Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Be the one who opens the doors for those who follow you.”
A simple truth that reveals the essence of being a teacher, and which was the impetus for my important decision to go to gain teaching experience in another country, Germany.
I should explain up front that I worked as a German teacher, which means that I have a good command of German. (Much better than English.) Last year, for the sake of interest, I responded to a random application for a Tobias school in the city of Bremen. The city was a random choice. And the position at the school was a conscious decision.
Remember how someone once told you that small acts can change the whole world? I see every day how seemingly small actions by teachers at this school change the world for the better in hundreds of children.
The Tobias School in Bremen is based on Waldorf pedagogy, where the education of individuals is closely linked to their individual, age and spiritual development. The school has its own rituals that help to put the pupils in the right mood: meeting the children on Monday in the assembly hall for singing and greeting them for the upcoming workweek, morning sayings (Morgenspruch), Friday praying (Handlung) and preparations for various holidays and markets.
I help the school with different lessons. First and foremost is the main lesson. In this lesson we learn different subjects like math, physics, chemistry or reading in epochs. Just imagine having a new story waiting for you every Monday. The kids are never bored. So we have already had time with the kids to go through sex education, learn how to multiply in math, start a fire in chemistry, paint with charcoal in art, and many more to come.
In the second and third lessons, time is spent doing something hands-on: art, woodwork, rhythm, sports, gardening or needlework. For example, in woodwork class we make wooden toys for the bazar. In rhythm class we do special exercises to develop the sense of rhythm with children based on games and music. In sports class we learn archery and pole vaulting, sometimes we practice Bojutsu, the Japanese art of fighting with a wooden stick. In gardening we learn the names of different plants, grow fruits and vegetables, some of which we cook ourselves and give to the children for their hard work, look after chickens and make natural teas from local herbs. And in needlework you can make yourself a pillowcase, a woolen bath mat, a mat for hot dishes or a doll. The school also has a kitchen where I help the children prepare lunches for the pupils under the excellent command of school staff with chef experience.
We often have concerts and theater productions. This year I helped the Grade 12 class with the preparation of a New Year’s Eve play. And I have a performance with the 7th grade for a holiday in honor of the three wise men (Dreikönigstag) in the middle of January.
That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? Yes, it is. But my life consists of more than just school.
During the autumn, we went to two seminars. One was in Hamburg and the other was in the countryside near Bremen. There I made many friends from different countries. I remember that it was then in Hamburg that I laughed for the first time with one of the participants from France. We discussed words from English, French and German and laughed at some funny coincidences in them. During the workshop we walked around a lot, socialized and shared our impressions. I think it was very useful for my English, which I started to speak after all. And we wrote down our foreigner jokes on a separate sheet of paper. We are even thinking of starting our own project of stand-up performances of jokes from foreigners.
Sometimes I get to go with my flatmates to the city to see the Christmas fair or to a town nearby to see the North Sea. Sometimes my friends come to visit to cook banana vegan bread together or watch a movie together on a projector. I really love days like that and appreciate the time spent with my friends.
Do I miss those moments? Yes. Do I wish I had more free time to relax or laugh with my friends? Again, yes. Would I give up on the project? No. And it’s a confident no. Sharing my knowledge with my children and learning new things together with them, and then hearing them cheerfully shouting “Hallo, Frau Mikhailova, kommst du mit?” every morning really connects me to this place. I have already learned a lot from the teachers at Tobias’ school and I hope to learn even more in the remaining time. The children here really do have a big heart, which they will gladly open up to you if you decide to get to know them better.
Vladislava is hosted by Tobiasschule und Kindergarten e.V. on our project co-funded by the European Union.