Only after deep reflection and with considerable guilt can I write the following confession: I hate you, IKEA. Yes, you offer accessible design at incredible prices, and without you I would never be able to decorate my apartment or organize my classroom drawers. I will even confess to an unhealthy devotion to your meatballs and Prieselbeeren sauce.
But, for purely selfish reasons, I am done with you (for a week at least). I cannot stomach another turn of your fjborking screws or another frustrated thumbing-through of the pictographs you call directions. In other words, I have grown tired of the minutia connected with moving.
I am not complaining. REALLY, I am not. The upheaval associated with an Intercontinental move is a small price to pay for the wonderful opportunity my wife and I have received. In July we moved back to a small town outside Frankfurt, Germany, where we lived and taught prior to our time in Boston. It has been a homecoming in many ways. We return to incredible friends, a lovely little apartment, a lifestyle that brings a sense of adventure to even the most mundane tasks, and, yes, the beer is not bad either. We are more than a little happy.
Remember, be patient. I like to think of myself as a pretty chilled out man, but the ongoing “to do” list connected to a big move reminds me that I make significantly more progress when I slow down and relax. Despite my best efforts, I still struggle mightily to speak German. I have great support systems here, but I try to do as much as I can on my own. In order to connect my satellite dish, figure out which section of grass is o.k. for my dog to use, buy a new car, make chit-chat with a neighbor, or do just about anything else I need to do after stepping out the front door, I have to patiently communicate using my caveman German and highly refined Charades skills. Not actually being an idiot but sounding like one for the majority of my day is incredibly frustrating, but I know I will be more empathetic to my students’ struggles throughout the school year as a result. Patience is, indeed, a virtue, in life and in the classroom.
Take joy in the work. Any task can become tedious. When I accept that even the most routine tasks can becoming extremely complicated when barriers of language and culture come into play, I can find joy in tedium. I’ll admit it. I’m impressed with myself for assembling and hanging my own IKEA shelves. I cursed a lot while doing it, but I secretly enjoyed the challenge, too. I am thankful that each year in the classroom brings with it a chance for me to experiment, reflect, and evolve. I am sure I will curse at some point, but I also know I will look back on the hard work at the end of the year with satisfaction.
Establish routines. Every morning here begins with an hour (or longer) hike in the woods with my dog. My incredibly intelligent but very reactive dog improves with such regular exercise, and I find benefits to my mental and physical health, too. Once the school year begins my hikes might not be as long, but I know I will continue them. I always tell beginning teachers to establish three classroom routines that they will use in every unit throughout the year. This year I will teach English in grades 6, 7, and 9, and for the first time ever, a grade 6 Social Studies class. With four preps, I will have to establish routines early for my own mental health.
Look for the everyday beauty. It is not difficult to find beautiful things in my new home. My wife and I are still very much in the “honeymoon” stage with our new country, but I also have found great joy in finding the everyday beauty in the classroom. In my next post I will be writing about the importance of helping students write for authentic audiences, and I will share some students’ stories that will stay with me for the rest of my life. When I can approach the routine of the school year with the same fresh eyes as an Auslander in a new home, I find much more joy and success in my work.