both felt like I needed to address what happened yesterday, but also knew that it was still too close to talk about and I really didn't have a solution. So, instead I planned a boring lesson that didn't involve a lot of teaching. And I hated myself the entire lesson. I was mean. And cold. Also, its really not fun having to take someone out of class. That shook me up a bit. They were rude and disrespectful and I think I stood my ground alright, but it wasn't fun. That's the part that makes me the saddest- being a teacher I can't respect. 

So, after class, I ran away to the book store and read children's books (This is Not My Hat aka Das Ist Nicht Mein Hut) and hung out with Elke, the wonderful owner. 

This is one of my favorite poems. Its by Mary Oliver.


I go down to the shore in the morning
And depending on the hour the waves
Are rolling in or moving out,
And I say, oh, I am miserable,
What shall-
What should I do? And the sea says
In its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

I like this poem because its a lesson I need to be reminded of often. I know that I can wallow in my sadness longer than is really beneficial, and this poem is telling me stop feeling sorry for myself, pull myself together and resolve my problems, rather than feel miserable about them. I've been thinking about that a lot today, because today is not a good day. But, I'm making the active choice to not feel miserable about it all. 

Something my sister and I do when we are feeling sad/mad/any other negative emotion is play "The I Like" game. You can only start sentences with "I like" and you play until everyone feels better and is usually laughing. 

I like iced coffee after school
I like that I can understand the book I am reading in German 
I like folk bands
I like wine festivals
I like being able to walk to school
I like wearing my blue dress
I like how willing the other teachers are to help me
I like living in Germany
I like cooking with pumpkins
I like baking on Saturdays 
I like wooden blocks
I like woolen socks
I like writing poems
I like memorizing lines 
I like walls of photographs
I like the color red 

see. you try it. it works.