You may be wondering what a typical work-week looks like, for me. Wonder no longer! For I have obliged to satisfy your curiosity, and describe last week in the paragraphs below.
I normally teach in three classes on Mondays: the 8R, 6A, and 8B. I already knew before the semester break (Feb. 1-17) that I wouldn’t be needed this week in either the 8R or 10R classes. Frau R., the teacher for the 6A class, emailed me Saturday with instructions for Monday the 25th, so I had everything ready. I emailed Frau G. of the 8B on Friday, but she never answered. I decided I would bring some worksheets about Alaska, since before the break we talked about California. I showed up on campus at 10:15 a.m., make copies of the worksheets, and taught from 10:30-11:25. Only one or two of the students were sick, so we had almost a full class, about 20 people. There was an Unknown Woman sitting in the back, observing. I had never seen her before, but I was confident that she had nothing to do with me, so I simply focused on teaching. Since the 6A pupils are young, only 10 years old, or so, I focused on what they did over the semester break. They wrote about it, talked about it, and then we filled out some worksheets on words that have to do with winter. They were a little rowdy, but I can’t say I am surprised, given that it was the first day of school after 2 weeks off. After the class period finished, I went downstairs to the teacher’s room. I sought, and found, Frau G., who told me she didn’t need me, today, but I could bring the material on Alaska to the next lesson (today). Apparently finished working for the morning, I began gathering my things. The Unknown Woman stopped me, said she wanted to chat. Well, I had time, but who was this Unknown Woman? She introduced herself as Lena, a student at the university. For the next month, she is doing an internship at my Gymnasium. Lucky woman; this Gymnasium has, I am convinced, the best-behaved students in the entire country. After lunch, I came back to the campus, where I voluntarily run an extra-study session from 3-5pm on Mondays and Tuesdays for the 12th graders, to help them prepare for their Abitur. This Monday, only Eileen attended, and we were quite assiduous. She is very diligent, and even sought me out during the semester break for extra studying. She’s lovely, intelligent, and wants to be a biologist! She also owns this very funny pencil case. At 5pm, we finished, and I went home. I was supposed to teach the 11A class on Tuesday about Scientology, and I became sidetracked by all the information on the web about this strange sect. It was late when I went to bed, and I once again wished that I was more efficient at planning lessons!
Tuesdays I teach in the 7B, 11A, and 7A classes. The 7B are adorable, and actually yelled with excitement when I came into their classroom (at 8:30am). There are a lot of boys in the class, but they are almost all either very studious, or very shy, so the class is nowhere near as loud as you might expect. We read a story about Robin Hood, and then they practiced creative writing. Immediately following the 7B, I teach the 11A, which also has a lot of boys, and they are neither studious, nor shy. They get on my nerves every week, talking to each other, texting during class, and just in general being rude. And yet, if this is my worst-behaved class, that isn’t bad. Once again, I survived the chaos, and emerged mostly unscathed to teach the 7A. We talked about sports, sports, sports. Winter sports, in particular. There are only 13 students in this class, which is my smallest amount of students. None of them wanted to be in school, and told me that the winter break was too short, that it should be a year long! At 12:30 pm, I was done teaching, and I had only my Abitur study session in the afternoon. Five students showed up, the most ever! We read a newspaper article about Israel’s “Prisoner X”, and then analyzed the article. I had planned to have them write an essay-response to the issues in the article, but the textual analysis took a full 90 minutes, so I decided that was enough for one day.
Wednesday morning, Frau S.’s 12th grade was taking a test, so I allowed myself to sleep in an extra half-hour. (Having to be awake and ready to teach at 7:45 in the morning is hard. I have a newfound respect for my O. Chem. professors, who had to teach organic chemistry at 8 a.m., four days a week. Ugh.) Then I read a story with the 9C, which, at 31 students, is my largest class. I only see them once or twice per month, so learning all of their names has been impossible. I have a little seating plan drawn out, and I am sad to say I rely on that most of the time. After the 9C, I go directly across campus to the Hauptgebaude, where I have Frau M.’s 12th graders write mini-HIMYM skits, an exercise they derive much enjoyment from. They are adorable, and clap every time I finish a lesson with them. I am astonished that they do this, and I usually turn the color of a tomato, and trip over things when I leave the room. Since I am not needed in the 10R, my workday ended a couple hours early, at 10:30 a.m. I worked exactly 2 hours in the school. Of course, that time is supplemented with several hours of working at home each day, planning the next day’s lesson.
Thursday marks the end of my work week, since I do not teach on Fridays. On Wednesday, I had consulted with Frau S. about the 8D, and we decided we would split the class in half. Each of us would take half of the students for the first 45 minutes, and then switch. Since the 8D has an overall very low ability in English, I always work extra hard on the lessons I put together for them. I stayed up late trying to find the perfect video-clip for them to practice their listening comprehension on, and finally found an interview TIME magazine did with Emma Watson. I put together everything I needed, and went to bed, excited for the next day. I showed up at 9:35, 10 minutes early, to make sure everything was in order. Every morning, I check the computer monitor in the hallway, to learn if any of the teachers are sick, or if there are any room changes. Everything looked normal. I went to the classroom. It had been an entire month since I’ve last taught the 8D, and they were all very, very excited to see me, which was a little surprising, since they never talk to me in class, even when I ask a pupil a direct question. Frau S. was not there, yet, but she is usually a few minutes late, so I didn’t worry. Much. I told the students the plan to divide them up, and this causes quite a ruckus, everyone trying to say something to me, and then trying to shout above the others. I was taken aback. Dividing the students up is something we’ve done before, so they shouldn’t be too bothered by it. I quieted the crowd, and then asked Anne, whose English is very good, compared to her classmates, what the problem was. Apparently, the 8D now has English class from 7:45-9:15, instead of 9:45-11:15. Every Thursday. For the entire spring semester. Uninformed of this change, I showed up at the usual time of 9:45, which meant I was unknowingly 2 hours late. This annoyed me to no end. Why had no one thought to tell me this? Of course, I frequently don’t learn of schedule changes until the day of, but since this was a schedule change for the entire semester, it really should have crossed someone’s mind to inform me! Anne told me that they were supposed to be learning history from 9:45-11:15, but no one had seen the history professor all morning, and by now the bell had already rung. Unwilling to leave a classroom full of 13 year-olds by themselves, with no adult supervision, I decided to stay with them, until their history teacher — or some other teacher — arrived. We talked about the Harry Potter series, about Hermione Granger, and Emma Watson, and celebrities. The history teacher finally deigned to arrive some 10-15 minutes late, which sparked a whole new round of chaos, since he had no idea who I was, and all of the students tried to explain to him in German and me in English, that they really didn’t mind talking about Harry Potter for the rest of the period, if it was all the same to us. The history teacher and I decided that would be okay with us, so he heard a lesson about Harry Potter, in English. I wonder if he enjoyed it as much as my 13 year-olds did.
Looking back, there was a fairly low level of chaos and confusion that week. Since last week was directly after the semester break, very few teachers were sick. When a lot of teachers are sick, that is when it is really interesting, because Germany apparently doesn’t believe in substitute teachers. Instead, other teachers at the Gymnasium are forced to sub for absent teachers, and minor changes to the general school schedule are made daily. I am regularly asked to visit classes other than my usual classes, or to teach a class at a different time, or on a different day. I have achieved news levels of flexibility and adaptability, but sometimes I still grumble to myself about how unprofessional it all is. One thing is certain; this amount of disorganized confusion is very different from what I expected to find at a German school!