Every year at DHFS we host two or three visiting teachers. In December 2017, Jürgen Kurka from Bamberg spent three weeks in school finding out how we work, how the students learn, and how the UK school system operates...
Below is Mr Kurka's report about his experiences at DHFS.
Impressions of a German visitor
When I received an email from my soon-to-be host Howard Horsfall in September 2017, telling me I had been chosen to visit Dronfield Henry Fanshawe School, I was quite curious and full of anticipation about what I was going to see and learn about the British school system, about school life in general and about DHFS in particular. I had applied to the visiting program in spring because I had never had the opportunity to participate in a school exchange or seen a British school from the inside before. Apart from the aforementioned aspects the program carried out under the auspices of the UK-German Connection and the German Pedagogical Exchange Service aimed at an exchange of information on school issues and educational topics and I was equally looking forward to those and to encountering known and unknown matters in the three weeks of my visit from 25th November to 16th December 2017.
So what did I see and notice?
Let's start with the most visible differences: the existence of school uniforms, assemblies and mentor time, an allocation of pupils to houses and of classrooms to teachers/subjects (not classes) – all the things we don't have, but that are nonetheless well known in Germany due to teachers' guides, textbooks or Harry Potter films. Coming from a school that was established in 1585 and is currently attended by about 730 pupils I noticed the big size of DHFS – and that its pupils are called “students”. The late start (German schools usually start at 8 o'clock) was quite convenient for me but I think getting used to lessons of 60 minutes might be a challenge for students and teachers in Germany where lessons always last 45 minutes and school days often finish at 1pm. Apart from that I also guess that at German schools – where ties are usually only seen at ceremonies and where students and teachers (including the head teachers), are allowed to wear jeans and dress the way they like – dress codes that are the norm at British schools would be considered a restriction of individual freedom and face severe opposition.
And although I was familiar with many aspects of British school life already it was nevertheless very interesting to follow a year 7 and a year 10 student for one day each to get an impression of what a school day looks like from the learner's perspective – far too often teachers just have their own subject(s) in mind. By following the students I not only saw different teaching methods in a number of subjects or years respectively, I also had the opportunity to watch students work with different materials such as metal, wood, cloth or plastics. At the type of school I teach at we do have Art lessons where pupils do drawing, painting, linocut etc. but there are no workrooms like the ones I saw at DHFS. I must admit I was very impressed by the technical equipment and by the range of manual skills the students could acquire in the course of a school year.
As far as subjects are concerned all the lessons related to English were in the focus of my interest, as I teach that subject as a foreign language. It was interesting to see what and how English is taught to young people for whom it is a mother tongue. And it was somehow reassuring to see that English students fight with the very same difficulties of English grammar and spelling or when structuring essays as their German counterparts do for whom English is a first or second foreign language – so as a result of my observations I hope to be more lenient in the future...
I am very grateful that whenever I asked colleagues they always welcomed me to visit their lessons and to exchange experience afterwards – I thereby got a good number of tips and some new ideas that I am going to try out myself. In the course of the time I spent at DHFS I was allowed to witness courses of various sizes and years, got an insight into a good variety of different topics, attended the Sixth Form Careers Convention, watched the Christmas Pantomime and learned about the tasks and functions of teaching assistants and the ways of supporting students. There would be so much to write about...
One example of a lesson that really fascinated me is connected to History, the second subject I teach: it was a virtual reality experiment in which the students slipped into the role of a war correspondent and used their smartphones to get an impression of what life was like in the trenches of World War I. The lesson was elaborate in terms of content, methodology and didactics: concerning their role the students were told that the government wanted to positively influence public opinion and that they had been chosen to spend four days at the front to write an exclusive report on "What is really happening in the Trenches?" After collecting information with the help of their virtual reality glasses and noting it down the students were told that for unspecified reasons they couldn't write the report – and that the newspaper editor writing it would only receive information that had been approved by a censor. So the students had to swap notes, then take on the role of a censor and decide which of the observations would not have been in the interest of the government. Being one of the initial lessons in which virtual reality was used at DHFS it was an exciting experience and shows how new but already commonplace devices can bridge gaps when teaching content that is complex or far away in terms of time, geography or interest.
Summing up my three weeks at DHFS, I must say they went by far too quickly but every single day teachers, staff and students provided me with an abundance of exceptional and fine moments. I saw and learned so many interesting things and I had a multitude of interesting conversations that I do have more to look back on with pleasure than I could have dared to expect. Many thanks for making me feel so welcome!