ETA Spotlight Interview: Meredith Rossignol

by Sinia Amanonce

Meredith Rossignol
Meredith Rossignol is serving this year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Litomyšl, Czech Republic. A special education teacher of four years and an alumna of the prestigious Teach for America program, Meredith is a passionate educator that encourages her students to engage their multiple intelligences and take ownership of their own learning. Read below to find out what Meredith has to say about the differences between Czech and American schools, life in the Czech Republic, and what her students taught her to say using Czech language.

Fast Facts  
Hometown: Barre, Vermont
Age: 26
College, Major/Minor: Bucknell University, International Relations and Spanish/ History
School in the Czech Republic: Vyšší odborná škola pedagogická a Střední pedagogická škola Litomyšl
Favorite Czech word or phrase: “Slon je velký [elephant is big] - really helpful because there are so many elephants here.”
Favorite Czech food: Svíčková
Favorite Quote: “Strive for progress, not perfection.”

Hey, Meredith! Can you tell me about yourself?
I’m from a small town in Vermont called Barre. I went to Bucknell University in Pennsylvania for my bachelor’s and then did Teach for America. While doing Teach for America, I got my master’s in Special Education from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. Then, I was a special education teach for four years before coming here.

What led you to apply for the Fulbright grant?
My undergrad major was International Relations and I’ve always loved travelling and learning about the world. After my first year of teaching, I did an internship with the Kern Family Foundation near Milwaukee where I worked with on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) test for the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) and looked at different educational systems throughout the world, and I loved doing that. I knew that at some point in my career, I wanted to work more with international education. After four years in Wisconsin, it was just time for a change. When the Fulbright opportunity came up, I learned more about it, and it was basically everything I ever wanted to do with teaching, learning about international education, travelling, and learning about new cultures.

Fulbright is really cool, right? Why did you choose the Czech Republic?
I’ve always been interested in Central European history. Last summer, my husband and I visited Prague, and I loved it. I didn’t know a lot about Czech education, it wasn’t one of the countries that I studied with the Kern Foundation, so I really wanted to learn more.

You have a lot of classroom experience. What do you think is the biggest difference between American and Czech education?
There’s so many! Wow, I don’t know if I can pick just one because it’s so different! The biggest difference is that students with disabilities are not educated in the same classrooms as their peers in regular education. I teach 150 students and I have about two or three students with disabilities.

I try to do general differentiations within lessons and give differentiated instructions to provide more support. Then, depending on the assessment or what my student needs, I’ll allow them to use notes, give them extended time, give them a separate setting. There’s not a ton of modifications I can make, unfortunately, because there are no modifications on the maturita [final] exam

But I do have a website! I put all of my lessons online before class so my students can look through them ahead of time and translate words they don’t know so they can understand.

I’d love to see your website!
Its https://meredithrossignol.weebly.com/

Do you have a project for this year?
Within my teaching, I’m trying to teach students ways of learning through Interactive Notebooks. It uses the Multiple Intelligences theory and combining it with taking notes. It combines art, with writing and notetaking to get students out of textbooks and have them take ownership of their own learning. They really do put a lot of effort in their notebooks and it's evident and awesome. When I was a special education teacher, it was one of the most helpful tools for my students.

It’s sounds like you’ve been doing great. Do you have any advice on how to prepare for the Fulbright grant to the Czech Republic?
I don’t think I’ve planned enough. I tried to learn some Czech but I could have done a lot more. I think just try to talk to your mentor as much as possible and reach out to build relationships ahead of time, so it’s not so shocking when you get here.

What town are you living in this year?
Litomyšl - it is perfect. It’s amazing. It’s a small town of about ten thousand people. It is the birthplace of Bedřich Smetana, a famous Czech composer. Music and the arts are very special to my town and the school. It feels so liberal and cool. It’s a little music and artsy town. I just love it.

What do you enjoy about teaching English?
I love teaching about (American) culture and how students get excited to learn about something that’s totally different from their own experiences. The other part, is that I love watching students become more and more comfortable with English, and then watching them start to talk. In the beginning of September my students were shy and didn’t know what to expect and had low confidence in their language abilities. But, as these two months have gone on I’ve seen them open up, talk, and get excited and motivated to speak in English.

How was adjusting to living in the Czech Republic?
It’s always challenging being part of a different culture you are not familiar with. I think the Czech Republic there is definitely more of an emphasis on community and you support your community - everyone shops at locally owned stores. There are shopping centers or fast food in my town. You can not just go to one store and get everything you need. It can be a bit of an inconvenience, but it has made me integrate more into the community.

I understand that! It is not what we are used to in the U.S. So, on the flip side, what is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
Meeting the people. My coworkers and students have made me feel so welcome and like a part of the community. Everyone keeps taking me out for coffee and I enjoy it because everyone is so kind and welcoming. It makes me so happy to be here.

I know it is still early in the grant year, but how do you think your life will change as a result of this year with Fulbright?
I don’t know how it won’t change. One thing I didn’t expect is how much I’m learning to appreciate America. Being away from home, I realize there are a lot of things I took for granted and things that I miss. I take for granted how Americans will speak out for injustice, and how passionate and outspoken they are about their beliefs. I think there are many cultures where people are not as outspoken and it is less normal for people to find ways to stand up for injustice. I know I will have a better understanding of what the world is like because I’ve experienced multiple cultures.

How are you feeling about everything at this moment?
I feel so lucky that I get to be here. The emotion I’ve been feeling overwhelmingly for the past few months is gratitude because the people I have met here - my mentor, my students, and Kelsey, another ETA in Litomyšl. I think the people in this town are so special and I’m so lucky I know them.

Meredith with her Czech colleague