Number one for English language teachers

Germany: A letter from Bremen

Type: Article

Christiane Oliveira shares her experiences of teaching in this small town in Germany.

Teaching in Germany
by Cristiane Oliveira

After ten years working as an English teacher in Brazil (where I am from), life took me to Germany where I have spent the last 5 years trying to get by in a cute little city called Bremen. Actually Bremen is not even that little by German standards (about 550,000 inhabitants), but for someone who was born and spent most of her life in a city with almost three million inhabitants, it is quite a change.

Teaching in Germany, like teaching everywhere else, has its high and lows. Although I had no idea where I was going to work or even where I should apply for a job, I was absolutely self-confident when I got here. I am an experienced teacher, with plenty of qualifications and always willing to learn more. Then I had my first surprise. Nobody had heard of COTE, CELTA or DELTA and those who had didn`t seem to think much of these qualifications. All that mattered was whether or not you were an English native speaker. This situation has been slowly changing, as with the EU and the Common European Framework of Reference, language teaching institutions gradually began to realize that learning foreign languages is indispensable not only in Europe, but in the whole world and that for some specific purposes, the teacher must know what he or she is doing in order to really be able to help students in their learning process.

So, there I was 5 years ago, trying to find a job and facing the difficulty of making people believe that although I wasn’t a native speaker, I was highly qualified for the task of teaching. Soon enough I realized that if I wanted to work here, it would have to be as a freelancer and that finding job wouldn’t be very easy. When I was almost giving up, I came across a school where the coordinator was a very nice lady from Brighton, who happened to have had gone through lots of trouble herself when she first got here and she didn’t hesitate in offering me some groups. So, I started working freelance at that school and soon enough I started to get very positive feedback from the students. One of the courses I taught was for young children aged 6 and 7 and, as they went home and told their families they were having a lot of fun in these classes, some of their parents came to meet me. They raved about my work at the children’s school and so some parents decided to put together a course for children from the 1st and 2nd grades. These children hadn’t started having English classes as part of their school curriculum yet. The parents wanted to take advantage of the fact that the children seemed to be willing to lean English. Normally they would only start having English lessons at school in the 3rd grade.

I loved the idea and wrote a proposal in which I suggested a kind of play-group where children would simply start to get in contact with the language in a playful way. The day we went to the school and presented the project to the other English teachers and the principal, I had a very strange experience. They all were against the project for two main reasons. First, they were very concerned about how disruptive the children would be in class in the 3rd grade once they realized that they already knew some of the material being taught. And second, because they thought a non-native teacher would ’spoil’ the children’s accent. I was speechless. Aren’t we supposed to teach the students and not our lesson plans, meaning that we should always try to adapt our lessons to the students’ needs and not the other way around? This way, we could always find a way of teaching the same material, if necessary, without the lesson being repetitive and boring, thus creating disruption in class. Also, isn’t it very strange to be concerned with accents, in a world where globalization makes sure that English is used everywhere and not only in places where it is the original language? Much to the dissatisfaction of those teachers, the course happened, it lasted two years and it was a great success.

But apart from this strange experience, I have also had some very pleasant moments teaching in Germany. Adult students here are very hard working and take their learning very seriously. They will happily try out the suggestions you give and as they notice their command of the language improving, they are very grateful for our contribution as teachers. I don’t think they used to have very communicative lessons in the past so, at the beginning of an adult course there is always a bit of unease. They don’t know if you mean it seriously when you ask them to stand up, move around and find a pair, for example. But as soon as they notice that it is indeed possible to have fun and learn at the same time, they became very enthusiastic learners. Seeing these adults relaxing, smiling and having fun with their English learning process is definitely making my teaching here worthwhile.  

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