Friday, September 30, 2016

September Highs and Lows 2016

For the first time since I started this routine of ending each month with this post, I'm ending on a low. I probably shouldn't write this post today; we'll see if I publish or scrap it.


  • dinner at Straub's Krone is always a high, and I think we might have dined there three times this month. One spontaneous visit was because of this weekend special (lamb):

  • despite the lengthy low you'll see below, I still enjoy teaching German in Germany!

  • beginning to interview another refugee from Syria for my local project. His story has been hard to hear at times - I cannot imagine going through what he experienced last year - but I feel genuinely privileged that he has been willing to share it with me. I'll be spending some time this weekend putting my notes into text.

  • my new home office arrangement. M set me up with a double-screen system with two obnoxiously large screens, and I'm somewhat afraid that I'll never be satisfied with just my laptop (which is tucked under the screen on the right in a docking station) again. Now I can have my Wörterbuch open on the left while typing a text on the right.


  • several days of unexplained and annoying shoulder pain that mutated overnight (last night) to pain that prevents me from moving and using my arm normally without whimpering. It's my right shoulder, so I'm trying to do most things with my left hand now. That doesn't work for writing on the board, and I can't lift my hand/arm above shoulder-height without shooting pain. I jokingly posted on Facebook a few days ago that I should start riding again, since my hip pain got much better only after I started riding. As of today I wouldn't be able to lift the saddle onto the horse's back. Ibuprofen has been as helpful as TicTacs, and I'm feeling old and broken.

  • the big one: doubting my ability to teach well enough. I've told the director of the language program at the VHS that I am available to teach a full Integrationskurs (600 hours of language instruction + 60 hours of Orientation Course) starting sometime this fall. Today I'm full of self-doubt.

    The thing that's been troubling me lately is that approximately half of my students come 1-2 hours late to class and/or leave an hour early, and many of those same students concentrate on their Handys while they're there. They are adults, and I don't feel right treating them like children (i.e. telling them to put their phones away, scolding them for being late, etc.). I enjoy teaching, and I am passionate about teaching German. I love the language, despite - and sometimes even because of - its complexities! I surely understand it's not easy to learn, but foreigners (like me!) living in Germany need to learn it in order to work and thrive in the community,

    When someone is focusing on his Handy during my class, that is a loud and clear message to me that he (or she) is not interested in what I am trying to teach him. It's the electronic version of flipping me the Stinkefinger, as the Germans call it. Imagine a student sitting in a class for an hour just showing his middle finger to the teacher and doing nothing else (occasionally putting the finger down to read a few sentences when called upon). That's what smartphone use in class is to me.

    I'm not talking about checking the meaning of a word or googling something connected to what we're learning. I'm talking about students completely blocking me out. Eye contact from the students who give it has become a warm fuzzy for me.

    The other thing I assume is that they don't care whether they learn enough to pass the final test or not. I can't force them to care. They're old enough to realize that if they don't learn, they're not going to pass the test.

    Obviously if I were a better and more interesting teacher, my students wouldn't be so focused on their Handys and Facebook during the 3 1/2 hours of class. One of my students told me today that it was definitely not like that with their former teacher. Everyone came and left punctually, and Handys were used at most for looking up words. This student seemed as baffled as I am. Clearly I am doing something wrong.

    I throughly enjoy the interaction with the students who are engaged. I like to see them learn and progress, and I will continue to spend hours every afternoon and evening - gladly! - planning lessons, creating activities, writing worksheets and practice quizzes for them. I am fully there for the students who are willing to do whatever they need to do to learn. I am sad about the other ones.

  • frankly, I miss my "Dream Team" - my first group of students at the Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg. When that class ended, I considered giving up teaching (again), because I knew it could never be that good with any other group. My next ever-changing group at the HHK went well, too, but I fear I've made a mistake in continuing. 

  • my failed attempt to drive to Esslingen earlier this week

  • the disappearance of the "Blogs I Read" thingy (gadget?) in the margin. WTH, Blogger?!?

That's all. I'm going to curl up on the sofa with my bum shoulder and a light-weight book and try to think about something else.

Have a beautiful October!


  1. Anonymous5/10/16 14:41

    What you're referring to when you doubt your ability to teach is "impostor syndrome." You're not alone. I too feel doubtful about my abilities, although mine are in regards to being a graduate student instead of a German teacher. Sometimes, I really feel unable to pass classes or even get to the end of the program. However, by pushing through I find that I can actually pass the classes (so far). I do wonder sometimes if impostor syndrome is more than a lack of confidence in the face of a challenge, but maybe an indicator that I'm supposed to be doing something else which is more natural to me? But hey, maybe that thought is another part of impostor syndrome! I'm sure you'll do fine. And yes, some students really are just rude. Maybe try some activities with German culture, such as lyrics to Toten Hosen, dressing up for holidays, or having your students cook some German recipes as homework. One trick I had with a German teacher this past year is that she had a small ball that students would toss around the room during reading. That way, students got hit in the head if they didn't pay attention.

    1. I'm going to read up on that syndrome; I'd never heard of it. I did a song with them one day, and the ones who normally seemed disinterested liked it. The serious ones who don't want to waste any time looked less enthusiastic. I know it's rare for a whole class to be equally interested in any activity, so I wasn't terribly concerned - but it is my nature to cater to the ones who show me they want to learn.

  2. You could always try asking your students about it - and discussing how not concentrating on lessons will affect their progress?

    1. I did talk to them the day I wrote this, though the worst offenders had already left by then (or hadn't shown up at all). Several of them told me part of the problem is that I'm too nice. The previous teacher was very strict. I got the distinct impression that the 3 or 4 students who were constantly on their Handys didn't care about their progress or are overconfident about their ability to pass the final test (which is tomorrow).

      I also talked to the director of the language program about my problem, and it was a good talk and I have some ideas for next time. I hope I will be more successful with my next group, which I'll have from the beginning to the end of the course.

  3. I don't think you should have to force people, particularly adult students to "learn" - I'd just set ground rules and explain how the Handys make you feel. I use my Handy often in meetings and in big lectures but I wouldn't use it in that situation where it's very personal - that's rude!

    1. Well, I'm sure it's not personal to them. It's not their fault that I'm this old-fashioned either. Probably I need to change, but I am not going to. I will have to be stricter in the beginning with my new group, and if - when - the Handy use becomes a problem I'll talk about it with them. I think I'd rather have them leave the room when they feel checking or playing with their Handy is so important.