Third Grade Teacher Barbara Voehler has spent many summers, including the last one, teaching in her native country of Switzerland. Continue reading to find out how this special professional opportunity came about and how it influences her work at 2000 Edgehill.
By Sierra Smith, Communications Specialist
“I’m in Mrs. Voehler’s class, we get to talk to people in Switzerland,” Anisha Nachnani '32 says cheerfully, as she bounds down the stairs headed for the 21st Avenue Garage.
It’s the first week of school and excitement for the year to come is palpable all across campus. Students set goals, review syllabuses, return to early morning routines, and, in Anisha’s case, eagerly anticipate interesting assignments they’ve heard about from older students.
When Anisha’s comment is mentioned to Voehler, she replies with a smile, “Oh yes, I’m certainly hoping to do that again this year, especially since I was finally able to go back to Switzerland to teach again this summer.”
For those unfamiliar with Voehler, the third grade teacher’s comment might lead to furrowed brows and looks of confusion, but her coworkers and former students can easily recall Voehler’s enthusiasm for snow days, her intriguing accent, and the pride with which she shares her Swiss culture in her classroom even 30 years after moving to America when her husband accepted a job at Vanderbilt University.
“When we first moved here, it was only going to be for a couple of years,” Voehler admitted. “I was excited because I thought ‘I can do anything for a couple years’ and yet, here we are, we just haven’t left.”
She instills that same sense of adventure and optimism in her students, always reminding them to be open to new ideas, to have a positive growth mindset, and to welcome challenges as opportunities for beneficial changes.
Voehler also brings a bit of Swiss schools to her classroom; since she’s maintained her teaching credentials in Switzerland, Voehler often travels back to her home country to teach there once school is out in Nashville.
With different school calendars, Voehler uses her connections in Swiss schools to find long-term substitute positions and fill in where needed in June and July. Due to COVID-19, she was unable to do so in 2020 or 2021, but was thrilled to return in 2022 for this unique, immersive opportunity to look at how schools operate in another country.
“There are a lot of similarities, but just being in a different environment always gives me new ideas and hopes for how we can continue to make our school better,” Voehler shared. “Teaching in Switzerland is great because it’s nice to go home, but it also allows me to dream about what could be next for my classroom, or the Lower School, or USN as a whole.”
Voehler’s summer activities also make the assignment to which Anisha was referring possible. With so many connections to educators in Switzerland, Voehler has created a penpals project that benefits both sets of students — in her third grade classroom at USN, students learn how to write letters while their Swiss penpals are practicing their English. And, both students are introduced to another country’s culture and customs through the writing prompts used.
“The kids always really enjoy feeling like they have made a friend in another country, and it makes me feel really good to share this part of me with them,” Voehler shared.
Whether the penpals project makes it into the classroom this year or not, one thing is clear — Voehler’s identity and background are an integral part of who she is as an educator. Only time will tell how she’ll translate her newest hopes, ideas, and inspirations into life at USN, so stay tuned for more to this ever-evolving story.