Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Back to Class

I haven't written much lately because I have been otherwise engaged and because I've got some things on my mind I want to write about but that seem too heavy and serious for this blog. I have nearly completed several posts that I probably won't publish, and no fun or funny ideas have come to mind since the new year.

On January 7th I started teaching German again! I have made reference several times since November about getting involved with efforts to help refugees in our area acclimate to life here, observing occasionally and participating in one class or another at the Herman-Hesse-Kolleg among other things. When one of the teachers became no longer available, the director asked if I'd want to take over his afternoon class. Only one student showed up last week (a possible miscommunication about when classes resumed after Silvester) but this week more students came to make up a full - but small - class.
Update: This afternoon everyone on my class list was there; I have 16 students.

I had a fabulous Day 1 with my new class  on Monday! These refugees adult students from Syria and Eritrea want to learn German, learn quickly, are motivated, ask great questions, and were willing to participate in all the activities I'd planned. They have a wonderful sense of humor, are very respectful, help each other and want to know what I can teach. Despite the fact that three years ago I said I would be happy to never set foot in a classroom again, this is different. I have always wanted to teach an entire class of students who want to learn.

Several times on Monday I stood there while the students spoke Arabic to each other clarifying something for those who didn't understand my explanation, after which I said confidently, "Yep, exactly!" They knew I didn't understand a word, so they laughed. I realized as I was listening to them that Arabic sounds really beautiful, and I certainly wish I could understand it.

Look, I know it was just Day 1. I've had many Day 1s before. Surviving them is key.  This is more than surviving, though. I enjoy planning lessons and activities, I look forward to going to class. and I feel in my element in the classroom, especially with these students.

This is our classroom.
I hope the students do or will feel like they're making progress with me, and that they look forward to coming to class as well.

I studied English and German in college. I taught English for 16 years and German for 13 years to teenagers in Wisconsin. I've had exchange students in my classes from various places around the world. And I am certain that everything I have done in my educational and professional life has been preparing me for this. These students need to learn German to function here in Germany, and I have the time and ability to help them do so. I've already told them my German is not fehlerfrei (free from errors), but because I have also gone through the process of learning German, I understand some of the challenges they're facing.

What an experience this is!

One last thing. You've heard about the terrorist attacks including the one in Istanbul yesterday in which a group of German tourists were killed. You've heard about the assaults and thefts in Köln (Cologne) on New Year's Eve. You've probably also heard about right-wing neo-nazi types protesting about having so many refugees in Germany and burning down facilities that either are being used or are intended to be used for temporarily housing refugees. What you undoubtedly haven't heard of - unless you live here in Germany - are the many, many Germans who are reaching out, getting involved, and volunteering in their communities to help refugees. Groups are popping up all over and organizing getting-to-know-you coffees or meals, arranging talks with speakers who help the Germans and the refugees understand each other better, and finding ways to help the refugees integrate. Retired teachers are coming back into the classroom to teach basic German, churches and community centers are offering available space for German classes, tutoring, and for doing homework in a quiet place. I could go on and on.

The refugees with whom I have spoken have said their impressions of the Germans they have met face-to-face are very positive. Locals have helped them learn about the way of life here, the grocery store routine, visiting a doctor, introducing them to local dishes, showing them around, inviting them to join a Fußball (soccer) team, tutoring them in German, and answering the many questions they have, like "Why are there suddenly red and white flag banners hanging around the streets of Horb?"

Oh lordy...Fasnet/Fasching is coming.

It is wonderful to see what people can do when they are not blinded by fear and prejudice. I just want my faraway readers to know that there is a lot of good going on here in Germany, despite the fact that the press usually prefers to report on the bad.

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