... "And now for something completely different" Monty Python

Friday, July 12, 2013

Saskia Guhl - a German teacher at Corvo

Saskia Guhl is 27 years old and she was born in Berlin, where she graduated in English and P.E. She arrived at Corvo through the European program Comenius and has been on the island since the 14th September. 
We wanted to know what is Saskia giving to Corvo and what is Corvo giving to Saskia.

CC- You are working with all the teachers of English, in their classes for every school year. What exactly is the work you are doing with them? And isn't it hard to work with such different years?  

SG- Since this is a very small school with only 38 students in total there is only one English teacher. I support the teacher in preparing and teaching the lessons. This way we learn from one another, but I mostly learn from her. Moreover we give each other ideas for projects and lessons. Specifically I work with students that have special needs or need more attention. I teach some classes or parts of classes. Afterwards I get a feedback from my colleague teacher.
We teach in seven different groups since the first and fourth as well as the second and third grades are being taught together.
Teaching in all those grades gives me a wide range of experience which I appreciate a lot. It is very interesting to see the students and their English competence through all those grades.
One of my values to the English lessons is that I only started learning Portuguese a few weeks before I came to Corvo. Therefore the students were only able to communicate with me in English which was a great motivation for some of them. And they keep talking in English with me today :) 

CC- You are also starting a German workshop. I heard this is your first experience ever teaching German. How is it going? 

SG-I have started teaching the German workshop, open for the community, in November last year. I have to admit that I was struggling a lot in the beginning. I really didn’t expect to be teaching German in Corvo because I couldn’t imagine that people would be interested in learning it. So I was taken by surprise that I would actually be teaching my native language.
Especially teaching grammar items led me to reflect on my own language from a learner’s point of view which I have never done before. It broadened my language teaching skills. I feel that I will be able to use the gained knowledge a lot in my further teaching career. But more than teaching German it became a mutual learning experience meaning that I learned Portuguese and gained much more from the participants in return.
I feel highly honored to be able to pass on my mother tongue and I am grateful for the participant’s interest in me and my country. 

CC- You designed a project called "Let’s Discover Europe" aiming the students. What is it? Has it been well received by them? 

SG-The project consists of a passport that everyone of the students made by themselves. They filled in their personal identification card and some questions in English. Further it provides space to answer questions which are asked on a poster in the schools hallways. After answering the question concerning the European Union (in English) in their passport, they can hand it in in the according mailbox. For a correct answer they will be rewarded with a stamp in form of a star. At the end of the school year the student with the most stars will have won the journey. Most of the students have been excited about this and participated very well. As we are getting closer to the end of the school year and final tests the interest is slowing down a little bit but we are constantly working on trying to bring them back to answer our questions.

CC –Changing subject: why did you choose such a remote destination as Corvo? 

SG-Actually I didn’t choose Corvo. It feels like Corvo chose me. Originally I applied for an English speaking country or one of the Scandinavian countries. But the COMENIUS Program couldn’t offer me a spot in those countries. Instead, they asked me whether I would accept an assistantship in Portugal. More specifically Corvo, Azores. Embarrassingly enough, the first thing I had to do was to look up the Azores which I so far only new from the Azorean High on the weather report. Finding Corvo on the map was the next “journey”. I had already wondered, why the COMENIUS agency had asked me whether I could imagine an assistantship under such extreme circumstances…
Of course I googled it up and found the most remote, smallest, most isolated island I could imagine. I was shocked and thrilled at the same time.

CC- What did you know about Corvo before your arrival? 

SG- It took me a few days to decide what to do. What if the people would be totally strange, and didn’t like me? I could not imagine staying in an environment like that. But on the other hand I thought that the experience would be most unique and offered me a once in a lifetime chance to dive into a completely different lifestyle. I tried to find out as much as I could about the Island which was basically nothing. My agency couldn’t tell me whether there had been an assistant before (as I now know there was)… I was very happy when I found the schools homepage. There I could see a few pictures of young teachers teaching in a modern teaching environment with onlineconferences. So there is internet on the island, I thought relieved.
I finally decided against all odds that I would be taking this unique chance. I mean who can say they have lived on a tiny island with only 450 inhabitants in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
I couldn’t imagine anything here. So the first things I asked my principal were whether they had cash machines and where I could be living. She took a lot of time to answer my questions, very kindly, which reassured me in taking this adventure.

CC- Has it been easy to adapt to the isolation, nasty weather and all the conditions of a small and far out island? 

SG- I was very surprised how easy it was for me to feel at home in this place. I was very warmly welcomed by all the people I met. Especially the school that gave me all the help I needed to get settled in. But everywhere I went people would be smiling at me, even though they might not be able to understand me.
Instead of missing what I knew from a big city life in Berlin I learned to treasure the things you have in a small place like Corvo. I realized how little one actually needs to live a good, decent life. Instead of spending time riding trains from one end of the city to the other I get time to spend with friends every single day. The beach is only 10 minutes away as well as the airport and the harbor. You can take beautiful walks up and around Caldeirão and really get to know the people you share your life with. In Berlin I didn’t know my next door neighbors. Here the mailman knows me personally and tells me when I have got a letter. Everyone here is very connected.
Adapting to the winter storms really demanded some positive thinking. I was always cold. People here would ask me how this was possible and said I couldn’t be a real German because in Germany it was way colder. And it was. But we have heating in every building. So I only need a warm coat for outside. Here I was warm outside and freezing inside the buildings. During really cold days I would warm up my clothes with my hairdryer. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
But on the other hand I found it very humbling to feel the strong winds and rains and to be reminded how dependent we are on weather and nature, for example when there was a storm or rough sea, it would prevent the boat or plane from landing on Corvo.
Another interesting topic for me was cooking. I am used to get whatever I want to buy on basically every time of the week and day. Here you have to cook from what the store has got to sell. When the boat comes everyone goes to buy some of the few vegetables, fruits and yoghurt we get. Two days later hardly anything is left. I had to learn new recipes and when and where to buy what. Thanks to the great
colleagues and neighbors that helped me out whether it was cooking fish or getting rid of ants in my bed and kitchen I learned fast.

CC- Where had you taught before cominh here? Had you been elsewhere outside Germany? 

SG- My only prior teaching experience abroad was in Austria where I taught skiing for several weeks over different winter seasons. But what probably helped me adjusting to this new life was the fact that I have always been travelling a lot. To travel and get to know countries, people and cultures is a value that has been passed down to me from my parents who took me and my younger brother on trips around Europe every school holidays. During high school I participated in a language program which made it possible for me to stay with a host family in California for a total of 2 months and after graduating from high school I spent five months in Australia doing Work and Travel.

CC- As a teacher, do you find big differences between here and your country concerning teaching conditions and methods? 

SG- Since I am not yet a fully trained teacher in Germany I haven’t taught fulltime in Germany yet. I feel that one of the biggest differences is the conditions for teachers. As I heard so far it is very tough for Portuguese teachers to get a job let alone have a steady position. Many teachers only stay for a year and are constantly changing their place of living. This is not very common in Germany.
Concerning the teaching methods and conditions I only feel that teachers have to stick closer to curriculums. In my opinion German teachers seem to have a little more pedagogical freedom.

CC- What about the students? Are there big differences? 

SG- Especially with these students the difference are very noticeable. Students here are extremely friendly and well mannered. But I would not ascribe this to a difference between German and Portuguese students but rather to the big differences in their social and economic environment.

CC- What are your plans for when this experience in Corvo ends? 

SG- At the moment I am applying to the second part of my teachers training, the in-school training (Referendariat). I really hope to find a spot and finish my education in Germany so I can apply everything I learned and experienced during my COMENIUS Assistantship to my teaching in Germany.

CC- What advice would / could you give to the next Comenius teacher who is thinking about coming to Corvo? 

SG- Allow this amazing place to reveal its beauty and enjoy and learn from the people around you. They have so much to give. Also bring your warmest sweater for the cold winter nights without heating and try to talk and interact with as many people as you can.