Teaching in Germany: a Language Assistant's account
Being a Language Assistant in Germany by Márcio Cabral de Moura
Amelia Clapham is teaching in Rheine, Germany, for her year abroad. Here, she gives us an insider's view of what it's like to manage classes, live with a host family and adapt to life in Germany...I am currently on my year abroad as a British Council Language Assistant in Rheine, Germany. I am having a great time and would love to tell future applicants a little more about my job as a Language Assistant…
After a long and tedious application process, I finally found out in June 2010 that I would be going to Rheine, Germany to the Gymnasium Dionysianum to be an English Language Assistant. I was very excited but naturally a little nervous. September came by quickly and with it came the time to say goodbye to friends and family and leave for my year abroad. I was staying with a host family, which meant I did not have to go through house-hunting like many of my friends. My parents drove me to Germany where I had a 3 day introductory course in Altenburg, a religious pilgrimage site filled with churches, a cathedral and bells that rang at every hour possible. The food was also a little unusual; on the first day we were greeted by scrambled eggs and spinach, which I found a little odd. Luckily the food got more normal as the days went on.
The course itself was very useful. We met the other English speaking assistants who would be situated in the nearby area – people who would be our friends (this was great because one of my worries about going to a foreign country was that I wouldn’t have any friends). We also learnt valuable teaching skills and exactly what was expected of us as Language Assistants. Moreover, we had our first teaching experience; in small groups we had to prepare a lesson and teach it to the rest of our learning group (about 12 people). It was exciting though a little nerve-wracking, too, but it made me realise that this was it, my year abroad was no longer in the planning stage, it had become a reality! At the end of the course, it was time to head to Rheine for the start of my year abroad.
The first day at school was great. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming, and surprised at how good my German was (which was great to hear!). The first few weeks in school were spent getting to know the classes and seeing what kind of standard they were at. After the 2 first weeks were up, it was time to get involved. I took small groups for conversation lessons, participated in lessons and even taught some lessons by myself. After Christmas I was much more confident and enjoying preparing lesson plans and taking lessons by myself. I also realised that I could work under pressure as one day when I turned up at the school, the teacher was not there, so I had to take a lesson single-handedly with absolutely no planning. This went very well and the class were really glad to have me as a teacher.
Teaching seemed like a daunting thing to me this time last year, but now it seems so natural; I hardly get nervous at all before taking a lesson, which is a great feeling. One of the biggest benefits of the year abroad is that you gain confidence. I don’t often get to take a lesson by myself, but when I do it is such a great experience and afterwards I feel so proud that I just taught a class by myself (something a few years ago I would have never seen myself doing).
I recently taught a sixth form class which was a bit scary at first because some of them are only a year younger than me! But the lesson went brilliantly. I had researched the topic well (“The American Declaration of Independence” – a topic which I previously knew nothing about) and was able to give them fresh information. I then checked what they had learnt by making them give a presentation to the rest of the class in small groups on a section of the “Declaration of Independence”. This worked very well and I would advise something like this to keep the class interactive, instead of just standing at the front and lecturing them, which is boring for them and not very conducive to learning.
There are lots of useful teaching resources online. My favourite is the British Council Language Assistant website, which has lots of useful lesson plans when you are stuck for ideas (very useful for conversation classes). With the exception of conversation classes, I know what topic I have to teach, therefore I can research it specifically. I usually just type the topic into Google followed by TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language), ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) or ESL (English as Second Language). Similarly, if it’s for a conversation class then I add the words ‘conversation class’. There really is lots out there so I suggest using the internet if you are an English Language Assistant. In addition there are lots of forums and blogs, which I found especially useful when I set up an English Conversation Club. This blog was really helpful for conversation starters: eslconversationclubs.
In terms of discipline, the children I have been working with have been on the whole good and hard-working. Sometimes I have problems when, in a conversation class of four pupils, one pupil doesn’t say anything. In this case I encourage them as much as possible (perhaps they are lacking in confidence). If the situation continues I inform the teacher and she usually speaks to the pupil privately. Whilst teaching a whole class, I haven’t experienced any disciplinary issues; of course I have had to say ‘be quite please’ or ‘concentrate’, but nothing major on the whole. Generally, the pupils are well behaved and keen to learn, especially from a native speaker and someone younger than their usual teachers.
In terms of help and support, there is always a friendly face in school to help you out if you have a problem. If the problem is concerning something specifically to do with your work in the school or your timetable for example, then you can speak to your mentor teacher. My mentor teacher has been particularly helpful with my timetable as I have had to change it a few times because teachers had reached a higher level with their class, or because I simply wasn’t being used well in the class (just sitting at the back doing nothing). For me, there has been no major problems, but in the case of there being one, there is a teacher who is the overall mentor teacher for your region (for me Münster). She is easily contactable and you meet her in groups, with other Language Assistants, 4 times throughout the duration to check everything is going well and also to exchange lesson plans and bond with the other students. These meetings were always interesting and are compulsory so I would recommend going to them!
I am now in the last stage of my year abroad, with only 3 weeks left, but I am glad that I am really enjoying myself and life couldn’t be better. I get a generous sum of money every month, especially when you consider that Language Assistants only have to work for 12 hours a week. I also love living with a host family. It means I can speak German every day and learn about German culture hands on. My host family have taken me on trips to Berlin and Sauerland and they were really helpful at the beginning to get me integrated – they helped to find things for me to do. I am now a very busy person, not only do I teach 12 hours a week, but I go to the gym, have piano lessons, play in two orchestras, have German lessons, give private lessons (a great little earner) and meet up with my English, French, Swiss and German friends. I cannot speak higher of this experience and would recommend it to anyone. It is a great way to improve your language skills and your confidence, to get a taste for teaching and learn about a new culture.