It happened, guys. I did it. I got my work visa. I’m so happy. I’ve been meaning to write about that, but I’ve been notoriously bad at writing about things in chronological order. And a post about teaching is WAY more fun than a post about German bureaucracy. The procrastination continues.
The days leading up to my first lesson were stressful. The lesson was three hours long on a Thursday morning, and when I was hired, they gave me a textbook and said to ask the previous teacher what he did on Wednesday so I would know what to teach.
Does this seem ridiculous? I thought so. As a brand new teacher with no experience, I had no idea what to do. During the CELTA course, it took me like six hours to plan a lesson that was only 40 minutes long. How was I supposed to plan a three-hour lesson the night before? I had virtually no guidance, no training at the school. They let me observe another teacher the week before, but only because I asked to. I’m so glad I did, because if I hadn’t, I would have had no idea what to expect or how a three-hour lesson is structured. I didn’t know the students. I didn’t know how old they were, or what their background was, or why they needed to learn English. All I knew was the chapter the class was on and that they were B2 level students (upper-intermediate).
In the end I just looked at the end of the chapter and started my lesson plan there. I supplemented the book with articles from the internet and additional speaking exercises, praying the other teacher hadn’t already covered this earlier in the week. I felt like the lesson from the book had a good structure, but I needed to have three hours of other material ready, just in case.
In retrospect, it would have been smarter to contact the other teacher long before Wednesday to see what he planned to do. That would have made life a lot easier. He didn’t answer me until 10 pm on Wednesday night, and my lesson was at 9 am the next day. Fortunately, by then I’d gotten most of the lesson planned out, along with contingency plans in case he’d covered everything in the chapter. The good news was, he hadn’t used the book at all. Despite the late reply, he was very helpful. He told me everything he’d gone over during the week, and even had a few suggestions for what I could follow-up with.
His laid-back attitude about the whole thing made me realize: The textbook is only a guideline. No one at this school is observing me teach, no one is asking about my lesson plans. I’m completely unsupervised. I can teach whatever I want.
*Image from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King via film-cine.com.
I’m a night-owl by nature, and I happily stayed up until 3 am fine-tuning my lesson (note: this is not a sustainable way to live if you’re teaching full-time). I accepted the fact that I’m inexperienced and that this probably wasn’t going to be the best English lesson these people ever had, but I’d done my best to prepare, and even if they didn’t like my lesson, I would still get paid for teaching it. And I figured, if we burned through all the material way faster than I’d planned, I could make them play 20 questions or something.
In Germany, people can take a week off work for what’s known as an educational holiday (Bildungsurlaub). I only had two students, and they were using their educational holiday to improve their English for their jobs.
As I got to know more about them, I realized that the material had no relevance to why they wanted to improve their English. It felt like they were only politely feigning interest because they were stuck with me for three hours. I felt bad, because I know exactly how it feels when a teacher wastes your time, but I’d done the best I could. My timing for the lesson was actually not too bad. I took solace in the fact that, at the very least, my lesson didn’t make them forget things they’d already learned (that’s the opposite of teaching). I’m sure they got something out of it.
Also, I was convinced that one of my students was Jill Stein’s doppelganger. I immediately forgot her name and had to stop myself from calling her Jill for the entire lesson.
It felt weird to teach students twice my age. The very little teaching experience I have comes from tutoring freshman at my university. I liked teaching younger students at the beginner level. When the students can only form four-word sentences and maybe tell you their favorite color, you have to be very animated to get the point across. My wacky sense of humor was an essential tool for connecting with 19-year-old college kids.
Middle-aged Germans are much harder to impress.
This lesson made me realize that I was WAY outside my comfort zone, and I would need to change tactics if I wanted to do better.
…And that’s all I’ve got for now. Tune in next time to see how I adapted!