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Teaching in the city of a hundred spires

Q&A with senior English education major Grace Luebben of  Glidden, Wisconsin as she prepares to depart for her student teaching experience in Prague this fall.

Where exactly is it that you will be student teaching? What age students?

I will be student teaching in the “city of a hundred spires.” In other words, I will be at the Prague British School in Prague, Czech Republic, for the first ten weeks of the fall semester. This school has two locations, and I will be teaching at the Kamyk site in Praha 4. Here, I will be teaching Key Stage 3, which is ages 11-14. While I have not received a placement in specific classes yet, I expect to be spending much of my time in courses revolving around poetry, drama, non-fiction, and the novel.  During the last eight weeks of the semester, I will finish out my student teaching experience right in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, at a local high school.

What do you know about the education system in Prague? How is it similar to or different from ours?

Overall, the structure of a daily lesson seems very similar to ours in the states. I still begin with an exciting activity, give a short lecture, and then allow students to explore a topic in small groups. However, I have heard that the school day is much more similar to a university than to a typical high school. For example, each department has an office where all the teachers are based. When there is a class, they go to the room that class is assigned to. A Minnesotan student teacher I am in contact with teaches in 12 different classrooms. She also told me that her students laugh when she says garbage instead of rubbish!

What sort of cultural “prep” have you done for this experience?

While English is the primary language at the school, I actually bought a Basic Czech audio set in order to learn some of the Czech language. So far, I have learned how to say hello, goodbye, I am American, and I understand English. As you can see, my knowledge of Czech runs deep. I also made connections with people who have lived in the Czech Republic for a few years by reaching out to my family and friends. They provided me with information about visas, the US embassy, housing, and even Facebook pages where I could connect with expats. Who knew how helpful Facebook could be to my blossoming academic career?

Have you been abroad before? Where? What prior experiences, abroad or at home, do you think have best prepared you to live in Prague for a semester?

I have only been abroad once in Mexico. Therefore, I think that the field experiences provided by the Teacher Education program have prepared me for teaching abroad the most. By interacting with students, faculty, and parents, I know that I have the confidence and strength to face whatever challenges may come my way while in Europe. I am not saying they will be easy as a girl from a small town in Northern Wisconsin, but I know that student teaching abroad will be a worthwhile and awarding experience. As Saint Augustine says “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Could this be any more relevant to an English major?

What aspects of your English education program do you feel have best prepared you for this experience? Are you nervous or concerned about anything in particular? What support is in place for you once you are there?

The English Education program has given me an enormous toolbox that allows me to communicate, empathize, and write a six-page essay in one night (just kidding! I promise I have never done that…for an English course). Honestly though, discussion-based classes have taught me how to sit back and listen to and value the opinions and beliefs of others.

I am definitely terrified about figuring out the public transportation system. Everything in Eau Claire is so conveniently close that I am used to walking or biking. Watch me miss the first day of school and end up in Austria! Fortunately, I am able to contact my placement person, cooperating teacher, or even other English teachers at the school if I need help at any point. In fact, a few have already skyped me to chat –even the music teacher! Everyone has been enormously supportive and understands that I am there to learn and ask questions. While I may be a teacher in the classroom, I am also still a student who’s eager to learn more about the world and what philosophies I can bring back to my future classroom.  

Anything else you’d like to tell us? What advice would you have for current or future Blugolds interested in English Ed’ and study abroad? Tips for making these plans work into a degree plan?

Get to know the professors in the English Department and get involved with English organizations. I have met so many kind-hearted and remarkable human beings by making the effort to meet people outside of the classroom. Educators like Professor Shaddock, Professor Shih, Professor Berchini, and Professor Applegate opened their doors to me and helped me see that multicultural education is my passion.

Moreover, use college as a chance to take on new adventures. Lots of things seem impossible until they are done. I am graduating soon and there are already so many opportunities I regret not taking. For instance, why did I not register for even more creative courses, like dance? Why did I not join the water ski club? Now that I am moving on, I realize how much learning means to me and how exhilarating it is to gain more knowledge and use it as a tool in the world around me. With that said, go and discover the world for yourself.