As one of my wonderful friends told me not so long ago, before I’d embarked upon my year abroad: “an amazing experience doesn’t have to mean visiting a famous monument” – it can be seeing the people you teach smile, or overcoming a personal challenge. I hope she doesn’t mind me quoting her wise words, which seem appropriate to sum up some of my first experiences teaching English at the school.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I overcome a small personal challenge most days, if not everyday. Whether it’s figuring out how something new works here (e.g. sorting out the Antwortbogen for an Uberweisung for my Rundfunkbeitrag, followed by an Anmeldung to process a Teilnahmegebühr by means of a Verwendungszweck(!!!)) or learning about a cultural difference in etiquette (e.g. how much Trinkgeld (tip) is appropriate to give in a bar, or how formal I should be among teachers at the school), my development isn’t limited to linguistic fluency or grammatical accuracy in German.
It’s also a wonderfully rewarding feeling to see the pupils you teach smile. I’d like to go back in time and say a bit more about the pupils at my Gesamtschule (comprehensive/inclusive school) in Nordrhein-Westfalen, and the classes I have been helping with.
As I was waiting for the bus the other day, two of the pupils from Class 5 noticed me and started talking to me in English. They were using the basic, but useful, phrases they’d learned in English lessons, and I was impressed – “Do you have brothers and sisters?“, “Do you have pets?“, “Where do you come from?“, “Do you like art too?“, “Do you like dogs?” etc. It was a comfort to see ten year old Lukas’* face light up when I responded that I, too, love dogs, and to hear Anna* telling me about her own passion for painting. The warmth of the pupils who wave at the English Language Assistant around the school campus to say “Hello” with a beaming smile makes me feel more welcome.
I find it easier to relate to the younger children, and it makes me happy to feel like I could perhaps make a small difference in their lives – by talking about my life, where I live, what England is like, and sharing my experiences. I did a couple of “question rounds” in my first week, and it was fun to answer: “What’s your favourite city?”, “What do you think of Germany?”, “Have you been on the London Eye?”, “How many people live in your town?”, and my personal favourite: “Have you met the Queen?” (I had to disappoint them all I say no. Though perhaps I should have lied…)
I felt a similar sense of purpose and belonging when I was invited to help run an English breakfast session in my first week with Class 6! One girl came up to me and asked “do you like tea?“, and then “will you be cooking English breakfast with us?“. I didn’t need any more persuasion than that. When Frau Schmidt* said she just had to go out of the room to sort something out, however, I wasn’t expecting to be left in charge of thirty excitable eleven year olds attempting to cook an English breakfast. As you can imagine, it was complete chaos in the kitchen, and misspraxic didn’t help matters.
The pupils had been let loose into four small kitchen units, each group working on a different element of the breakfast… fried eggs were being burned (and consequently scrambled to smithereens), orange juice was being spilled, and an interesting variation on porridge was being prepared. At first it was daunting and a little stressful as I was constantly fearing an accident. It was hard to concentrate on everyone and everything all at once. I really did need eyes in the back of my head – but the children were so enthusiastic for me to try their breakfast.
I really enjoyed this class and hope I get the chance to help with another practical session.
*I changed all the names of pupils and teachers to maintain confidentiality.