I remember standing in the hallway with the group of students who were to be in my class for the coming semester. I hadn’t said a word while all of the students chattered and rambled on about the first days of school, each class met once a week, I taught four classes. That first day, none of them had a clue I was going to be their teacher, or that I spoke German. I looked just like one of them. Not wearing a suit, armed with a backpack just like they were. Writing Arguments Tutorial with Miss Riggs, read the piece of paper on the door.
Finally ,I smiled and said, “well..”, in my clearest American accent, “let’s go in the classroom.” Of course images of all of my favorite teachers were running through my head. I wanted to do it just like them, to inspire this small class of German students to do great things with the English language. I had no previous training or hints, aside from a few suggestions from the Professors for whom I was doing the tutorial class.
As the four classes I was going to teach progressed throughout the week I realized that although I was teaching two different levels of English and business students, each student had their strengths and weaknesses. The more advanced class had students that were fearless and only wanted to pick my brain, and challenge me, about what I knew, how much business and economic knowledge I had, and why I was teaching the class, but there were also the shy students in that class. Some of them already spoke flawless English, but they didn’t know how to have their own opinion on an argument, how to pick a side, or how to argue both sides of an argument in one paper! I realized that what everyone needed, in both beginner and advanced levels, was more vocabulary. With the set of instructions I was given, and the topics that the students were reading, I looked up games and group activities to build vocabulary for the students, giving them words each week to write sentences with, “yes, I agree…” sentences, and “ I slightly agree, however” sentences. I introduced the building blocks to a good argument. I gave them words like flourishing economy to throw into a solid sentence. They asked about comma usage… and I couldn’t always answer their questions. Yet the more I learn about teaching, the more I realize that most beginning teachers go through the same thing, and are challenged, and all teachers are occasionally asked a question that they can’t answer. As I got to know these students that first week of teaching my own language, I realized that I really only was one step ahead of them all, and that most of them knew more about economics than I did. Although I’d never admit it.
Germans are known for their own personal investment in learning, they do all things well. But what they often lacked, was voicing their own personal opinion, and occasionally confidence in their opinions. Sometimes, when I would correct their English on homework assignments they would get angry at me, telling me that they were sure it was correct, and that it must be right, just in some sort of British way, but maybe not in America. That first day as well, I told them to ask me whichever questions they liked, it was their one chance to ask an American any question that they wanted. Half expecting the question to be about politics, one young man in the back of the room raised his hand and asked how old I was. I raised my eyebrow and smiled, but didn’t answer. He really set the tone for the rest of that group of students, and they all turned out to be a very lighthearted and fun group. Sometimes I think that that first day of class will set a good example of how the rest of the semester will be.