It’s people, people!

7 04 2011

I saw this sign the other day when I was exploring a dock and some ships down in the Speicherstadt.  Somehow I arrived too early to class, and since it no longer feels like winter, I’m a lot more likely to wander around outside.  I read about the history of some old boats and came across this awful little phrase:  37 persons.

At the risk of sounding a little snooty, this “people” versus “persons” thing is starting to wear on me, as it’s one of the things I have to correct people on every day.  The thing is, persons isn’t incorrect, technically speaking.  But ask a native English speaker  what the plural of “person” is, and they’ll say “people, (duh!).”

The only place that word appears nowadays is in legal documents or often in extremely formal documents.  If you say persons, you’ll sound strange to 98% of the population.  And then this sign, neither a legal document nor something formal, says persons.  No wonder it’s such a confusion.

Less about grammar, more about boats!

Here is the boat the sign talked about.  These are all cell phone pictures, but I must say I’m rather impressed with the quality my tiny little Sony Ericsson camera phone can produce.  It’s really good at capturing the right light.

This particular morning was very windy, as you can see by the rainbow kite on this next boat!

These docks also had a drawbridge, which had really interesting-looking cables.  Even though they are made out of metal, they almost look like regular rope because of the weaved look.  Gorgeous!  I snapped a few photos of these fascinating structures.

In the background in the next picture, you can see the Elbphilharmonie (the new philharmonic) that’s still currently under construction.

Mornings in the Speicherstadt are simply the best.


How the Grinch Saved My English Class

16 12 2010

This is the last week I will see a lot of my students before the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, so I decided to do something special.

I planned a lesson around the classic cartoon animation of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” I got some additional ideas to flesh out the lesson from breaking news english and from this helpful website. I quickly listened to the story and broke it up into pieces, asking comprehension and discussion questions after each section.

This worked out better than I could have hoped. I was a little nervous that my adult students wouldn’t be very interested in this, but they all seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. It’s a little something special and out-of-the-ordinary, and I think that was nice. And apart from Dr. Seuss’s made-up words, it’s relatively easy to understand, even for ESL students. It was also perfect because 99% of the students had never even heard of Dr. Seuss before, let alone this particular story. The other 1% saw the live-action movie with Jim Carrey but didn’t know the cartoon version. So it was really quite a great activity and I enjoyed watching this Christmas classic from my childhood.

Christmas shopping

I can’t believe Christmas is next week! I feel like I’ve been so busy this December that I haven’t been able to fully appreciate the Christmas season as much as I’d like to. However, the next week will be filled with all sorts of Christmas activities, including shopping. I have ideas for most people on my list, at least. We also have a lot to prepare for Tobi’s birthday on Sunday. We’re having a lot of people over to our apartment, which also means that we need to finish screwing things into the wall and cleaning up so it isn’t such a mess!

I’m excited. I’ve still been enjoying my Christmas tree, and I must also say that it is BEAUTIFUL with the real candles – we lit those one night this weekend when some friends were over. I have been converted; now I will always need some real candles on my tree.

What about you?  Have you ever had real candles on your Christmas tree?




4 11 2010

What a busy week.  I worked like a madwoman last month, and I’ve got the invoices to prove it.  YES, take THAT, Ausländerbehörde.  I sure can make enough money to support myself, dankeschön.  (Please let me stay!)

Teaching is tiring, and it’s a lot of work, but overall, I love my job.  I’m very lucky that the only job I really am “qualified” to do (as a native speaker of English) in Germany is something that I actually like.

This picture showed up on failblog recently and it made me laugh.  I admire the ESL teacher who taught that lesson.  Quite clever!



What’s that letter?

26 10 2010

Last week, in one of my favorite classes on Wednesday, we had a nice group of 4 people there. It was such a better dynamic than the last few weeks, when it was only 1 or 2 people. Not that that’s bad to only have 1 or 2 people, but there are so many more things you can do in a larger group!

It’s a lower-level class (A1-A2) and so I just do very basic things with them. They need a lot of practice with the basics.

Spelling words out loud in English, for example.

Two of the ladies asked me, “How do you say ‘V’?” In German it sounds something like “faow”, which is very different than our “vee”. And their W is “vay” which often gets confused with the English V.

Side note: So VW is faow-vay, but we say vee-double-yoo in English.  That’s quite a difference!

I told them, “Vee.” And they repeated it: “Wee.”

Me: “Vee.”

Them: “Wee.”

Me: “No, VEE”.

Them: “WEE.”

And with that, I decided to save my energy for other battles. Although if I had written “we” on the board and asked them to pronounce it, I can guarantee you that they would have said, in typical German fashion, “Vee.”

Did I mention I love teaching English?



Happy October!

1 10 2010

It’s finally October – one of my favorite months of the year!  (Though how much of that is because my birthday is this month?  Hmm…good question.)

In all honesty, I am excited about my birthday.  I’ll be 24 this year.  Another even number.  Though I’ll be working all day on my birthday, I am excited about a weekend road trip that Tobias has planned!  Another fun adventure!

I’m official.

Speaking of working…I GOT MY WORK PERMIT! I am too excited about that to complain about how difficult it was to get.  Or about the fact that it’s only for 3 months, and I have to go back in December and prove I can make a living doing freelance English teaching.  Or about how rude the lady was at the office.  Or about how four different people at the immigration office told us four completely different things, four different times, making the process last four times as long.

I could complain about all those things, but I won’t.

Okay, fine.  It’s true.  You caught me: I complained about them just by mentioning them.  But you should know that I am way more excited about the positive things (being allowed to work in Germany) than I am frustrated by all of the negative things.

And now that I have my permit, I’m working like hell.  I’ve been so busy with work now that I can’t remember the last time I was this excited to finally have a weekend.

I enjoy what I do, though.  Being a teacher is great.  Lesson planning, however, is not so great.  It’s not the planning itself that stresses me out.  It’s an important thing to do so I don’t have to make up activities or examples on the spot.  But it’s really hard that I come home from teaching and spend hours planning the next lessons, staying up way later than I should.  Other teachers keep telling me it will get easier as time goes on, and I think they’re right.  I’m only just beginning.

I am incredibly lucky to already have three different language schools to work for so soon after arriving in Germany.  Everyone, including myself, thought it would take longer to find work.  And normally it should, especially with the way the job market is now.  But I just happened to get into contact with the right people at the right time – exactly when they needed someone.  And I’m really glad about that.



2 07 2010

As you read this, I am in a plane on my way to the States with Tobias.  We are flying British Airways via Heathrow, so hopefully that volcano with the unpronounceable name in Iceland will keep quiet during our travels.  So, as I journey back to my home country, I want to spend a little time sharing my last impressions of France and the end of my assistant teaching in Mantes-la-Ville.

Last week of teaching

This is the schoolyard of the school I taught at in the afternoons.

As I may have mentioned, I only worked two days a week this past school year in France, as I was only allowed to work 12 hours per week. Because it was so far out in the banlieue, they scheduled me to work two full days – Monday and Tuesday every week.

On my last Monday of work, I only had to work a half day because of a field trip the kids at my morning school were on. I came anyway at 11:30, when I would normally be done teaching in the morning, so I could bring all of the materials back that they loaned me in the beginning of the year.

Some of my afternoon school’s teachers and the directrice were there to pick up some books and they drove me back to the afternoon school. They had told me last week not to bring a lunch with me on Monday because they wanted to have a party for me. When I arrived at the school, I realized that all of the teachers had pitched in and brought all sorts of delicious French specialties for a big meal together. There were two types of quiche (one with spinach and quiche lorraine, with ham),

The party was great! They even had a little apéritif before eating. And, in typical French style, there was wine – both red and white – and cider. They made kir with sirop de cassis and white wine. It was great! I had a glass of each. (Small glasses…didn’t want to be drunk at work! But I must say I enjoyed being allowed to drink at work! That will not likely happen in Germany or in the States!)

It was very special. I didn’t really add much to the conversation, per usual, but I had a lot of fun at this party. They dedicated a toast to me, and I thanked them for everything they’d done for me over the year. For dessert there was a clafoutis, a cherry dessert that I’ve made twice before at home. All of the food they brought was really delicious, and I was very full when the lunch break was over.

The afternoon classes on Monday were perfect. I did the normal “date / weather / how are you” ritual, and after that I taught them the game Heads Up, Seven Up. That’s a game I remember playing in elementary school and middle school and really loved it at the time. The French kids also loved it, and I had fun playing that with them.

Tuesday: the very last day

This is the handout I made with the lyrics to the song.

Then, on my last day of work, I was very excited to finish things up. I decided to spend all the class periods playing games with the kids. I taught them The Moose Song and they loved that. Then I did hangman with the phrase “Let’s play Simon Says!” And they all understood enough to be really excited about the answer and say, “Yeah!” (Well, they actually said “ouais!!! and it made me feel a little bit like I hadn’t really taught them anything this year.) So we played a round or two of Simon Says, and then we transitioned into several rounds of Heads Up, Seven Up. Then, with 5 minutes left in class, I made them sing The Moose Song again, and then it was time to say goodbye.

I didn’t expect it, but I was a lot more emotional about saying goodbye than I thought I would be. One class in the morning cheered me out with “Hip hip hip hourrah!” and another class had just gotten dictionaries as a gift from their school before they enter middle school, and they wanted me to sign their dictionaries. (They got all their friends to sign them, too.) So I gave plenty of autographs, which felt pretty funny. The kids said they would miss me, and I wished them good luck with the next school year. What really hit me was saying goodbye to the kids in my favorite class in the afternoon school. It was the second class of the afternoon and they surprised me with thank-you cards they drew and letters they wrote for me. It touched me so much, and was so unexpected, that I cried. I went around to each of them and took their cards and said goodbye. That was really sweet. In the other classes, I went around to each of them and gave them a high five and told them goodbye individually by name. In another class, they had brought in some cakes and brownies and juice for everyone, and we had snack time at the end. A few kids asked me questions about my life and why I came to France, and where I was going next. That was nice to see their reactions to different things about my life. All of the teachers gave me la bise (you know, that French cheek kiss greeting) and asked to keep in touch.

The day was not without its problems, though. The one class that was horrible every day all year was also horrible for the last day. It wasn’t even fun to play the game with them and the kids were really disrespectful. I was SO glad to leave that class. And in another class in the morning, I had to break up a fight between two nine-year-old students. (Not surprisingly, these were the two most misbehaved children in the class.) For whatever reason — probably the after-effects of verbal arguments during recess — one kid back-handed the other in the torso. The other reacted very badly to this and yelled at him, and then proceeded to strangle him! I ran over and had to pull them apart. It was so crazy – why would this happen on my last day?  Because life is funny that way, I suppose.  At least it made for an interesting story, and the kids didn’t seriously hurt each other or anything.

This is a view of the hallway outside of one of my classrooms in the afternoon school.

Now that this job is over, and I know I most likely won’t see those students ever again, it’s a bittersweet feeling. But that feeling didn’t last too long, because there are too many other exciting travels coming up!


Where have you been all year?

15 06 2010

Let me take a moment to complain about my kids.

I’ve taught English 2 days a week, every week excluding vacations, of course, for 9 months now.  And EVERY day, in EVERY class, I do the same opening ritual:

  1. What’s the date?
  2. How’s the weather?
  3. How are you?

And the kids answer.  I write the date on the board and make them read it.  I ask them the weather, which I’ve taught them and we’ve repeated since the beginning of the year.  They can say sunny, rainy, cloudy, overcast, “the sky is blue” (or gray), snowy, windy, cold, chilly, warm, and hot.  They have a good vocabulary base, although I’m sure they can’t spell these things because we only do it à l’oral.  The same goes for “how are you”.  They can say a lot of different responses.

In the morning, in my very first class, a girl comes up to me after the weather portion of the above ritual and starts talking to me during the “How are you” part while the kids are answering.  She stands up and walks to me, without asking, while the class is doing the next part of the ritual, and she said to me (in French…):

Teacher, I don’t know how to say the weather.  I wasn’t here when you taught it.

What…?  Girl, I never gave any hand-outs about the weather, but I sure as hell TAUGHT the weather!  Every day with them!  Where was she then?  In my class.  She should have learned it by now!  I think I was mean to her with my response…but I couldn’t help it.  Good grief.

It’s beyond words.

I don’t get it.

The rest of the day went as usual: the kids were rowdy, they weren’t paying much attention, they talked a lot, they joked around, they hit each other, annoyed each other, you name it.  Badly behaved kids.  Some days are worse than others.  Today was a tiring one, for sure.  Plus, I’m getting sick again, and speaking all day made my throat hurt.  The kids were at least (for the most part) nicer to me and a little better-behaved when I told them that my throat hurts.  Most quieted down.

But then, this afternoon, in my very last class, I got another comment that cut me to the heart.

Maîtresse, je ne comprends pas.

“Teacher, I don’t understand.”  Spoken by a kid who says this literally every class.  I’m not even exaggerating.  I see this kid staring out the window, or playing with his ruler or what not, while I am explaining the directions for the activity.  And, as if on cue, as soon as I finish speaking, his hand shoots up.  I call on him (maybe I should stop doing that…ha), and he says he doesn’t understand.  He wasn’t listening; no wonder he doesn’t understand.  And it’s always the same.  Every single day.


Does it really matter?

I honestly believe most of these kids will forget the majority of what we’ve learned this year over their summer vacation.  (If they haven’t forgotten it already, that is.)  I am sure of this, because it’s human nature.  Only the kids who were really interested in learning English will hold onto the things I’ve taught them.  There are at least 2 or 3 in each class, so at the very least, I’ve made a positive impact on 16 kids and their English abilities.

At the very least, several kids have drawn me pictures and expressed their liking for me.  Yesterday, I even got a love note from a 9-year-old that said “Y love you Sara”.


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