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First Week as the Mystical Assistant-Teacher from Canada!

06 Sep

Hello all!

Well, today marks my having been in Germany for two weeks, and my having completed one week of work. My September is already off to a memorable start!

On Monday, I woke up at 5:30 to be able to make it to school for 7:30 – had to be all prepared for that 8 am class! There are two different schedules that I’ll be following for work; a week “A” and week “B”. For week “A” I teach the grade 7s for 90 minutes and then am free to go home. So upon arriving at the school, I introduced myself to the grade 7 teacher, who has only been working at the school for 3 weeks longer than myself. I then stood up at the front of the class and introduced myself as “Miss Gray” and then was asked various questions by the students. When I revealed that I’m from Canada, there were lots of whispers – I found this to be consistent for all the classes that I introduced myself to this week! I was asked various things such as “do you have any pets?” and “how are you?” which I found to be very considerate. The class seemed mildly appalled to learn that I speak no German whatsoever, and that they will have to speak with me entirely in English. I actually found that the most difficult part of that entire lesson; pretending that I don’t speak German! It’s not like I speak a ton of German to begin with, but I kept wanting to help the students out. For the most part, I sat at the back of the classroom, but when they were divided into groups I walked around and helped answer any questions about the exercises. It was interesting to see how shy they were to speak English, but of course once they realized they had no other choice, their English was practically flawless. That’s one thing I have been constantly reminded of this week; people learning a new language must not be afraid to make mistakes. The fear of sounding silly can hold you back so much, and it’s likely that you know a lot more than you think you do.

As for me, I also learned a few new things. Students were learning about opposites, so I now know the German equivalent: Gegenteil. I ended up hearing that word the next day on the evening news, and was very pleased with myself!

And so, I believe that day one was a success. I was given the grade 7 workbook, and I find it quite ironic that the “easy part” for the students (in German) is the challenging part for me. On the way home, I checked out a bookstore and browsed the kids/teenage section. Found a copy of “Peter Pan” in German, and have decided that at some point I should definitely tackle it. It would be good to have a new book I haven’t read yet, but already know the story quite well before trying to understand it in a foreign language. Another reason I chose this particular book was because of all the purple.

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I also went to the gym at which I was supposed to get a free trial, and made an appointment for the next day. Spoke entirely in German, including giving my telephone number…we established that my appointment was for “Einundzwanzig Uhr” the next day. I only ruined it at the end when I said “so that’s 21, right?” Darn the 24 hour clock!

The next day, I once again got up at the crack of dawn to go and teach 10th graders, beginning with an honours class and finishing with a class of 30 people. The first class was with the head of the English department, and she got me a lot more involved than the day before, considering it was my first time. After introducing myself, I sat up at the front with her. One student was extremely excited to hear that I come from Canada; she apparently spent a year in Vancouver last year on exchange. I hope I can get to know her better as the semester continues! Everyone said a bit about themselves to me, and then we read a short story in class. The teacher made me read the introductory paragraph, and I would say that has been my favourite task all week. Even as a little kid I loved reading out loud, even though I’ve grown more timid about it as I get older. But reading out loud is beneficial for the students here, seeing as I have a native Canadian accent. They even said that it sounded really nice! (Not that I’m a sucker for flattery or anything). After that I was asked to go around the room as people worked on their assignments, and make sure that they weren’t making mistakes. I’m going to have to get used to that, because to be honest I felt a bit creepy staring over people’s shoulders as they were writing. So I made it look like I was checking over their writing when in reality I was just walking very slowly. The teacher also mentioned to the class that I may be teaching a class of my own in some afternoons, which would involve discussions so that students could practice their pronunciation. They all have a speaking exam coming up, so that could be helpful. Of course a student asked if they would be able to earn marks for participating in a class like that…it’s funny to be on the other side of student-teacher relations, and see how much students don’t want to do more than what they have to. The other thing I found funny about this class was that the teacher kept referring to me as Mrs. Gray; at one point I tried to tell her that only married women are referred to as Mrs. and she should really be referring to me as Miss. She agreed and said she understood, but then continued to call me Mrs. Maybe I’ll try again next week.

The second class of the day was with a different teacher, and halfway through the class I regretted sitting up at the front instead of in the back. While the other teacher had insisted on it, this teacher was done with me after my introduction and I really just gave the kids a blank look the rest of the time. During the introduction, I was asked about if I speak French and if it’s true that Canadians don’t like Americans (the answers to both questions were basically no but worded fancier).

After I got home from this class, I read a message from my British friend asking if I could hang out with him and one of my Australian friends for dinner. So, I headed on down to Alexanderplatz and went to a cafe with them which I shall put a photo of here.

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We had a lot of fun discussing our work experiences so far, and ate a very filling and nutritional dinner, which I shall put a photo of here:

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After dinner, we toured around a bit more of Alexanderplatz and the surrounding areas, including the Berliner Dom and the Fernsehturm (in other words, the TV tower).

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Unfortunately, as filling and nutritious as our dinners were, we got hungry again rather quickly. So then we went to a fast food place and ordered some chicken. The lady working there heard our accents and, along with giving us our food and telling us where to find the sauces, made numerous eating motions and sound effects. Apparently our lack of German skills is equivalent to being 3-year olds with an eating challenge.

After this, I headed over to Friedrichstraße for my free gym session. It was a “Ladies Only” gym, and it was quite nice. Unfortunately, considering the plushy workout equipment and purple-tinted lighting, I figure that the monthly fee will be slightly out of my price range. So, I’m planning on joining a much cheaper gym that is closer to my home – even if it is a place where both women and men will be working out instead of just women (gasp!)

Wednesday, I was finally able to sleep in a bit! My first class wasn’t until 11:30, so I was able to take my time getting there. My only class was with a grade 9 class, which was led by the teacher that has been helping me get settled so far. As much as I have appreciated this teacher up until Wednesday, seeing him in class made me increase my respect for him by 100 percent. They were absolute hooligans, and if I had been in his position I most likely would have lost my cool. But, my introduction went very well. For some reason this class is very much into clapping, so they continued to applaud me loudly for about 10 minutes after I had gone and sat down at the back of the room. One of the girls later told me that “we’re not usually this crazy” but I have my doubts.

One thing that I believe would increase productivity in German schools (I have lots of experience on the subject, don’t you know) is having see-through screens on the windows. It seems that all windows here are either wide open or closed, and during this grade 9 class, a total of three different wasps entered through the window and caused utter chaos. There was screaming and shouting and leaping in the air, and each wasp was eventually squished with a triumphant shout and clapping to follow – and we mustn’t forget about the wasp corpse that would then be flaunted in front of the girls, resulting in more screaming.

It was an experience, to say the least.

However! This class was enjoyable, if not slightly terrifying, and at one point I got to talk with a few of the students to help their understanding of the material. Afterwards, I was also given three different novels to read; one about Australia, one about a Native American, and “Harold and Maude”. It took me approximately two train rides, there and back, to finish the three books.

On Wednesday evening, I attended a band practice. And not an ordinary bagpipe band practice: an orchestra practice. Sebastien’s mom, upon learning that I play the bass guitar, asked me if I would like to play with her group. So, Sebastien and I took the train to the school where they rehearse, and from 7 to 8 I practiced with the stand-up bass that they keep there. It took me a while to remember exactly which string was which, since I haven’t played bass in over 4 years. I was given a bow with the bass, which is new for me.

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I used to play the bass (both electric and stand-up) in the jazz band, and then would play oboe with the concert band. Reading fairly tricky music and trying to handle playing with a bow after so long seemed overwhelming at first, but at 8 we gathered together as a band. There was another bass player there, which made it much easier for me to hear what each note was supposed to sound like and how the rhythms would go. I’ve always been a lot better at learning by ear than by subdividing from the sheet music. By the end of practice I was able to play along a bit with one of the pieces, and I’m extremely excited to go back next week. There were between 15 and 20 members from what I could tell, and I’m looking forward to keeping up with this new type of music. We went out for a meal afterwards, at a lovely italian restaurant. I would normally find it quite weird to be the only people in a restaurant, but it made sense based on the late hour. The whole evening provided me with a great chance to speak only in German; I even talked with the bartender a bit. At first I thought my German must be horrendous, but then he gave me a free drink so I figure it must not have been too bad. Sebastien’s mom very kindly drove me home afterwards, and I’m looking forward to seeing her on Sunday for dinner.

On Thursday, I made a horrifying discovery on my way to school: I had forgotten my book. How on earth I would pass the time on the hour long train ride, I could not possibly fathom. So after much contemplation, I got off the train at Friedrichstraße and raced for the book store, where I bought the German version of “Alice in Wonderland” (aka: Alice im Wunderland). I read this book in the summer in English, so I am confident I won’t ever be completely lost as to what is going on in the story. I enjoyed tackling the first page during the rest of the way to school, and even made it on time. I was very pleased with myself until I went to grab a pen in my backpack and realized that my book had been in there all along. However, I’ve since tackled another page and am slowly learning a few words and proper tenses for things, so I’m convinced it was not a waste of money.

Alice in Wonderland 001

Alice in Wonderland 003

On Thursday, I was introduced to yet another grade 10 class, who unfortunately had no questions for me. But later on, one group was short a member so I acted as a substitute. Unfortunately I got a little too into my role-playing, and got a lot of blank looks in return.

After that class, I was with the same grade 10 class I had been with earlier in the week. That one went well except that a girl started crying and I had absolutely no idea how to handle it. After standing there awkwardly for a few minutes, I figured the last thing she would want to do was translate what was wrong into English so I walked away and told the teacher about it.

One thing I’ve found very interesting this week is how many different English-speaking cultures there are; the grade 8s are apparently working on Canada (and I am to provide them with a lesson on Canada in October) but the grade 7s are learning British words like “the tube” as opposed to the train, while the grade 9s are learning about Australia. It’s all really cool to learn about, although I can imagine all the accents in the learning exercises are quite confusing. My favourite cultural mishap was when I asked the teacher if I could go to the washroom: after repeating it three times I asked instead to use the toilet, and she understood perfectly. Until my orientation, I didn’t know that British people also never use the word washroom, but rather “the toilet” or, my personal favourite, “the loo”.

But enough toilet talk. There is not much else for me to report at this point in time; I played my bagpipes today to start getting them warmed up and working again, and then played my small pipes for the sake of my fingers. I also went on a run this morning with Sebastien, and then a bike ride later in the day. We took the route that I will likely take to the gym I want to join, unless I go there straight from work. I forgot to mention that I get Fridays off work, so this was an excellent way to spend this particular one.

Once again, I appear to have written quite a bit. Honestly, I feel like I could have written an entire blog entry about each day this week, but I felt that I should give my followers a break from all the notifications. I hope that you enjoyed reading!

Schönes Wochenende!

-Robyn

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Posted by on September 6, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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