Shane Dagenhart sat with his fellow teachers on the crammed tour bus, bouncing along the countryside on their way to Dachau Concentration Camp. The previous night’s anticipation for this part of their Germany trip had faded to a somber nervous flutter in the pit of his stomach.
He was about to witness history.
“The big part for me was obviously as a social studies teacher to be able to see things that I teach about and bring that back to my kids,” the former A.L. Brown Teacher of the Year said. “As we were getting prepared for the trip, that was one of those places I was very eager to get to. I was really looking forward to finally visiting this historical place. But that morning, when we were on the bus ride over there, it was very quiet, and I just found myself overwhelmed in visiting that place, really raw, all of the history that I try to teach to my kids—it brought it to life.”
With a passion for education, Dagenhart decided why limit his own. The best teaching comes through learning, after all. He traveled to Germany with the Global Teachers to Germany program to not only get a peak at the European system but also put some of his own social studies lessons in perspective.
The trip, which ran June 16 to June 26, was sponsored by the Mariam and Robert Hayes Charitable Trust and Go Global NC. About 27 teachers made the trip, including Dagenhart and two educators from Cabarrus County Schools.
“So to focus on their education system from what they do in the classroom to how they train their teachers,” Dagenhart said of the program’s goal. “Obviously a big part of it was looking at the German history, looking at all the great stuff they’re doing with renewable energy. We also did a lot of looking at different cultural aspects of Germany. It really gave us a wide view of Germany past and present.”
Dagenhart and his colleagues traveled through several German cities, from Berlin and Munich to the smaller Stuttgart and Herrenberg. The A.L. Brown teacher took a few side trips to green towns that produced their own power through solar, wind and water energy. He visited the BMW headquarters to learn about their apprenticeship program and checked out the JFK school that taught both American- and German-born students both languages simultaneously.
“We really focused on education and the history of each place,” Dagenhart said. “Early on in Berlin, we got to go to the Parliament building, and that was amazing. We got to go in and see where Angela Merkel meets. As a social studies teacher, that was awesome to get to go in and see because that’s things that I bring into the classroom a lot.”
The teacher also got the opportunity to teach a high school class about the United States juvenile justice system.
“They were just amazed at how Americans live,” Dagenhart said. “They were very interested in our history, our culture. We talked about the American juvenile justice system versus German. They were able to ask me a lot of questions about the United States, and I was able to ask them a lot of questions that my students wanted to ask them about Germany. That was a neat thing to share what we do here in the United States and learn about what they do.”
“It was similar in the ways that we obviously focus on holding our students to a high standard, getting them prepared for life, whether furthering their education in college or being able to go into the workforce and being a great part of the community,” Dagenhart said. “One thing that I noticed is that they don’t have as strict a focus on standardized testing, whereas obviously in the United States we do a lot of standardized testing from elementary school all the way up.”
Dagenhart said he also noticed a level of independence in the German kids.
“I thought it was very eye-opening to see just how eager their students were to learn,” he said. “They almost could manage themselves. Their routine was very conducive to learning. It was neat to see things that I could bring back to the classroom and use here. You could tell the students there took their education very seriously, and that’s something that obviously we as Airmails should value just as much.”
The trip still sat fresh in Davenant’s mind, and he said he had a lot of ideas floating around. But however his experience plays into the classroom for the coming schoolyear, the teacher said it has played an invaluable role in helping him to grow as an educator.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said. “It’s one that I owe KCS and the Hayes Trust so much for letting me have that opportunity, and it was definitely one of the best experiences not only of my education career but of my life. I really enjoyed it. One of the things I’m going to do is reconnect with some of the teachers that I met, and we’re going to have some activities where my students will be able to connect with and learn with German students, so that’s something.”