Sunday, July 13, 2014

Understanding the Meaning of Vocational Education in German Context

At a vocational school where students were learning and
special make-up effects.
July 13, 2014. Hamburg, Germany. By Anita Lamoureux.

What a week it has been!  There are so many additional benefits that extend beyond the primary educational purpose of our interactions with the German educational and work system.  These are the benefits that helped us grow and develop as individuals and professionals.  Our cohort was a diverse group of educators and program managers that share a passion for student learning within CTE.  We all came together and experienced a new culture, all the while exhibiting patience as we helped each other maneuver through this foreign environment.  Our acculturation did not take long!

Collectively, we agreed that the German people we had the privilege to interact with might have initially appeared curt; however, as we acclimated – we came to understand the confidence of being forthright and factual…”no beating around the bush” as we Americans would say.  We all came to appreciate this trait.  One particular waitress comes to mind from the Bremen Ibis…the initial thought I had of her was “she scares me” – her outward sternness and commitment to doing her vocation was clear.  Yes, she was committed to her job – but, she was the dearest sweetest hospitality employee I have come in contact with during our stay in Germany.  Nothing/no one would stand in the way of satisfying her customer/client!  As I mentioned my initial “fear” to other cohort members – they expressed the same reaction to her as well. Other interactions proved to be similar during our stay this week.  All the students we had the privilege to interact with were proud to share in the value system of Germany – and were confidently and clearly direct in their message.  Only once did I hear a student ask permission to “speak frankly” about his success within the educational system.  Certainly, that was unusual!

Another impression that I take with me is the idea, or concept of, “beruf.”  This German word for “vocation” is the antithesis of its American term.  “Beruf” is not just a word for job/work/position – it is so much more.  It combines a belief in the value of work for self, community and soul.  This word represents a way of life, not just a means to an end.  This is but one valuable lesson I bring back to my CTE students – life’s work is not just about the work, it is your whole person, and the benefit that comes with being positively connected to your society.

As I reflect back on this journey, I am blessed to have been invited and I am blessed to have come to know so many wonderful people in this one short week.  The beauty of social media is that we will remain connected personally, while striving to share and continue to compare our passion for student learning within the context of CTE.  To this end, I appreciate the richness of this journey and look forward sharing my experience when I return home.

Wiedersehen für jetzt deutsche Freunde! (Goodbye for now German friends!)
Anita Lamoureux is Teacher Leader/Business Department Head at Mariner High School in Cape Coral, FL.
She is also a master student in career and technical education at the University of South Florida.

More Than One Way to Win With the Apprenticeship System

Airbus booth at the recruitment fair at the Bremen
city center on July 12, 2014.
July 13, 2014 - Bremen, Germany. By Meredith Bogush.

Designed in a way that is broad enough to meet the needs of the citizens, but focused enough to provide a tailored education that is flexible with both practical and theoretical application to each student, the German educational system is preparing students for success. In visiting Germany, I have received numerous opportunities to talk with teachers, students, apprentices, school administrators, and business owners. Through those discussions and observations, I have gained a better understanding of the German view of success.

I was able to speak briefly with an 18 year old part time student who attended vocational school for 2 days out of the week and worked for a German railroad company the other three days. This student explained that he was looking forward to entering the workforce immediately. He had no intention of attending university, because he felt prepared. To this student, success was feeling confident in his option  and ability to learn both in and out of the traditional educational enviroment-- without sacrificing time, money, or effort. He did not feel a pressure to continue a theoretical education because it was "the only way" to success. Instead, he felt the need to focus on more pratical experience becuase it complemented his skill and interest and was part of his pathway to success. A second example of Germany's broad but tailored educational system was when we were able to visit the Mercedes training center. We spoke with two apprentices who were both in their second year of apprenticeship. Both males were under the "Same roof, same family, same team," motto of Mercedes and judging by their laughs and looks they gave one another, they were good friends. Even though they were in an equal position with Mercedes, the both had very different future goals. One, wanted to leave the company and continue his education through the university and later return to Mercedes; whereas the other apprentice did not want to further his education with university experience. Instead, he wanted to stay with Mercedes in hopes of advancing. Both of these apprentices were confident with their future aspiration as they both believed their choice was helpful to experiencing more success.

These are just 3 examples of students who have been exposed to both the theoretical and practical experience of their trade yet, they are choosing various ways to strengthen and guarantee their success. They did not seem swayed by a societal view of "one way to success" but instead they viewed success by making the choices they felt were necessary to achieving their future goals.

In reflecting on these interractions, I am encouraged by the various future goals each student aspires to achieve; but, even more so, I am encouraged by the assertiveness in their decisions as they showed confidence in their ability to receive a specificly focused education from a broad and flexible sytem. It is because of this flexibility that students are able to pick a future career/vocation that they feel confident, capable, and successful in.

 Bob Dylan once said, "A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, and in between does what he wants to do." I believe, that is what the German educational system has allowed its learners to do---to experience success comfortably and confidently practicing and advancing in their abilities.
Meredith Bogush is Coordinator of the  SCATTER Tutor-a-Bull ​ Program​ at the University of South Florida (USF)
in Tampa, FL. She is also a doctoral student in career and workforce education at USF.

The Value of Hands-On Learning

Meredith Bogush, Siever Dietmer (company owner),
Pekka Kämäräinen (ITB Researcher), and Ansberto
Vallejo during the visit to the Siever + Knuppel
company in Bremen.
July 13, 2014 - Bremen, Germany. By Meredith Bogush.

During my teaching career, I was frequently asked "Why are we learning this?" Sometimes my response was quick and easy, "We are learning to tell time so that you won't have to depend on your parents to tell you when your favorite TV show is." Other times, ​connection between the lesson and the application were not as easy to convince to students​ . "We are learning how to find the circumference of a circle so that... so that...." ​That could be a tough one! Without that application, that connection, that purpose, knowledge seemed to go in one ear and out the other. One of the MANY valuable experiences of being here in Germany has been the ability to see theory and practice being used to effectively educate students. This has been a unique and motivating experience.

While visiting the Technical Education Center (TBZ Mitte) in Bremen I was able to see students engaged in vocational training courses. Once class that we briefly observed had students engaged in nearly an hour lecture/training on a new electrical problem. These students met two days a week for lecture and hands on application. During the lecture/training, students were provided background information and a purpose for solving the problem. They were then asked to stimulate the exact electrical model and "make it work." Not only did the students "make it work" but they did this while not becoming distracted by nine non-German speaking USF students who were peering over their shoulder asking questions. Additionally, students were able to explain their task and how they were to solve it-- in English! Talk ​about student engagement!

I walked out of that classroom thinking, "In the USA, students would be very inclined to choose a class with such great instruction, application, and purpose." To my surprise, that was just the starting point of the application-- to be more precise, that was just two-fifths of it.  The other three-fifths (three days) of the school week, students were out in facilities as apprentices learning the trade. Thus, they were taking what they were learning in the classroom and applying it to real world/ on the job situations!

The USF CWE group and I went on to visit Siever & Knuppel Elektrotechnik, a small company where we spoke with the owner, Dieter Siever. Siever gave us a tour of the small company that is run by just 12 employees. Even though the company is small, Siever sees  ​the​ benefit in supporting apprenticeship. Siever explained that he has two apprentices that are utilized to their full potential to accomplish company responsibilities. The apprentices responsibilities can include any and all of the following: acceptance of orders, planning, and implementation.

I thought to myself, "That is a lot of faith to have in a student." This is something that Siever was (obviously) well aware of, but it does not deter him from supporting apprenticeships. He expects apprentices to make mistakes because they are not masters of the field and "no one is perfect." When Siever was asked about what qualities he looks for when choosing an apprentice, he stated, that because he places a great deal of responsibility on apprentices, he expects the level of communication to be very strong.

I couldn't help but notice Siever's reaction to our questions. He didn't seem burdened by the responsibility of training an apprentice. He seemed proud.  He did not seem overwhelmed with the training of the apprentice. He knew the 11 other staff members at Siever would help in the training and growth of the apprentice. I viewed Siever as a great contributor to the success of the German Education system; yet, it appeared as he viewed his inclusion in the apprentice system as a win-win-win for him, the apprentice, and the future of Germany. It was this collaborative effort between the schools and community that allowed students to see the true purpose to what they were learning. As a result, I found that instead of students asking the teacher, "Why are we learning this skill?" students were answering the question themselves.
Meredith Bogush is Coordinator of the  SCATTER Tutor-a-Bull ​ Program​ at the University of South Florida (USF)
in Tampa, FL. She is also a doctoral student in career and workforce education at USF.