TEFL and Culture in Germany
by Becca Elliot
For those who are interested in Teaching English as a Foreign Language yet aren't ready to commit a grand to gaining a certificate, the Comenius Language Assistant scheme is a great opportunity to pick up skills and experience.
For the last five months I worked in Bochum, Germany, as a teaching assistant in a school for disabled children. With the Comenius scheme you can chose your preferred country but not the city, I was hoping for Berlin. However, being near Dortmund airport was ideal for cheap weekends away in other cities such as Paris, Prague and Munich and a good train line meant easy travel to Dusseldorf and Cologne. Even Berlin is only three hours by train.
Assistants are given a grant for minimum of 12 hours of teaching per week and to cover living costs. If you don't speak the language you are also given extra to cover the cost of a language course. Despite staying with a host-family and not having to pay much rent I never had anything over at the end of the month but then I was never out of pocket either. 12 hours doesn't seem a lot of work but preparation for lessons takes up a lot of time and it was expected that I would 'volunteer' to assist in other lessons.
There are no such things as assistant teachers in Germany, which led to a lot of initial confusion. They had assigned me six English classes and after a week's induction I was unceremoniously given them to teach. Of course I had no idea what I was doing, my German was standard GSCE level and it was some years since I'd been in a school. However, the Internet is a vast mine of lesson plans, silly games, songs and many other embarrassing tips for entertaining a class.
Initially the pupils, who ranged from seven to 19 years old, were so curious that I didn't need to talk about anything else but my home life and country. Every day I was asked in amazement if I spoke English and I really was from England.
After that the best topics of conversation - indeed if I wanted to get any response at all from some classes - were music and football. The youth culture of the Ruhr area of Germany is rigidly and dedicatedly divided into those who like hip hop, rap and R&B and those who like industrial goth-rock, those who support VFL Bochum and those who support Borussia Dortmund. Aside from an unhealthy addiction to computer games and, in my school, an inspiring wheel-chair hockey team, little else is of interest!
The whole five months was a trial and error attempt at teaching. I was hoping I would learn some skills from the school's three English teachers but they were often ill or away doing other things and the text books they taught from not particularly inspiring. But once I had made it clear I was not a qualified teacher they no longer expected me to work miracles with their classes and I used the lessons to get to know the pupils and have some fun trying out various teaching and learning techniques.
The pupils were what made the experience so good, despite their disabilities they were always happy to be at school and very pleased to see me, offering help when I was lost in the endless corridors and enthusiastically chatting away in German and occasionally, when they felt sorry for me, in English. The warmest response came from the Turkish pupils: they knew how it felt to be in a foreign country with a challenging grammar. There is a significant Turkish population in the Ruhr area and although there was no prejudice inside the school, integration outside school is less accomplished.
Despite the lack of anything resembling historic architecture and quaint countryside, the Ruhr area provides a great deal of culture. Besides, the predominance of breezeblock and concrete is partly our fault for flattening most of the region during the war. Coolibri, a free monthly magazine for arts and entertainment has hundreds of listings each week for exhibitions, live music and parties. Art and design are very popular and the region boasts many galleries with exhibitions ranging from small personal displays to well known artists such as Picasso and Kahlo.
Salsa dancing is very popular in Bochum and many clubs offer lessons earlier in the evening and then generously stay open until 4 am for you to show off your skills. Bahnhof Langendreer is an indie gem of a venue with live music, a fantastic restaurant and a cinema showing independent and mainstream films in their original languages. Independent German cinema is also surprisingly good. The coffee is also great and best bought from a bakery for one euro. The food, however, is not. Stick to Turkish pizza.
Dortmund is the place to go for indie and alternative club nights, Soundgarden being one of the best venues. Hip-hop and R&B fans are also spoilt for choice and many clubs offer live beatboxing, breakdancing and mix tape nights.
So, for those wanting to visit or work in the Ruhr area of Germany head for Cologne or Dusseldorf, with the odd weekend partying in Dortmund. The smaller cities are interesting for short visits but the huge student population take most of the work and take up most of the space in the pubs and clubs.
For those with little TEFL experience the Comenius scheme is a good way to test the water without hurting the pocket. However, in Germany at least there is little chance to assist: be prepared to get thrown in at the deep end and teach!
Further information on becoming a Comenius Language Assistant can be found on the British Council's website
Image courtesy barneyz