Saturday, February 11, 2006

Class angst

This week I began my classes at the vocational school. I have two groups and I´m also teaching the teachers, for two days a week, and in addition to my other classes. The overwhelming majority of the students in my classes are male, and the teachers are all male, because the female staff members are all language teachers themselves and have been barred from the class for being too good.

It´s a whole new experience to work with Germans in a German institution. In the teachers´ room every morning the colleagues- as they call themselves- shake each others´ hands and say "Moin", a typical greeting of northern Germany. Many of them have worked there for over twenty years, so I assume they have been shaking each others hands that entire time.

Almost every door in the school is locked, and I have an impressive bunch of keys which lets me into the classrooms, the teachers´ toilets and the cupboards with the dictionaries in them. It is not, however, an all-access key and I don´t think I can get into any of the metal or electrical workshops, although I haven´t tried.

The teachers are really friendly and helpful, and all the English teachers are keen to speak English with me and ask me questions they already know the answers to. I am getting a chance to improve my German though, as many of them don´t speak any English and expect me to speak German. To many I am Frau T*rsh, which sounds a bit like a S&M persona, so I´m trying to break in the use of Hanna instead. Yesterday I learnt that there are three different ways to say stapler in German: der Tacker, der Hefter and die Heftmaschine, but that no-one says the last becasue it´s so formal. Staples are Heftklammern. I´m also learning words like folder and photocopier, seemingly unimportant until you have two minutes to a lesson and can´t find the folder you need.

The students were a little terrified at first, but after an hour and half they seemed to relax. My main goal is to try to convey some enthusiasm for speaking English and to boost their confidence. They are all electrical engineer apprentices so I´m hoping to learn something about that profession which I have to admit I didn´t really even connect with anything very concrete before- at least now I know they deal with the electrical systems in big industrial concerns. It´s a start. Most of them are between sixteen and twenty, but a few are older. I have two classes of about twenty and one girl in each, poor thing.

In my first lessons I asked both groups to ask me questions about myself and they asked things like What´s your favorite drink and what do you think of the nightlife in Kiel. They also asked some surprisingly intelligent questions about Australia, like why isn´t Sydney the capital. Luckily I knew the answer to that one.

The best thing about teaching at the school will be having working-class students and becoming more aware of my own class prejudices. I had a moment of middle-class shame in the Friday lesson when a very nervous young man told me his mother worked for a newspaper. When I delightedly said that my Mum was a journalist and was his also, he stuttered and stopped, then told me in rushed and embarrassed German that his mother collected the old papers and sent them back to the factory.

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