International School Community Member Spotlight #30: Kathleen Ralf (A teacher at Frankfurt International School & Wiesbaden)
March 2, 2014
Tell us about your background. Where are you from?
My name is Kathleen Ralf and I work at Frankfurt International School & Wiesbaden as a Humanities and English Teacher.
I was born and raised in the Seattle area. After I received my degree I moved east to the wild desert side of Washington State. I taught English and History in a public school in Wenatchee, Washington for 12 years before deciding to make my move overseas.
How did you get started in the international teaching community?
One day on my way to work I thought to myself… “Is this all there is? Am I just going to keep driving the same road, teaching the same old stuff to the same community, for the rest of my life?!!!” This realization really troubled me. So I started applying directly to schools that were linked to the website of the Association of German International Schools. My husband’s family is in Germany, his mother tongue is German, so it made sense that this would be the place to go.
Which international schools have you worked at? Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.
I started my international career at the International School of Stuttgart. The school was in its first years of major transition. They had a head of school that was dynamic and excited about the changes ahead. I started that year in a cohort of about 12 new to Stuttgart teachers. The community of teachers in Stuttgart is wonderful and supportive. Class trips were definitely a highlight to the school year. These were the moments when I really saw the best in my students and in my colleagues. Dragging 60 students through the crowded streets of Salzburg is a life skill.
I am in my first year at Frankfurt International School & Wiesbaden. This school is one of the oldest International Schools in Europe and has a great academic and athletic reputation. The school is much bigger than Stuttgart, but I find this exciting. The kids are from a greater mix of countries and teachers come here stay. There are so many projects and activities for kids and teachers to involve themselves in here. My favorite so far has been in caring for our adopted Roman watchtowers.
Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.
Recently I had some time to kill with my 6th graders. We had finished up a unit, and I really didn’t want to start the next thing on a Friday before a holiday. One of my students jumped up and said, “Let’s play hangman!” Ok, I thought. I went up to the white board and drew the gallows and began placing the short lines below for my word. The Europeans in the crowd started yelling at me. “Mrs. Ralf! That is not how you play Hangman!”
I stepped back and let them take over. You see in Western Europe you don’t make a gallows. You just draw the lines for the letters of your word. With each guess, you then draw the gallows and eventually hang your man. I asked the question why, but the 6th graders had no answers. I figured that German and Dutch words could be quite long; therefore they need more chances for guessing. Or are these cultures just much more peaceful? No one wants his or her hangman to die.
What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?
I made my most recent move to Frankfurt from Stuttgart because of workload. I had 6 preps in Stuttgart and at one point traveled to 3 different rooms. My office was nowhere near any of the rooms in which I taught. It was a harried race for 4 years. I loved my colleagues and students, but I loved my health, family, and sanity more.
When looking for a new school, I ask a lot of questions. How many preps will I have? How many classes a day? What is the meeting/collaboration schedule like? Do you meet with teams/departments after school or within the school day? What are the expectations on teachers for duties beyond the classroom? (i.e. covering classes, hallway duty, clubs, etc.) When do most teachers go home after work? Not when are contracted hours, find out about the work culture of the school. Do teachers bust out the minute the bell rings? Or do they hang around to plan, collaborate, and work with students? What is the change-over rate of the teachers? Does the school value hiring families?
In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?
Rejuvenating, Creative, Innovative, Culturally Rich
Thanks Kathleen! You can check our more about Kathleen at her blog.
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Want to work for an international school in the Germany like Kathleen? Currently, we have 39 international schools listed in Germany on International School Community. Here are a few that have had comments and information submitted on their profiles:
• Berlin Brandenburg International School (11 Comments)
• Berlin British School (13 Comments)
Galileo Gymnasium (Germany) (11 Comments)
John F. Kennedy School Berlin (11 Comments)
Bonn International School (17 Comments)
International School Braunschweig (Wolfsburg) (19 Comments)
Dresden International School (15 Comments)
International School of Dusseldorf (22 Comments)
• Franconian International School (Erlangen) (13 Comments)
• Strothoff International School (27 Comments)
• Bavarian International School (30 Comments)
• International School Hamburg (14 Comments)
• International School of Stuttgart (24 Comments)