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Featuring Heather Brown '10
Position: 4th Grade Teacher
School: Black Forest Academy
Location: Germany
(Profiled: November 2011)

♦  How did you connect with this job opportunity?
♦  What attracted you to this position?
♦  What are the most gratifying aspects of your job?
♦  What has been/was your biggest challenge as a first-year teacher?
♦  How did your time at GCC prepare you for the teaching field?
♦  What advice would you give to a current pre-service teacher in order to better prepare for his or her future classroom?
♦  What job search tips would you give to GCC students?
♦  What are the challenges and rewards of teaching in another culture?
♦  What are the challenges and rewards of living in another culture?

How did you connect with this job opportunity?
Although I was already familiar with BFA from personal connections in my hometown, I first became aware of job opportunities at the school from a BFA recruiter who visited the Student Union at GCC. After speaking with the recruiter, I began the application and got connected with TeachBeyond, my mission agency. (All BFA staff members are missionaries associated with a particular mission agency.)

What attracted you to this position?
It's more than just teaching. It's a teaching job, plus so much more. As a Grove City student, I loved being an RA and taking education classes. I loved organizing campus events and student teaching at the local elementary school. I desperately wanted to tie these two parts of myself together in the post-grad opportunity I chose, but I didn't know what that looked like. At Black Forest Academy, I am a teacher to fourth graders, but I play so many other roles. I am mentored by a woman in the community, have participated in peer Bible studies, lead a small group of high school girls, and occasionally lead worship for different occasions. I absolutely love that there is a built-in community here that promotes deep conversations and strong relational ties. I am challenged to teach well, but also learn from and invest in others with eternal impact.

What are the most gratifying aspects of your job?
Sitting around the dinner table with a student and her family, sitting in the living room of a high school dorm singing worship songs, bumping into my students in the bumper cars at a fall festival... these are the times when I think, this is why I do what I do. I love encouraging others, challenging them in new ways, and ultimately, seeing lives changed. It's most humbling to know that I couldn't have any impact without Christ in me; it's most rewarding to know that God is working through me.

What was your biggest challenge as a first-year teacher?
One challenge as a first-year teacher was not being able to compare the abilities of my students with a "benchmark" of sorts. I had never taught fourth grade before, so it was difficult to know whether my fourth grade students were on par with other fourth graders. With only one class of each grade, there was no opportunity for same-grade collaboration or insight. Another challenge was the overwhelming amount of resources and flexibility to make it my own. While it was exciting to be able to add my personality to the curriculum, I had to wade through a lot of materials and lesson ideas that I didn't need to use. As a second year teacher, I have a much better idea of pacing, connections among subjects, and what to emphasize. In August, I was able to create a week-by-week block plan for the year, and that has been a great sketch to follow as I write specific weekly lesson plans.

How did your time at GCC prepare you for the teaching field?
I had developed a strong work ethic at GCC because of the rigorous academic environment, so I was disciplined in devoting time to writing lesson plans, creating thematic units, and developing materials during my first year of teaching. Perhaps even more importantly, GCC had prepared me for the challenge of balance. While at Grove City, I learned the importance of doing work well, but also finding connectedness in friendships and ministries.

What advice would you give to a current pre-service teacher in order to better prepare for his or her future classroom?
Take advantage of the opportunity to observe current teachers and ask questions—about management, unique student needs, curriculum, planning units, classroom routines, etc. Do this with one caution: Don't assume that you will be able to replicate everything in your own classroom. You may be teaching a different grade level with different curriculum at a school with an entirely different set of policies. Most of all, your students will certainly be different, even from one year to the next. Be prepared to use the ideas that you have seen work well and implement the best practices you've studied in classes, but do so with a sensitivity to students' individualities.

What job search tips would you give to GCC students?
Take time to think about your passions, as well as your professional interests. Brainstorm ideas that incorporate one or the other or both. I had a list of about 10 different directions I could have gone after graduation—admissions, residence life, grad school, teaching in all different parts of the world—and I thought I would never narrow down the possibilities. Be patient and allow God to show Himself faithful in the waiting process. While you actively research options, send in applications, and pray about possibilities, allow Him to guide your heart to where you can serve Him passionately.

What are the challenges and rewards of teaching in another culture?
Our bilingual school (grades 1-3) is an exciting new program for BFA. Challenges of homogenous staffs are accentuated when working with staff from difficult cultures. There are differences in classroom management, communication of opinions, report card formats, handling misbehavior, etc. I am on a staff with German teachers, but I do not have a bilingual classroom, so I am only indirectly affected by these cultural differences. There are many rewards to having a multicultural classroom. While eight of my ten students are North American, many in my class would consider Europe more of a "home" than America, since they have lived here since they were young. These students have rich background experiences and a more global perspective on the world. I have fourth graders who have lived in Canada, the USA, Switzerland, France, Kenya, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan—and there are students from over 53 nations in grades 1-12. The students at BFA represent a unique collection of cultures that create a beautiful display of God's greatness.

What are the challenges and rewards of living in another culture?
Naturally, it is challenging to leave behind the familiarities of my "home culture"—my family, close friends, favorite stores, holiday celebrations, etc. However, my experience here at BFA is different from other international experiences because there is such a large community of North Americans associated with the school. I am extremely blessed to have many friends here who are in the same position as me—living far away from family in a culture different from our own. I think it would be a lot more difficult to thrive as a teacher overseas without the encouragement and understanding of these friends. Additionally, I find it very rewarding to be involved in a German church. Singing worship songs in English and German, as well as attending church alongside hundreds of German believers, allows me to not only get a different glimpse of the German culture, but also grow in my faith in new ways.

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