A Teaching Assistant’s Perils

Berliner Dom 2009The picture on the right is of the Berliner Dom (Cathedral) taken in August 2009.

I keep looking at my last post and berating myself over the length of it. About 1,000 words just about my lovely apartment. Sheesh. I’ll keep the posts much shorter than that one from now on. Well…I’ll try.

As I implied in my last entry, I’d like to touch upon a heavier subject material this time around; namely, the potential dangers that teaching assistants face. Nothing life-threatening nor terrifying on a heart-attack level, mind you.

One thing that the former ETAs (English Teaching Assistants) told us during orientation that was actually worth noting was being taken advantage of. There are not many cases of this on a large-scale per se, but the temptation by schools throughout Germany to use the ETAs in such a way that goes against our contracts happens every year. I already knew of this peril because I visited my friend, Leah, in Koblenz during my junior year abroad in Munich. There, I got to know one of her English teachers really well and the teacher warned me that if I ever did get Fulbright in Germany, I should be ready and strong enough to put my foot down if my assigned school chooses to go against the rules.

I actually had to substitute-teach the first two days at school. The first day was fine because the teacher was suddenly sick. One need not be such a stickler with sick teachers and subbing for them here and there. One of my teachers, U, put her foot down and said just this once, which A, the other teacher I help, understood. A gave me the lesson plan and she and U checked on the class from time to time while I was in there with the students. However, the next day, the same teacher was sick again, so she told the principal that of course I could substitute-teach again because that was allowed. A was extremely upset because we did not know that I was supposed to substitute-teach until a couple of the 6th grade students from the class came and sought A out to tell her (my name was on the schedule for the class). Needless to say, A immediately went to the secretary and principal to explain that my contract stipulated that I could not teach classes on my own. She apologized profusely to me and off I went to the class again. Unfortunately, I was not in a good mood going into the class and was a bit short with the 6th graders. It wasn’t their fault that I had to sub again but I was exasperated and a bit annoyed at the turn of events. I wanted to focus on helping A’s class because inevitably, I was going to help A’s class the rest of the year, which was why I wanted to get to know her students as soon as possible.

The main goals and responsibilities of ETA’s in Germany are as follows: conversation and pronunciation help, assisting the teachers with their lesson plans and most importantly: be the cultural liaison representing the US. Culture and conversation are our fortes; not grammar nor are we the main teachers. I’ve been team-teaching with U and A, which has worked out wonderfully. Even though I am unsure of myself at times, the students have been extremely patient with me and U and A have provided a helping hand whenever I needed it (and amazing support, even in the simplest form of smiling at me knowingly from across the room).

The best perk that I have yet to take advantage of? I’m allowed to watch any of the ballet practices any day of the week! Many of the teachers have continually told me to do so and although I haven’t done so yet, I’m going to be taking advantage of this perk soon enough. I think I’m also allowed to watch the acrobatic students’ training too!

Still curious about Germany? Here and here are articles about Germany written by the New York Times.

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