Thursday, 27 February 2014

Finishing my time as an English Language Assistant in Germany

I’ve just finished my last day as an English assistant here in Germany, and it’s safe to say I’m feeling slightly emotional and overwhelmed. I really wasn’t expecting all this, but all the staff and pupils have been so amazing this past week. To be honest they've all been lovely over the whole year though. 

There has been so much hugging, card-writing, goodbye-saying, present-giving and chocolate exchanging (although mainly receiving on my part) over the last few days… I mean, just LOOK at all this:
So generous, oder?!
And that’s after I’d already eaten some of it too! How fab is the T-shirt? The class that gave me that all signed their names on the back which I love. And all the rest of the special Bayreuth/German things mean an awful lot to me.

Not only have I been given so many lovely, thoughtful gifts, but today one of my schools even held a little leaving party for me in the staffroom. The headmaster made a really nice speech after having chatted to me over coffee and Apfelschorle about my thoughts and experience for nearly an hour, then I was presented with a certificate, cards, a book, and a framed photo of the school (which even includes my house on the corner because I live so close!) If that wasn’t enough, we then had cupcakes, carrot cake and juice and it was all so sweet.

Guess what? It turns out I really like being a teacher. Although to be fair, working as a language assistant isn't like being a proper teacher at all anyway...

It's been a pretty cushy six months really! For starters, on a British Council teaching assistantship you do very few lessons, and although you do have to do lesson prep outside of school, you're still left with pleeeenty of free time to travel, explore, soak up the culture of your new home-country and not do your year abroad essay. Ahem.

The decision to work as an English assistant for the first part of my year abroad was one of the best choices I've ever made and I massively urge any other languages students with their year abroad still ahead of them to do it too.

In Germany, the standard of English in schools is seriously high. Sure, I've been working in two Gymnasien (aka the top tier of German schools) but even so. As a result, I'm fairly sure I've learnt more about the history of the UK and most other English-speaking countries than I ever did at school. Do you know anything about the Partition of India? I didn't, but I do now. Most of the pupils know more than me, but hey, I figure my role was more to teach them about how to use the language and modern life in the UK.

My fab Year 12s from School Number 2. (I promised I'd wear my onesie then accidentally packed it so showed them embarrassing pictures instead. I'm so profesh.)
I hope the pupils found the things I taught them interesting and entertaining - how else would they learn such useful vocab as 'food baby' and 'vajazzle' (don't ask how that came up)? - but mostly, I'd really love it if I've managed to inspire or motivate even one pupil in one way or another. Judging by how sweet they've all been this past week and the lovely cards I've received, I'm hopeful I've been successful.

I hope I've encouraged them to think about new things and consider others differently. I hope I've given the shy ones some more confidence. And of course (only naturally, I think), I kinda hope they liked me. Most of them, at least. Because I really do like a good 97% of them. (You other 3%? Yeah, stop talking and listen for once, would you?)

The kids really have been great, and it's been a privilege to get to know so many of them over the past six months. I say 'kids', but I've taught pupils from the age of 9 to 19, so a lot of them aren't really kids at all.

The lovely Year 11s.
The little ones are adorable and will make you feel like a celebrity, but with the oldest kids - the year 12s - I've just felt like we could be mates. Firstly, I'm obviously much closer in age to them than to the teachers, and secondly the standard of their English is just astounding. Some of my year 12s definitely speak English better than I speak German, which is marginally depressing as well as being jolly impressive.

When you teach a class for even just a couple of lessons a week for six months, you can really get to know the pupils. In fact, I even ended up chatting and dancing in a club with one of my year 12s last weekend - it wasn't planned or anything, but it was really fun.

I was genuinely really sad to say goodbye to them all this week, but I wasn't expecting them to be so sweet... Completely of their own accord, my year 12s at School Number 1 bought me an extremely generous and thoughtful thank you/leaving present, and I was really really touched. They didn't need to do that at all, and it was just so nice. I had no idea that as the week went on I'd be showered with so much more! And then at School Number 2, my Year 11s and 12s have totally blown me away with their generosity.

Good luck to me from my Year 11s!
I hope it's a sign that they genuinely did enjoy having me as a 'teacher', if you can call me that. Really I just drew on the board in colourful chalks, showed YouTube clips and read stories to them, but someone's gotta do it, eh?  Today, the Year 11s told me they’ve all been reading my blog and have googled me (should I be scared?), and so hopefully they will keep in touch.

Obviously when you're an actual teacher you can't be friends with your pupils, but it's all a bit fuzzy as a language assistant. I certainly felt close to my lovely French assistants at school, and we still keep in touch on Facebook now.

In fact, now that I've finished teaching, I figured it's ok to be Facebook friends with my pupils if they want to add me. So I am. In fact, I know some teachers are friends with all the pupils anyway, so I guess there's no rule against it. If any of my pupils are reading this (and I imagine they are): a) HIYA GUYS, b) good work, practicing your English, c) sorry if you can't understand my overly-chatty writing style... I have a tendency to make words up, but I'm sure you knew that by now.

I have also given in to some of my pupils’ wishes to add me on Snapchat. I would wonder what I’ve got myself in for, but realistically, I think it’s the other way round!

Cool funky wall in School Number 1
As a language assistant it can be quite tricky to know where to position yourself between 'friend' and 'teacher' to the pupils. Some of my fellow assistants think you shouldn't try and be their friend, but I think if you can be their friend and still teach them stuff, then why not? I mean, it's not worth deliberately trying to be cool and stressing about whether the pupils like you or not, but I find the older the pupils get, the more like friends you can be. With every year younger going down from the Year 12s, I'm more like a teacher. I just don't really know how they all see me...

For starters, I wouldn't be surprised if the majority of pupils in my schools (considering I teach very few really) either don't know who I am or think I'm a fellow pupil. Pretty certain most of the teachers also think I'm a pupil when walking down the corridors. The ones I do know though, are so amazing and have been so kind.

What's really nice though, is that when I see pupils outside of school - and in a town like Bayreuth this happens A LOT - in 9/10 cases they'll say hi to me. I don't think British pupils would do the same, do you? Heck, sometimes they even shout across the street to me, which is fun.

School Number 1

Having two other English language assistants (you know, the ultimate babes, Emily and Emma) in Bayreuth with me has been a dream. We spend most of our time together regaling each other with hilarious tales from school and comparing our experiences, but it's also been awesome as we all want to do the same sort of thing, ie travel and make the most of our year abroad. Of course, it's lovely and important to have German friends too, but they're understandably just on a slightly different page. My wonderful housemates, Steffi and Karo, say I've seen more of Germany in my six months here than they have their whole lives!

The tragic thing is that Emily and Emma are staying in Bayreuth until the summer. WITHOUT ME! A serious case of fomo is going to occur on my part. Similarly, our wider Nuremberg crew is breaking up: Joe, Ross-Anne and I are off to French-speaking pastures, leaving behind Aimee, Ollie, Jake and my first proper year abroad friend, the delightful, super babelicious and fellow YOIBO gal, Charlotte. 

These guys are now all such good friends, and it's all because we met on the training course back in September. Or in the case of Charlotte and I, on the steps of Cologne Cathedral over a shared panic-attack. Ahhh memories.

School Number 2
Having this group of friends has been such an awesome part of being a language assistant though, and somewhat tragically, I'm fairly certain you don't get the training course if you go to another country to be an English assistant. Trust the German authorities to put on a three-day residential course, tell us everything we need to know, shower us with documents, divide us up into groups depending on our regions (hey, friends nearby) and then give us all the contact details of our fellow assistants. Little did they know we'd all already found each other on Facebook but still.

I know I’ll see all my fellow British friends again though, but as for my pupils and the teachers… Who can be sure? The kids genuinely seemed sad to say bye to me and the feeling was definitely mutual.

I like to think I've been a good ambassador for the UK. I know one of my lovely pupils, Anna, is now a bit Cambridge Satchel fan, and just today Marius and Elly were telling me how they're now super into Alt-J and London Grammar. 

So I suppose all I can say is a massive thank you to ALL the staff and pupils who've been so kind, generous, friendly and welcoming, thank you for all my lovely presents, thank you to my friends who've made it such an awesome experience overall. (This is getting a bit cringey, isn't it? I think it's because I've eaten so much sugar today...) I've loved life for the past six months, and feel so so lucky. OK, mushy-time over. BEFORE I CRY! Jokes. (Am I joking?)


PS Wow, this was a bit of an essay. Can I just pop it into Google Translate and submit it as my Year Abroad Essay? No? God, I'm a bad role model. Do your homework, kids.


  1. Great post! I am starting my German degree in September (hopefully!) and am starting to think whether to go to a German uni or be a teaching assistant on my year abroad. Loved this post - and all the chocolate looks amazing! :)

    1. Thank you. Ooh how exciting! Personally, I think being a teaching assistant is by far the better choice but obviously you have to do what you think is right for you. Best of luck and I'm glad you liked the post! X

  2. Good job! I am from Thailand and i really jealous about u life i have a plan to enter Sweden university in december i hope i will meet good stuff like u ^^

  3. This is a pretty epic summary & I am now very jealous that I never did a year abroad, sounds like you had an incredible time! I see you mentioned you now going off somewhere else, is that to carry on being a teaching assistant?

    1. Thanks Caitlin. Hope you still find the time to live abroad for a bit! Noooo I'm actually off to do an internship - not sure what I'm allowed to say about it yet but hopefully I'll be able to share more details soon :) X


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