Tory Davis: Ne Razumem

I have taken language classes since I was five: Sign Language, Spanish, French, German, and Latin, but none of these languages have really stuck. There has never been  a real need for me to practice and learn another language. While in Slovenia, almost everyone spoke English, but it was frustrating when they spoke in Slovene, and I could not understand. I wanted to blend in and be a part of the culture.

I was fortunate enough at Gimnazija Bezigrad to have a class offered to me in beginning Slovene. It was helpful, but I could not always attend the class, so I took matters into my own hands. My friend Chelsea had purchased a Slovene Language book, and it soon became my best friend. I copied down the phrases into a spiral notebook and made myself a flipbook to quiz myself on commonly used Slovene phrases. One example of these effective phrases is:  “Rachun, prosim” which means “Bill, please.”

I had down about 15-20 phrases and words that I used, but the coolest part of learning these phrases was the appreciation by the Slovenian people. I would go into the bakery shop for my morning strudel and say a simple: “Dober Dan!” (formal hello) to the shop worker and she would immediately light up and be much more willing to help me and speak to me in English and my limited Slovene. My mentor-teacher was always so delighted to have me practice the language with her. My students appreciated my language gestures and were excited to teach me new words while I taught them new vocabulary.

Towards the end of my journey teaching in Slovenia, I was the most proud when I stopped saying “Ne razumem” (I don’t understand) and could instead say “Ja razumem” (I understand).

Blog Post 10: Final Reflection on Teaching Experience in Slovenia

Over the course of the last six weeks, I have been exposed to a greater number of unfamiliar environments than at any time in my entire life. I visited four different countries, and spent time in some pretty incredible places. I learned much about history that will help me a great deal when I teach social studies next year. Although the culture of the U.S. isn’t so different from that of Europe, I was in an environment that was far from home. In the classroom, I succeeded with flying colors (my mentor even wrote me a recommendation without me asking) and learned how to meet my students’ needs in a foreign environment. I also gained a greater ability to develop collaborative-cooperative lessons for my future students, as collaborative cooperative lessons are the most emphasized pedagogical technique in Slovenia.

In terms of language learning, I learned about the difficulties of navigating a place where one’s language is different from that of the majority. I had to communicate with people in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Slovenia. It was far from easy; I often had to use gestures or speak the few words I knew to try to get by. Luckily, English is generally the language of international communication. Therefore, it was not nearly as difficult as it could have been. I can only imagine that for ELL students, the process of coming to America and learning English must be very difficult. I did meet several students who did not speak the English language proficiently. It was difficult to communicate assignments to them at times and I had to learned how to appropriately modify assignments to fit their needs.

I often used my students’ talents to try to convey explain content in class. One of my new Russian students produced his notes in the form of sketches. By the end of my time at the school, it was clear to me that he had made significant progress in comprehending what his table members were discussing as they completed activities together.

One realization I had on immediately entering the classroom was how much I had learned teaching at Spring Ridge. Being placed at Spring Ridge Middle School was truly a blessing. The students at Spring Ridge prepared me to engage my students and effectively deal with any possible classroom management problem that could arise. Unlike in the beginning of the year, I am fully confident in my ability to come into any classroom, establish my norms and expectations, and guide my students to academic success.

Last, I think this placement really helped me gain a greater appreciation for Dewey’s educational philosophy. This has influenced my own philosophy for teaching. Throughout my time here, I have learned so much through my experiences. As a result of learning through experience, I have made the realization that learning through experience is extremely valuable to all learners. When I teach next year, I will encourage students to gain knowledge through their experiences, as such a principle is extremely conducive to lifelong learning. Education through experience is critical in not only developing interest, but in acquiring skills to help one make a better future for themselves.

Such has been the outcome of my trip to Slovenia. I believe that over the course of this trip, I have gained experiences (academic and non-academic) that have made me much more equipped to teach students, regardless of their background. I am confident that I will take the skills that I acquired from this experience, and successfully amalgamate them with my previously existing knowledge on education. Combining the experience of teaching abroad with my educational experiences over the past 23 years of my life will make me a better teacher, and will allow me to help guide students on their own individual path to development, so they can choose to have experiences as beneficial to them as travelling abroad was for me.


Final Reflection

I have this theory that teaching techniques required by IEPs, 504’s, or suggested for language learners are in fact just good teaching that is beneficial for all students. My teaching experience in Slovenia supports my theory. For English language learners, I realized I needed to speak a little slower, describe concepts and new vocabulary in different ways with different tier words, and use aids (visual, auditory, or even kinesthetic). It also really enforced the idea, “expect the unexpected.” I was reading The Blanket by Floyd Dell with my students when we came across the word “involuntarily.” The boy reading the passage struggled to pronounce the word, so we spent some time sounding out the word and pronouncing it correctly. I then asked the students what the word meant. Two of the most interesting responses were: “something to do with a violin” and “a good feeling.” I truly did not expect either answer. I decided that it was worth it to take some time to go over the definition and let them come up with examples. I was even able to use a hunger games reference (Katniss, “I volunteer as tribute,” volunteer = choose, involuntarily = just happens, no choice, her sister’s name being called). From this language teaching experience, I realized the worth of taking some unscheduled time to discuss new words and relate them to the student.

There are also some practices I learned here that I want to incorporate in my own classroom. The first is quarterly reflection. Every quarter the students and teachers write a report about their attitude and work habits in class. The teacher and the student do not always agree, which is why I believe this should be a face-to-face discussion. It forces students to think about themselves as students and for teachers to hear the viewpoint of their students. In my opinion, it can help foster motivation in students to work harder. Another practice I want to implement is the 4-part assessment: A. Knowledge, B. Investigation, C. Thinking Critically, and D. Communication. I believe in transparency in teaching, therefore using these as the very overt overarching themes seems just brilliant to me!

I have had so many rewarding and amazing experiences while teaching and living in Slovenia. I do not want to leave but I am eager to have my own classroom where I can use all that I have learned from my teaching experiences. After my time here, I am even considering applying to IB schools!

Sparks Fly (posted on behalf of Shea Rust)

Formation of friendships in Slovenia have actually come from a corner that I really wasn’t expecting: Minnesota and food. At Danila Kumar there were undergrads from the University of Minnesota: Duluth who were finishing up their education major at Danila Kumar. They were there for 8 weeks and we were there for 6 weeks. When we got there they’d been there for a while and had kind of gotten into the groove of things so they were really helpful our first couple of days there. We would eat snack with them, we all were staying in Dijaski Dom Vic, and the first weekend there we all went out together which was fun. They’re all great girls and I had an awesome time getting to know them/hanging out with them. There was even a girl there who meowed a lot like me. Instant best friends. They went to Split, Croatia over our May holidays and they kind of got us interested in there so we ended up going there too. We didn’t really get to meet up too much there but it was fun on the way there on the train with them! I’ll definitely keep in contact with these girls in the future. I wasn’t expecting to make such good friends so I was excited about that surprise!

Also, we tend to go to one certain restaurant a lot: Hombre. Mexican in Slovenia, what could be better?! Chelsea and I also like to frequent Cacao, a lovely chocolatey place in the City Centre. Since we’re at these places so often we actually recognize the waiters and they recognize us! It’s a different type of relationship than I’ve formed back in the states but it’s a comfortable one. Today a waiter at Cacao talked about how one of his friends actually goes to school in DC and he’s trying to find time to visit which is cool. Another waiter at Cacao is in love with Chelsea, ask her about it when we get back ;)

Long Live (posted on behalf of Shea Rust)

Ah, Ljubljana. I always say that I’m sure that something will be an amazing opportunity for me but, I’ll be honest, sometimes I just am saying that to fill up space. I realize that sounds pretty bratty but it’s true. I feel like I’m lying when I say that and I don’t completely mean it. HOWEVER I can say with absolute certainty and truth that coming to Slovenia to teach at Danila Kumar was an amazing opportunity for me! I am so glad that I decided to teach abroad and I feel like it really helped to shape me as a future educator.

Each day I was in a classroom with 18 students from countries around the world. Serbia, France, Macedonia, Slovakia, Turkey, Greece, Russia, and even one student who came during my time there whose family had just gotten out of Kiev, Ukraine. These students all spoke very different languages, some with different characters even. However, in school they always spoke in English, most of them pretty well too. However, as my teacher reminded me several times, English was not their native language. I learned a lot about communicating effectively with English language learners during my time at Danila Kumar. I learned about speaking much more slowly, giving concrete demonstrations/examples for my students, and checking often for comprehension. I also learned about not believing students when they said “I understand” and that they had “no questions.” ELs need a lot of attention and differentiation and I know that being in a classroom with 18 ELs has really opened my eyes and helped to prepare me for having my own classroom. Also, being in a foreign country, and surrounded by a culture that’s not your own, where you can’t understand the language helps you to really appreciate those who are patient enough to deal with you, so I also learned that patience is the biggest key when teaching ELs.

Finally, this experience also helped with my self-confidence, though not in a way that I was expecting. Studying abroad in Oxford my junior year really made me comfortable with traveling around to new places and really helped me grow in independence. I wasn’t sure if Ljubljana would add to that self-confidence; or maybe deplete it since I didn’t understand the language here. It turns out, it helped my self-confidence in a way that I wasn’t expecting at all! It made me really grow in self-confidence as a teacher. I felt that my classroom management actually helped to create a less crazy class over the 6 weeks that I was at Danila Kumar (I love my students but they were wild!). Using Whole Brain Teaching I started several routines that my teacher said that she would continue using once I was gone. I also think that I was able to create meaningful relationships with my students which was great. In the short amount of time that we had there I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do this but my teacher told me that my rapport with the students was really strong and that she believed that they respected me greatly which definitely made me feel really great about being there!

I am so glad that I had this time in Ljubljana and I hope to be able to come back soon! It has made me grow so much as an educator and really has solidified my teaching philosophy; I almost feel ready to graduate!

A Place in this World (posted on behalf of Shea Rust)

Since Danila Kumar is an International Baccalaureate school it actually is somewhat similar to the schools in the U.S. Apparently Slovene national schools are pretty different, but I didn’t really get to see classes like that since I was in the international program. However, I feel like classroom management was a little different. We’ve been told that in Slovenia even in the international schools all classroom teachers must be Slovenian because it’s the law that Slovenes teach the students. I think that the Slovene teachers, at least mine, definitely have a different method of classroom management than I’m used to.

My teacher used a lot of voice raising and public calling out which was not what I was used to, though it did seem to keep the students on their toes! At Danila Kumar they’re really into inquiry-based learning which is what my placements in the states were really focusing on with the new Common Core Standards as well so I think it was pretty easy for me to transition in that sense. The Slovenian teachers were very surprised we knew what inquiry-based learning was and that we were used to implementing it in our own classrooms. They seemed to think that in America teaching was more of the “drill and kill” type so I was glad we could kind of dispel those beliefs. Thanks St. Mary’s! It was definitely interesting to see the teaching styles over there and I think that it also helped me to understand who I want to be as a teacher a little better too so that was great for me. All in all, at the international school, I think I ended up being more surprised at the similarities between our systems than the differences!


Tory Davis: Questioning the Classroom

While teaching at Gimnajija Bežigrad,  I have had to make a cultural classroom adjustment. Back in the states I was very well adapted to a teacher led classroom where my preparation and lesson planning drove the class to new ideas and activities. At Gimnajija Bežigrad, I have learned how to become more masterful in the art of Social Inquiry where the teacher asks questions and the class is led in the direction the students take the questioning; it’s very much a create-as-you-go type of teaching style. I would plan lessons more around what questions I wanted to ask, and then while I was teaching I would adapt and change the questions–sometimes I would throw out all of my questions–and completely change the lesson on the spot. This type of teaching has helped me to realize the value of creating questions that spark responses that create more questions for class discussion. I have become more of a facilitator here than a teacher.

For example, I was teaching a lesson on equality in society through the Kurt Vonnegut’s short story: “Harrison Bergeron”. I had planned three questions to last me for the entire 90 minutes.

1) How are equality and fairness different?

2) What does Vonnegut mean when he ends the story with the line: “That was a doozy.”?

3) What is the moral of this story?

These questions helped facilitate the discussion, but the students brought their own questions to these questions: Why do authors keep writing stories about dystopias? How does equality work today? Why does Harrison have to to die? Why doesn’t George become a rebel like his son? Is being a rebel always a good thing? When is it okay to be a rebel? Why do we have governments if they are so flawed? And on, and on, and on.

The students were so passionate and many of them stayed after the 90 minutes of class was over to keep discussing the questions they had (they have a 25 minute break period after my class). It was an amazing experience to take part in.

This teaching style and student-centered questioning will be coming back to the States with me. By questioning the classroom and adapting the lesson on the fly, the students were more engaged and helped create their own relevance for the lesson. :)

I was given the opportunity to teach a mini-unit on bullying by my Slovenian mentor teacher, Maja, and this experience was lifechanging. The third years (juniors) had been learning bullying terminology and needed to put their vocabulary into practice. What better way for them to practice this than to work with Ray Bradbury’s short story: “All Summer in a Day”? The students discussed this story in great depth through character analysis and through many mediums (like a Facebook template) to understand the characters, plot, and theme of the story.

This unit brought forth many pertinent issues that teenagers across the world face everyday. The most emotional display and thought provoking time came on my last day teaching my juniors. We reviewed the story, and then we jumped into real world issues that this story addresses. We watched a response video my friend Thomas made to a child who posted a video of himself revealing his inner thoughts and feelings about being bullied.

It was a heavier clip, but my kids were mature, respectful, and very thoughtful about the nature of the video. It inspired them to rise up and take action. I took pictures of the students with their own note card to send a message to victims of bullying to stay strong. It was an extremely moving experience to see the students so passionate about the topic of the lesson. It’s a memory I will carry with me for the rest of my life. banbullying

Post #10: Final Reflection

write a final reflection on how this placement has changed zou in relation to language learning, being in a foreign culture, and your sense of self-confidence.

My placement at Gimnazia Bezigrad in Ljubljana, Slovenia has absolutely fostered my love for teaching English at the secondary level. Teaching the English language has taken on a whole new meaning for me throughout this experience because my role was transformed from one of fostering critical thinking and literary analysis in the American classroom, into one of actually providing language fundamentals and word meanings to English learners. I found a healthy dose of perspective in this phenomenon because these Slovenian and International students either know or are learning the ins and outs of English grammar and the function of language. I don’t know many American students who could explain to you what a past participle is or how to conjugate a verb into its past perfect tense. Therefore, I have cultivated a stronger belief in the role of not only being able to use and speak the language, but actually understanding the language within the English classroom.  I hope to bring this back to America with me to someday incorporate into my own classroom.

As a chronic wanderer, I thrive on immersion into a foreign culture. I have previously enjoyed living within the bounds of British culture and exploring Indian culture, but Slovenian culture is a whole new beast. The language is unintelligible unless you study Slovene and the people “do not wear their heart on their sleeve,” as my mentor teacher likes to put it. Therefore, there is always the danger of falling into the trap of thinking that people on the bus or the streets or in the hallways have a problem with you or dislike you. It took me a while to learn that a small piece of the Slovenian culture involves challenging others to really want to get to know you by making them break through a stony exterior. Of course, this is a generalization, but my mentor teacher and friend has been kind enough to explain this cultural characteristic to me and it has helped me to feel much more comfortable as an outsider within this very foreign culture. Thriving for almost six weeks within this culture has fostered my interest and enjoyment for putting myself in these positions and makes me wonder about what will be my next adventure.

I came to Slovenia wary of how I would be accepted as an American travelling to a European country right now–especially of how I would be accepted as an American teacher by European students. However, the students’ interest and intrigue in me and what I have to teach them has sincerely boosted my confidence as an educator. Today was my last day teaching 1C–the class of first year Slovenian students. At the very end of class, a student named Maja stood up and gave me a class picture that every student in the class had signed. In this class, we watched clips from Frozen and used it as a discussion point for natural disasters shrowded in myth. The picture of the students was mixed in with digital images of the characters from the film and on the back was the message, “Some people are worth melting for!”

Yes, I cried. Yes, I will miss these students and this school. Yes, this has been an incredible experience that I will never forget.

Post #9: Educational Differences

I am quite impressed by the Slovenian school system. Gimnazia Bezigrad seems to work like a well-oiled machine in which all parties cohabitate peacefully. The teachers are not jaded, the administrators are friendly and driven, and the students (largely) do their work in the classroom without asking whether it is a process or a product grade.

I have been told continually that Gimnazia Bezigrad is the “best school in Slovenia.” The presence of the national Slovenian school and the international IB school in one institution is out of the norm for Slovenian secondary schools; thus, setting GimB apart from the rest. Therefore, when I discuss the differences between the Slovenian school system and the American school system, it is with the understanding that my perspective is limited to a narrow scope of one special school within Slovenia.

Slovenian secondary students attend classes, read, study, write essays, and cultivate knowledge with one goal in mind: to pass the Matura exam in May of their fourth year. The Matura exam covers a variety of subjects and is the ulitimate assessment (incredibly high stakes) to determine a students’ mastery over the subjects they have studied. Several teachers have explained this testing phenomenon to me as synonymous with the American SATs. However, the SATs are optional, outside of school, and independent of a student’s diploma–the Matura is not of these things. The stakes are high and all around me right now are panicked fourth-years praying that they have studied hard enough. Even my first year students occassionally bring up their impending Matura examination that is ONLY three years away.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the students are tracked for classes based on their homeroom assignments, which they receive upon entry into the school in their first year. The students from each homeroom have the exact same schedule and list of courses for four years. I like that the students are able to have this support system of consistant peers, but I also have concerns that the students should not be forced to follow this track is their interests or abilities plateau and they wish to put their efforts elsewhere. I am genuinely curious to find out if this phenomenon is present in all Sovenian secondary schools or if this is one of those qualities that is special for Gimnazia Bezigrad.

There is an interesting culture to the student-teacher relationship that I have observed in this school. In several teachers’ classrooms, I have observed some ruthless (not mean, just brutally honest and direct) shaming. Students must come to the front of the classroom and apologize to the teacher at the beginning of the class when they failed to complete their assignment. The teacher will then chastize that student publically, send him or her back to their desk, and move on without another word on the subject. I like this sense of openness, but I wonder if there is a downside to forcing a student to be so public with their shortcomings. I have a suspicion that, yes, students are more motivated to complete their work, but if something comes up or they fail once or twice, this could damage their confidence.

Teachers also seem to call students out very publically and discuss their grades with them entirely without discression. For example: my mentor teacher chastized a student, Urban (who recently placed fourth in the Slovenian National English Language Competition–I did not even know that was a thing), for not doing his weekend reading assignment three weeks in a row. The class was generally silent and my mentor teacher said, “Urban, this is intolerable! Tell the class why you have stopped doing your assignments…” Then she looked at me and asked, “Shelby, please share with Urban how he would be handled in an American school.” I was incredibly uncomfortable and really had no idea how to handle the situation so I went the comedic route and said he would probably be sent to the dungeons. Luckily, they got that one because usually the jokes are over their heads :)

One of the most interesting and welcome differences is visible when I instruct a class of students to complete a task in class. Whether is is a warm-up question, a Facebook post from a character’s perspective, or a five-minute refection to share later, these students do it without complaint or hesitation. At first I was caught quite off guard. I didn’t understand why no one asked me how many points the assignment would count for or it is was a product or a process grade. I asked my mentor teacher about this and she responded with a bit of confusion herself. She explained to me that the students are not assigned grades daily, or even weekly. The students have essays and tests throughout their courses that are certainly graded, but the grade is really determined by the teacher at the end of the year based on how well the students not only did on these assignments, but on their observed behavior with work in class. Therefore, the students do not need to ask how much the specific assignment will impact their grade, because they understand that everything they do in the classroom and how much effort they put into the class will be reflected in their grade at the end.