Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Never Say Never

Yep, this is how I'm feeling these days, even though I know I have only my silly self to blame.

When I left the U.S. and moved to Germany in 2012, it was for good. I quit my job teaching high school German and English at a Catholic high school in Wisconsin belting Handel's Hallelujah Chorus all the way home after my last day, gave away most of my teaching materials and books, loaded the household items and books I couldn't part with onto a moving van (ok, the movers did that), sold our house and my car, said "Auf Wiedersehen!" to my friends and family. Although I had taught basic German to American high schoolers for 13 years, I knew I would no longer need any of the books, flashcards, workbooks, props, films, or games I'd accumulated over the years. I was moving to Germany, after all; I certainly wouldn't be teaching German to anyone over here!

Who would possibly want to learn German from someone who hasn't mastered the flaming language despite 33 years of varying degrees of effort?

I knew I would never teach again.

This is actually one of my former students.
photo credit: another former student

But...you know what they say:

Never Say Never!!

Turns out there are some people here in Germany who could benefit from my own struggles with learning German, the tricks I learned while teaching the language (did you know you can sing the alphabetized list of dative prepositions to the tune of "the Blue Danube Waltz"? If not, I'll bet you also didn't know that the alphabetized list of Wechselpräpositionen match the tune of "an die Freude"), and my efforts to integrate into life in the Schwabenland.

A few weeks ago I agreed to teach a two-week basic beginner's German class to a small group of exchange students from my hometown who will be spending five wonderful months in Esslingen, just as I did in 1986. Back then the Sheboygan schools still offered German as a foreign language, but these students are coming over with little preparation. They'll arrive just before the craziness of Fasching/Fasnet, and after they wake up from that nightmare, we'll go to it and see how much they can learn in two intense weeks.

More recently I have gotten involved with the Freundeskreis-Asyl in Horb as well as the Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg, which is a language school in Horb. There is a great need now for DaF (Deutsch als Fremdsprache - German as a foreign language) teachers to help the million-plus refugees who have fled to Germany this year learn German so they can then apply to study or work, as well as blend into life here.

I've sat in on several classes at the Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg in recent weeks, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. Today (Day 7 of their instruction), the teacher had them practicing ALL SIX verb tenses with regular and irregular verbs! Granted, this is the more advanced class, but when the refugees arrived between 2 and 12 weeks ago, they spoke little if any German. The students are all men from Syria and Eritrea, a country I'd never heard of until now (supporting the stereotype that Americans suck at world geography). Some of the refugees know a helpful amount of English, and others have to rely on their friends and classmates who can translate grammar explanations into Arabic or Eritrean.

Due to my other commitments, I won't be teaching a regular class because they are three hours a day from Monday to Friday, but I'll find my niche and perhaps jump in as a substitute teacher when someone's ill or team-teach with one of the regular teachers.

So here I sit wondering what it is about teaching that won't let me go.

While in college I started down the secondary education path, then fled after several terms of observations in high school classrooms. The squirrly little bahstuds couldn't be bothered to study, practice, or learn, but had plenty of time for screwing around and watching game after game of whatever sport was in season. I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English knowing that the one thing I would NEVER do was teach. Five years later I was a teacher.

16 years later I left the U.S. knowing I would never teach again. A year later I was once again a teacher. At a friend's request I started a "Fun with English" class at a Förderschule for students with mild learning disabilities, and now two more years later I'm getting ready to teach beginners' German again.

There's something totally different about what I'm doing now, though. I'm volunteering. I'm doing this because I want to. There are no tests, I don't have to give or correct homework (though I do sometimes), the students want to learn what I'm teaching, there are no parent-teacher conferences (although I never minded those), it's part-time, and best of all, there are no in-services!

I guess I can't deny it's in my blood. According to at least some of my former and current students, I don't suck at it.

That's right - I can get a couple of tough high school football players
to pose with a stuffed kangaroo before the big game.
How? By asking them if they'd do this for me.
I was teaching when the news of Columbine hit and our sense of security within our school campuses was shattered. I was walking with my students into mass when we got word that two planes had crashed into the twin towers. I was teaching when we learned that our student, Jeanne Giese, was probably going to die of rabies and when we welcomed her back after her miracle cure. I brought six groups of German students over to Germany for 15-day summer trips including home stays with German families and heard comments like, "Frau H., now I get why you love this country so much!"

My first dream career was veterinarian. That came to an abrupt end when I watched a cat get declawed and nearly lost both my lunch and consciousness, so, as I often told my high school students, I decided to work with a different type of animal. My lifelong dream has been to become a writer of novels.

But I can't get the teacher out of me. Some people never learn...  :-)