Thursday, February 26, 2009

My First Duty Station and German "Hometown"--Ansbach

I arrived with my family in Ansbach, Germany the first week of September, 1987. By December, we all knew we were there to stay! Our very first family roadtrip was to Neuschwanstein Castle on Columbus Day weekend (see photo left).

Having no experience at all with the military, I found it harder to get used to the Army than to get used to Germany. While DoDDS teachers are not in the military, they are bound to them in ways I never expected.

As a teacher in the States, you went to your school, did your job and maybe some extra-curriculars, and went home at the end of the day, to a totally separate life. In DoDDS, your job (and the military) become your life. They control your pay, where you live, what you drive, where and when you get mail, and how you travel. But, they also take care of you in all ways, medically, financially, socially, spiritually, and more. Right off the bat, I was assigned a military member and a DoDDS teacher to navigate the system for us until we figured things out. They were wonderful!

I learned the importance of the ID card (your entrance ticket to everything) on the first day. I quickly learned the language of military acronyms, like PX, APO, POV, HQ, IG, BDU, TDY, LQA, and a lot more. I learned to stand in line and wait--at the post office, the bank, the commissary, and the gate. I learned to shop at the one store on base along with thousands of other people and to hoard things when you found them. I met wonderful military families and the most independent teenaged kids I'd ever encountered. My family became my "dependents." My SSN and my signature had to be on everything they did. I became "the sponsor." It was a really big deal, to be your own sponsor.

My new job in DoDDS was a piece of cake. I could hardly believe the light load I had as a reading specialist. I had one period just for testing new students for their reading level when they entered our school. My reading lab classes were tiny--just a few students in each one, so I was able to individualize totally. I soon became bored because there was so little to do! I began to look around for more--I sponsored the school newspaper and became the girls soccer coach when the girls pleaded with me. I had never even seen a soccer game, much less coached one. Undaunted, I took it on and it became a wonderful experience for us all as I learned from the best players and my assistant coach. We were fourth in Europe for small schools my first year!

My new colleagues were the most interesting people with whom I'd ever worked. They had lived and worked all over the world, and most were adventurous, hard-working, and fun-loving. As ex-pats, we became "family" to each other. We traveled together, celebrated holidays together, helped each other through good times and bad, and formed bonds beyond those of normal school colleagues.

During my five years in this school, I moved slowly but surely out of reading and into English. I became the department chair. I became active in the union as a faculty representative. I attended wonderful staff development opportunities, which, in those days, were week-long events at wonderful hotels in the spa towns of Germany, like Bad Kissingen. Wow! I took kids on field trips to France. My soccer team played in the championship at the Olympic soccer field in Munich. The kids were great. Ansbach itself is a lovely medieval and Baroque Bavarian small city with everything you could want or need. We traveled every chance we got to dozens of countries. We drove to Berlin when it was still divided and Dubrovnik when it was still Yugoslavia. Life was good.

It got even better when I was introduced to AVID, but that's the next story.

Our rowhouse (in the middle) in Langenloh, outside of Ansbach.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How Teachers Amuse Themselves in High School

How Teachers Amuse Themselves in High School
From: Andre, Philip (biology teacher) (not the world's greatest speller)
Sent: Monday, February 23, 2009 1:27 PM
To: (All teachers)
Subject: Remembering those who are lost (including rodents)

Just thought all of you who have not given up hope. Dave Saylor's hamster (who was lost around this time last year) has been found! He never made it out of the Biology Room. Phil

From: Pienta, Maryellen
Sent: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 9:58 AM
To: Andre, Philip
Subject: RE: Remembering those who are lost (including rodents)

Is he a former shadow of himself?


From: Andre, Philip
Sent: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 9:59 AM
To: Pienta, Maryellen
Subject: RE: Remembering those who are lost (including rodents)

I don't think he would cast a shadow. Yes he is dead

From: Pienta, Maryellen
Sent: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 11:58 AM
To: Andre, Philip
Subject: RE: Remembering those who are lost (including rodents)

Can you get a photo of his remains for me?

From: Andre, Philip
Sent: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 12:11 PM
To: Pienta, Maryellen
Subject: RE: Remembering those who are lost (including rodents)

I will try to pry him loose. He is stuck between a rock (the drywall) and a hard place (a steal bar)

(Photo below by David Brown, Sigonella Information Specialist, the guy with all the information! You really can't see "the remains," but the remains of the remains are clear.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Kids Say the Darnedest Things

Remember that from the Art Linkletter show? If you're as old as me, you will. Nonetheless, kids still do say the darnedest things!

Today in Honors English 10, I mentioned that Nelson Mandela had been interviewed by Larry King and it could be found online.

One student said, "Is he the guy with the shoulders?"

I had to smile. "Michael, I think all guys have shoulders, don't they?" Everybody laughed.

"No, I mean is he the guy with the shoulders who always sits like this?" and he imitated Larry King, by gosh.

"Yep, that's Larry King," I said. I had never thought about it till that moment.

"He just about blocks out all the scenery behind him," the kid said. He had a point.

I came home and looked up Larry King on Google Images. Look below for yourself!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Teacher Abroad

I had to leave Illinois or die of boredom. Traveling with students to Europe every other summer was great, but it was never enough. I wanted the time and opportunity to live in Europe and explore every country, castle, and cathedral. I started to explore possibilities for working in Europe. I looked at and applied for teacher exchanges and international schools. I saw an ad in Psychology Today: "TEACH IN EUROPE! Send a SASE and $2.00 for complete information." What I got in return was a mimeographed list of agencies for international schools plus a new one: Department of Defense Dependents Schools. I had never heard of it but sent away for their application. (This was 1985--when we still wrote letters on typewriters and mailed them at the post office.) I received a large, thick envelope with the famed "Apple Book" and an application for DoDDS and federal employment. Still knowing very little, I filled it out and sent it to Washington.

Later that year, I was asked to come for a personal interview at the Federal Building in Chicago, where a principal from some school in the Pacific met with me. The interview went well; however, I got a letter later that year saying they weren't hiring anyone (this was 1986). Did I want to keep my application active for another year? Yes, I did.

Another school year rolled by. Early in the summer of 1987, I got a registered letter from DoDDS offering me a position teaching in the Azores. This was exciting, but, first of all, I had never heard of the Azores, nor did I know where they were. This was B.I. (before the Internet), so we went to the public library and looked it up in encyclopedias (remember those?). I was shocked to see how small the Azore Islands were and where they were (800 miles off the coast of Portugal). In addition, the weather was described there as very windy. The topper was that DoDDS did not authorize concurrent travel for my family. If I took the job, they would have to follow later. Bummer. I had a whole 48 hours to reply. I agonized over this. because I wanted to get into the system so badly. In the end, though, I knew I couldn't take it and wrote back that I would love to teach for DoDDS but that I could not take the position due to having to leave my family and the location of the school. I told them I wanted my whole family to have the opportunity to travel to other places together and I hoped they could offer me something else.

Turning down that job offer was one of the hardest things I ever did. A month went by. I thought it was too late for anything to happen. Then, in July, another letter came, this one offering me a job in Ansbach, Germany, as a reading specialist at the high school! This one was easy--I accepted it! Luckily, my husband had just left a bad job and he was up for any kind of move. The kids were three and eight and excited as we were. In just one month, I got a leave of absence from my position at Hall, rented my house, gave away or stored a bunch of stuff, we were in Germany by the first week in September, 1987. The great adventure had begun!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Teacher/tour director

When I was teaching at Hall High School in Spring Valley, I began to organize trips to Europe for me and my students. I had been there twice myself: first, at age thirteen with my grandmother to Poland for a month, and then again with friends in college to the Italian Riviera on a trip organized by the university. The travel bug bit me--hard!

So, I got the idea of taking students to Europe in the summer--you know, those "seventeen days, seven countries" tours. I led these groups in 1981, 83, and 85. Besides students, I had a number of adult friends join us. All I had to do was recruit the travelers, orient them, and chaperone them. The ACIS company of Boston did all the real work.

Some of my most memorable moments were . . .
. . . occasionally "losing" a student (i.e. Jay in Heidelberg, Paula in London and Rome)
. . . LONG bus rides between countries
. . . thirty minutes in the British Museum
. . . gypsy pickpockets in the Vatican
. . . being stranded in London Heathrow Airport for twenty-four hours
. . . protecting the girls from Italian men
. . . watching the boys use their mother's credit card
. . . drinking Bellinis at Harry's Bar in Venice (not with students) instead of a gondola ride.

Best of all, though, was getting to know these kids in a new way and seeing the wonder and delight on their faces of as they experienced the best of Europe, from a medieval dinner in London to trying out French phrases in Paris to eating our first "real" pizza in Italy. We all have wonderful memories. And at least one student found her life's calling on this trip; she is now an architect.

I would save a few dollars from every paycheck for two years just to go on these trips, but it was never enough of Europe. I had to find a way to get more of it. Stay tuned for the next installment . . . .

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Thanks, dad . . .

I was with my 87-year-old father when he died last week. I had lots of time to reflect on his life and mine and how he influenced me.

My dad could make, build, fix, or do anything. I never saw him fail. From him, I learned the importance of belonging to the union, which I have done every year of my professional life. He once was on strike for a whole year, but in the end, he won numerous rights and benefits for his fellow rivermen.

My dad went to a one-room school, Kickapoo Creek School, in rural Marseilles, Illinois. He was the only kid in his 8th grade graduating class because his two classmates flunked. Those are all the boys in the school above, and my dad is the sixth from the right, the one with the hair sticking up and no hat.

He never had the chance to go to college because he was orphaned at thirteen and forced to go to work right out of high school, even though he had "a stack of letters this high" from colleges who wanted him to play football. He landed a good job on the river and worked his way up to become a master pilot of a towboat, earning the title "Captain." In our family, it was a foregone conclusion that we would go to college, and dad paid for it. He was proud of my brother's and my careers in education and of our advanced degrees. And he felt the same way about his granddaughters' educations.

My dad taught me to read, put me through college, and supported and encouraged me in everything I did. He empowered me and made me the person I am today.

My dad's last words to me were about my upcoming retirement. He said, "You're doing the right thing. You're doing the right thing. Retire as early as you can." He should know--he retired at age fifty-six and enjoyed thirty-one years of retirement! That's what I want to do.

Thanks, dad, for everything. We love you and miss you.