Teacher’s Corner: When you don’t like the results, change the rules

©Giliell, all rights reserved

So, Covid keeps raging, and of course it does not stop at the school gates. No matter what our politicians like to say, schools are not safe. How the fuck could they be? They masterfully combine the three Cs that you should avoid: Crowded places, Close contact, and Confined spaces. The kids still sit next to each other, 25-30 in a small room, teachers have to go to them to talk to them, and opening the windows every 20 minutes isn’t going to save our necks.

Source: WHO

As a result, at our school there are currently three classes and seven teachers in quarantine, and we’re not the unlucky ones who for some reasons have all the outbreaks while every other school is safe. Across the state many schools have similar issues, we’re close to having to send home kids because there are simply no teachers left. #1 hasn’t had a full school day in weeks, much to the chagrin of her younger sister they prioritise staffing the younger classes.And our politicians are noticing that this may mean school closures through the back door and their idea is to drums just change the quarantine rules. Right? Many experts agree that German quarantine rules are what keeps us comparatively safe compared to our neighbours: If you had close contact with a Covid patient, you have to stay at home for the next two weeks. And I mean AT HOME. You may go to your garden, if you have one, but no shopping, walks, visits except medical appointments. Your wages are covered, and your boss must abide by this. But the idea is now that kids should not quarantine for so long, or that we should quarantine the classes within school to see if more cases appear. Because that’s totally doable and teachers will be very happy to be relegated to the plague pool for two weeks. Not that this would solve our staff problems… There’s no evidence that the old rules are over the top, on the contrary, but they are inconvenient, so why not scrap them?

In order to appear to be doing something, we got new rules and a letter from the ministry. Now all kids from year 5 upwards have to wear masks all the time while in the building. For teachers, masks are still only “strongly recommended” if we are in a situation where distance cannot be kept. Because ordering us to wear them would mean they’d have to provide the masks and provide us with the breaks usually mandated when wearing N95 masks. The letter was a whole other thing, it could have been written by US Republicans.

First it started with the not-technically-a-lie claim that only a small fracture of kids and teachers has contracted Covid. Which is true, but which is also true for the rest of the population. Even with 120.000 cases a week, only 0.2% of the population has got Covid or something like that. They use numbers that look low, instead of using the ones we’re used to, like cases per week per 100.000, because that’s how that graphic looks like:

Next is the flat out lie that Covid is spreading because people are not following the rules in their private lives, which is complete bullshit, because we cannot trace 75% of infections. But of course, the infections in your private life can be traced. A spouse who picks it up somewhere (there’s no case of anybody ever contracting Covid while shopping- that we know of) and then passes it on to their spouse isn’t some irresponsible party animal. In short, the letter is infuriating and insulting. And then they have the gall to say “oh, we know you already have a lot on your plate, here’s some more”.

Because on top of the missing staff, we need to organise remote teaching for the quarantined classes and set dates for the kids who have been at home all the time because they themselves or close family members are vulnerable. And they’re getting more, because parents who felt safe to send them when numbers were low understandably don’t feel safe to do so anymore. Which means that for each test, we need to set a time and place and teacher where the kid can write the test alone. we need to set times when they can pick up and drop off their work. That takes a hell lot of resources.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, we’ve got the Covidiots breathing down our backs. they are circulating nonsense letters in which schools should take legal responsibility for all damages suffered from wearing masks, which isn’t just bullshit, but also impossible, since a school isn’t a legal entity that could claim legal responsibility. they even tried to organise protests and wanted to hand out “free, useless masks” to children on their way to school. Yeah, you can imagine how kindly I look on strangers who want to give things to schoolkids…

Thankfully it seems like they cancelled that idea (with a few exceptions). In many cities police was present in front of schools and we were ready as a crisis team. My own kids were instructed to loudly yell if they were approached and I must say, I would have taken great pleasure in setting the police on anybody approaching them. So, teaching is great fun right now. Not. Let’s hope the news about the vaccine is as good as it sounds. 6 weeks till Christmas…

Teacher’s Corner: The Best Negative News Ever

My Covid test came back negative. This time. And since my sister will have one of those fancy new quick tests at work tomorrow, we scheduled for a hug.

In other news, the situation in schools is terrible. Today the second class had to go into quarantine. From Monday on all kids in secondary school will have to wear masks. Teachers as well, but only cloth or paper.

The ministry refuses to order us to wear N95 masks, because then they’d have to pay for them AND regulations say that you have to take 30 Min of break after 75 min. So we all wear them for hours straight to b protect ourselves and the school from collapsing.

And then you get the parents who are blaming schools and teachers for the regulations of the ministry. Fun times.

Teacher’s Corner: Talk to Me!

Today’s teacher’s corner is brought to you by the Little One, who apparently has a rough day at school. Some classmates seem to be difficult and today everything escalated, their class teacher cancelled tomorrow’s recess* and she complained bitterly that both the English and the P.E teacher had called them “a bad English/P.E. class”. Now, of course, that gets the mama bear mode activated, but luckily my brain kicked back in and I asked what exactly did the English teacher say? “Well, we were all a bit overenergetic and it was very loud and he said this had been the worst English lesson ever and he didn’t enjoy it at all.”

As you can see, that’s quite something different. The teacher hadn’t called them “bad”, he’d given them feedback about that particular lesson and let them know how he felt about it.

And what did the P.E. teacher say? “He said he had to be stricter with us than with other classes, because he knows that many of us like to do sports, but some kids always misbehave when he is talking and therefore we don’t get to do a lot of sports.”

As you can see, in both cases the teacher said something very different from what the kid reported back to me. That’s not because she was lying, but if you take the “communication model” that says that all messages have an affective component and that whatever message the sender is trying to convey may be absolutely lost by the recipient, it’s clear what happened: a pretty sensitive and ambitious kid who thrives on a teacher’s praise felt unfairly criticised and the emotional response made her unable to actually understand what was being said. We talked about what each teacher said, and that she had admitted herself that they didn’t behave during the English lesson and that the P.E. teacher was actually on her side. It made her feel a lot better. To understand the criticism, but also to understand that if the teacher talks about kids who misbehave and she didn’t misbehave, the reprimand wasn’t directed at her (funny enough, that’s so often the case: the kids who do behave are sad and upset while those who caused the trouble don’t feel like this has anything to do with them).

We also talked about how she can tell a teacher if she thinks their comments were unfair or hurt her, and how she can address that she feels it’s unfair that recess is cancelled. It’s important that she can stand up for herself, and she knows I’ll have her back when it’s justified, but from experience I also know how quickly those situations escalate when parents don’t talk these things through, but just believe their kids verbatim. Next day you have some upset parents on the phone or, even better, in school, demanding to talk to that horrible teacher NOW. The teacher in question doesn’t even know what they’re talking about, because the incident the parents are talking about bears no resemblance to what happened, the parents decide the teacher is accusing their kid of lying and before you know it you’re sitting there for an hour trying to untangle who said what, tracing back communication, doing heavy meta communication and reestablishing some goodwill, if you ever manage to calm down mama and papa bear at all.

So please, parents, if you’re reading this: talk to your kids. Find out exactly what was said, and not just what was felt. They will learn how to solve such problems from you, only while strongarming while being wrong will often work in a school setting (after all, if we give your kid detention and you decide it’s bullshit, we can’t call the cops on you, and I don’t want to, and it’s your kid to fuck up anyway), it will not work in a work setting. You can’t send mummy to your boss because you thought they were mean. No, you also can’t send your union rep, claiming that your boss called you lazy when in fact they said that the department was behind schedule.

But also, do have their back if their teacher did treat them unfairly. Assume the best at first, but I’ve been in schools for long enough and I know that some teachers are mean bullies who will take it out on the kids whose parents will always agree with the teacher.

*That’s, of course, not legal. “Collective punishment” isn’t allowed in our school system, but I guess I’m the only parent who knows that in that class and I won’t tattle. I absolutely encourage the kid to challenge the teacher, but I’m not going to be that parent either who completely undermines the teacher’s authority. They’ll live spending one recess in class. Should this be repeated, we can talk.


P.S. That’s also why I think the communication mantra “criticise behaviour, not people” is half bullshit. People will still understand “you are X”. At best you can have some meta communication later.

Teacher’s Corner: I beg your pardon?

From the life of a teacher. I swear, I couldn’t make this up, because even my imagination is somewhat coherent. Today a colleague asked me to handle a kid who’d claimed to just have removed a louse from her head (I was itching all day, thank you, just the word will do that), could I please call her parents? I had a moment of time (well, not really. Sorry I. that you had to wrangle the whole class yourself) so I took over the kid and called her stepmum if she if she could please come and pick her up?

Well, it was a trite inconvenient for the stepmum (actually, the whole kid is a trite inconvenient for the stepmum…), could she get home by bus, and also she was very annoyed that after two weeks the kid still had lice…

I told her I needed to check with the assistant principal and would call her back. When I called her back she started ranting at me that we would need to finally do something about those damn lice and find out from which kid her kid kept picking them up! This had been going on for two weeks now and enough is enough. I politely informed her that I wasn’t a doctor and was neither qualified nor allowed to check the other kids for lice, but now that we finally knew there was a problem, of course all parents were given the “lice paper*” and that NOW of course parents were obligated to do so. “But my kid keeps getting them, you must find which other kid is giving them to my kid!!!”

Would you believe that she called a third time? Our assistant principal jokingly handed me the phone claiming it was sure Mrs. B. and look and behold, it was Mrs. B., for which I called him a juicebag and claimed he was bullying me**. Again she complained that her kid had been having lice for two weeks and she wanted to know what we had done during those two weeks she was sitting on that information (you are legally required to inform school if your kid has easily transmittable parasites or infectious deceases) to prevent the transmission of lice we didn’t know we had. Rinse and repeat the same conversation a few times. As I said, I couldn’t make that up because my brain can’t twist logic that much. There’s an old saying that teachers don’t get paid a salary, they get compensation for injuries suffered and today sure was one of those. though, do you think that woman could get a job in the Trump administration?


*an informative leaflet about lice, what to do about them, complete with a declaration the parents have to fill out that their child has been checked/treated and is free of lice.

**in good fun

Teacher’s Corner: Back to School: Fuck Corona, Fuck the Government, Fuck People

School started again yesterday. Back in July when the holidays started, we had an average of 10 new cases per week in our cosy little Bundesland (State) with its population of one million. Many days we didn’t have a single new case, there were times without a single person being hospitalised. And then everybody decided they were fed up with Covid, first of all the responsible people in government. Measures kept being reduced, the number of people you could have in a spot got increased, travel warnings got discontinued, so people parties, went to clubs, went on their holiday. And then we all saw the images of German and British tourists from Mallorca, flaunting all distancing and mask rules and smart people knew that this wouldn’t work out.

And of course, numbers kept increasing. Suddenly politicians decided that maybe we should test people who return from their holiday, but the roll out was slow, at the start it was optional, and honestly, a country with seven borders cannot control if the people crossing the border just went shopping or drove through half of Europe.

But still, schools are opened almost like normal with a bunch of rules that make no sense and that are just to cover our asses from liability. For example, we should not mix classes, except for religious education, that’s when the virus takes a break. We have separate entrances and school yards for year 5, 6 and 7, but of course no separate buses. We have to wear masks when walking along a corridor alone, but in class the kids sit next to each other with up to 29 kids a class with no masks. But I do get two free tests, mostly so the ministry can say “look, it wasn’t the teachers who brought it to school”. I do not get free masks…

If you think I’m sounding bitter, that’s because I am. I haven’t hugged my sister since March. I didn’t get to celebrate my wedding anniversary, we won’t get to celebrate Mr’s 50th birthday. I basically locked my kids up for three months and only allowed outdoor visits to their grandparents’ a couple of weeks ago. I sewed some hundred masks. I stayed the fuck at home, despite usually longing for the holiday all year round. I tried my best to keep us and others safe, to stop the spread of Covid, and now I’m considered cannon fodder in the educational system. The people in the ministry won’t put themselves at risk like this. Even the parents who all decided that this was the perfect year for a holiday don’t have to sit with 30 other people who also thought like that. And the first class in a school 10km away is already in quarantine because a kid tested positive after coming back from the holiday…

Should Covid kill me, just dump my body on the steps of parliament.

Teacher’s Corner: About Home Office and Assorted People you Have to Deal With

Schools here were closed about two months ago on a Friday. Thursday night the powers that be proclaimed they would stay open, driving to work on Friday morning I heard that we were closing on the news. Nevermind that the official announcement only came at 12:00 o’clock, we spent the whole morning frantically trying to put together lesson plans, material, information etc., while halve our kids hadn’t even come that morning anyway.

Since then we’ve been trying with more or less success to teach our kids remotely (not easy when some of them don’t even have a smartphone) and keep in contact. Which means a lot of communication. Believe me, I’ve never been as busy and with normal school days disbanded, there seems to be no point at which your work actually stops. All of this requires effort on all sides. These are just a few tales of how not to.


Informing schools of your current phone number or even address is overrated. Complain loudly about not having been contacted once you bother to call school.

Call after two months of closure to inform us that your kid didn’t get the worksheets on the last day of classes (I do remember that I sent him home early. He’d threatened to beat me).

Calling back is overrated as well. Feel neglected at the same time.


Play dumb. If you’re lucky your parents will believe you. Like when you’re supposed to hand in your work via WhatsApp and your mum texts the teacher on WhatsApp, telling her that the poor lad couldn’t find the teacher on WhatsApp.

The worksheet that is uploaded for your group has a different class label. Claim you had no idea that you were supposed to do that, even though it was uploaded under “Lessons for class XYZ”


You’ve got quite some health conditions but you’d never say “can I please not have to come in for the risky work. Let your colleagues worry and arrange schedules around you.

Here I need to fill in a bit of background. A colleague, let’s call them L, has been on sick leave for quite a while now and they still will be for a time to come. They were the tutor of a very difficult class, a situation that wasn’t improved by the long absence of their main teacher. Said colleague was the German and English teacher and just before Corona hit we had finally put up a plan which colleagues were supposed to teach them for the rest of the year. I’m not one of them because I’m not a regular teacher, but with the colleagues not having met the class yet, I took over during the last weeks. It was little work for German because they’re doing a reading diary, and more for English. Now that we’re partially up again I have a lot on my plate already, and now the reading diaries have to be handed in and evaluated (there won’t be grades, but there should at east be feedback), so I called the colleague who was supposed to take over the class in German. They are still in home office with no actual class, because they are very vulnerable and have enough preexisting conditions for three more people to stay at home. If I bring them the diaries, could they please evaluate them? “Sure, of course”, they generously said. “Just drop them off”. “Oh, and by the way, who’s actually their German teacher?”

YouTube Video: DELIBERATE DESTRUCTION – Film and TV weapons

I found this video to be informative and interesting, as well as very painful to watch. I cannot imagine doing something like this to a knife that I have spent several days making. I would do it if I got paid and the destruction were for a purpose, as it is in this case, but even so – ouchouchouch…

Teacher’s Corner: Homeschooling

Content note: Child abuse

Homeschooling is generally illegal in Germany and the longer Corona goes on, the clearer those reasons become.

A)For one thing, not all homes have the same resources. Right now you notice a stark difference in what schools can do with remote teaching. Some schools, mostly “Gymnasien” which are the elite schools in the horribly stratified German school system with a generally well off clientele are doing some fantastic things with Google Teams and all that shit. Us? Not so much. We made sure we contacted all families individually to make sure they can access learning material. In some cases that means that I print that shit out at home and send it off by mail. I’m currently telling myself that the cost is set off by not having to commute, but of course not all teachers will do that. And that’s just accessing learning material. Children still need support and an occasional explanation. I’m a teacher and kind of a “Jane of all trades” since in special ed you teach basically all subjects, though the focus is usually on Maths and German, neither of which are the subjects I actually studied. Not only do I learn easily and have years of training in teaching, but also in learning, so I know where to find resources if I’m stuck. Like yesterday when I had to do a quick recap in mechanics before working on it with #1.

Many of my students’ parents didn’t finish even the lowest school leaving cert themselves. For them school was not a good place and they are not able to do the schoolwork themselves, let alone explain it. Many don’t speak German (well) and at least one single mum is illiterate. Homeschooling massively increases injustices in education. Kids of well off, well educated parents keep learning. On the whole their situation is much less stressful right now. My kids have different rooms, there’s a garden I can send them to, for now I don’t have to worry about money or food and we have plenty of entertainment.

B) Parents are not teachers. Not even the parents who actually are teachers. Parents and teachers have different roles and relationships with a child and each of these relationships has a different conflicts. For one thing, while I am very involved in my students’ wellbeing and care for them a lot, they cannot hurt me emotionally in a profound way. While they can annoy me and even make me angry at times, I generally don’t take it personally (they often do, but they’re teenagers so they take the weather personally as well). There’s the kid who has called me all kinds of names and I frankly care more about him getting his anger under control because once he leaves school he’ll be in a hell lot of trouble for calling his boss a b*tch. With my kids things are very different. They can hurt me. they can make me worry on a whole different level. And vice versa. If I teach them at home and there’s some problem and some fight over schoolwork, they cannot go home to a safe place afterwards and complain about fucking Ms Giliell. And right now, having a safe place is much more important than ever. This would always be a problem with homeschooling, but in the current crisis, the relationship between parents and their children is so crucial, it cannot be sacrificed to algebra. When I talk to parents on the phone I tell them that this is the most important thing. School will still be there after Corona. Maths will still be there. But their relationship might not be.

C) Some teachers just don’t get it. While across the country teachers are (rightfully) snickering at parents who are currently finding out that maybe the teacher isn’t the problem, there are also teachers who show no understanding for the problems I talked about in 1 and 2. There’s a video I’ve been sent where a teen dressed up as a teacher is going “oh, homework will help them so here’s my Corona remote teaching: Do every single task and exercise from page 1 to 349! This will be graded”. My social media is full with parents being desperate about not meeting deadlines and kids crying about schoolwork.

Yesterday I was like “are they fucking kidding me” when I printed out #1’s science lessons. Not only does the teacher expect people to have a colour printer, they also expect to learn all of mechanics all by themselves. These kids have never had even the most basic lesson about power, force, mass etc. and all those other important concepts you need to understand shit like levers and stuff. Nobody is telling me that they would have been able to cover all of that in 7 lessons at school. And honestly, I needed 30 minutes of preparation before I was safe enough in using the correct terms. I also bribed her, saying that her Easter gift would come as soon as we finished this because I know that this is the thing she likes the least and she’s struggling anyway, not because she’s having trouble grasping those ideas, but because she’s on the spectrum and needs her clear structure.

Apart from that it’s difficult for teachers to asses if their worksheets are working. In class I can read the room. I can see on the faces whether something makes “click” or not, I know where to look (Is little Jeanie still paying attention and what do I need to do to get her attention). With remote learning there’s little chance of that. Many kids will ask in class, but not write an email. And yeah, even veteran teachers occasionally produce bad material. To be honest, with #1’s physics worksheets I was occasionally wondering what they want me to do. And next on the list is calculating “work”. The formula remains obscure. It has not appeared in the book pages she’s supposed to read or the worksheets up to date. She will learn about it at some later time. I’m not sure if spoilers should be a thing in physics.

And this is the most damning point: child abuse:

D) In schools, daycare, all those institutions, people see kids every day. We notice if kids don’t have food. We notice if they have bruises. I remember a mother who accused us of not having noticed sooner that her daughter was cutting herself (after we informed her, the mother, who shares a household with her daughter). We notice if they don’t have clothes or don’t come to school at all because they need to “take care” of their parents who struggle and don’t manage to give their kids the care they need. Occasionally we just plain feed them. I sometimes complain about the days when I spend more time with adults on the phone than with kids in the classroom, talking to CPS, social workers, therapists. I write “notifications of child endangerment”. None of this is happening right now. CPS is mostly shut down right now. They cannot visit families at home. If they have concrete evidence, they can send the police who are absolutely not trained in those matters (and ironically kids in good middle class homes are most at danger here because if police come to a nice home with well fed kids they won’t do shit.) All of this is happening while people are packed in bad living conditions, struggling financially. Many charities have stopped working while some still try do give at least some support. Children are no longer getting meals at school. Welfare money is already not enough and now those families lose that safe 1 buck hot meal that their children got so far. In some schools it’s even more as for example the special eds centre I belong to (but don’t work at) offers free breakfast as well. We know that while there#s never an excuse for beating your kids, such situations lead to an increase in violence. We have already seen this in China, and children are the most vulnerable. As one CPS worker who still staffs the crisis hotline said: “a four years old can’t dial my number.”

Teacher’s Corner: Teaching Languages

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58710265

Cover of one of the most prestigious English Grammars

My blogging colleague Andreas Avester has written an interesting post on learning languages and what he found worked best for him. He raises several good and interesting points, others that I disagree with, and some that made me plain wonder about his university instructors. As you may remember, i am, in my heart of hearts, a language teacher. I currently rarely have the opportunity to teach foreign languages, and I am happy being a teacher no matter what, because I always teach kids first and subjects second, but this also means that I got the full training of a language teacher.


Language teaching has its history, just like all of teaching has and language teaching started out as Latin and Old Greek. For a long time these were the only languages a young man of renown would come in contact with, until the kids of the Bourgeoisie needed some modern languages to do trade. For a long time, Latin was the lingua franca ( a language used by two people of different native languages. Both Andreas and I use English as a lingua franca here), then French. German used to dominate the sciences but now the world speaks English.

Nevertheless, as modern language teaching rose in the wake of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, it simply took the Grammar Translation Approach from Latin and applied it to modern languages. And it’s damn amazing how long and how much of it is still present. When Andreas talks about having to memorize grammar tables and vocabulary lists, thank the fucking Romans.

Another approach was the Native Speaker Approach. This had its basis not in science or education but in the British Council’s need to find employment for tons of well educated Brits. The central paradigm is that nobody can teach a language like a native speaker. As a native speaker who taught her native language as a second language (and who still does) I call this bullshit. Native speakers often have very little abstract knowledge of their own languages and when I first did this I was very hard pressed by the most simple questions my students asked.

In Germany the Audiovisual Approach was in vogue following WWII when the West needed tons of translators for the American Forces and all the schools and universities got audio labs where you’d sit and listen to tapes and repeat the sentences. Mind you, those still have a part in phonetics training.

When I went to school the aim was to have “near native speaker competence” and the methods still echoed the old grammar translation approach. My English teacher (a full grown bully and bastard) used the following: whenever we had a unit text we had to copy the text into our workbooks and then translate the text. We also had to use file cards for our vocabulary. Front: English, back: German. I got into lots of trouble for refusing to do most of it, because at 12 I could already detect bullshit when I saw it and I developed some deep hatred for file cards. It took me 10 years to discover that they can be wonderful learning tools.

Grammar was taught deductively: The teacher explained the rule, then we applied the rule. Fun fact: the books were already geared towards inductive teaching, but most teachers are at least two generations behind in their teaching. They learn their teaching from some old geezer who teaches what was the current approach back when they were young and since many teachers think they know everything they never bothered to update their teaching.

Some time during my baby break the paradigm shifted again: Now the aim is to create an intercultural speaker: Somebody who cannot just speak another language, but who is also verse in the target culture or has at least a set of tools that allows them to notice cultural misunderstandings and navigate those pitfalls. The methods that are currently favoured are: task based, competence oriented, inductive. I’ll come to all of them in detail.

Andreas describes how he learned languages the best: not in school, but in contact with speakers of the target language:

By the time I was twelve years old, I got a Russian speaking friend. While we were playing hide-and-seek, whenever she found me, she would say the phrase “я тебя нашла” (“I found you”). Whenever I found her, I just repeated the same phrase. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I used the verb “to find” in past tense. I wasn’t thinking about the various forms of pronouns. Instead I was repeating the words after her and using the language in order to communicate. In the process, I learned the language, I also learned the grammar rules.

What Andreas describes here is what we call “language acquisition”: it’s a natural process that we all undergo when we learn our native language. It’s also something that happens when we learn secondary or foreign languages and it is the reason why your truly will use perfect American idioms pronounced in the nicest British RP you can imagine. As Andreas says, we don’t consciously learn any rules when we do that, but we do learn the rules. That’s why all kids will form ungrammatical sentences in their native language where they’re applying the wrong rule. A typical example in English would be “sheeps” or “he catched me”.

In language teaching this approach is described as as providing a “language bath”: give the student as much input as possible and language acquisition is what follows. Now, while this obviously worked a treat for Andreas, this often has issues when applied to teaching. First of all, we get 4, maybe 5 hours of language classes a week. We are not in the target culture, we have one person competent in the target language in the classroom,  so it’s hard to “recreate” that natural acquisition. And also, this doesn’t work for everybody. I have migrant kids in my classes who, despite having been immersed in German language and culture and classes for two, three years, have not learned more than a few chunks. One approach never works for all.

Andreas said he had to take a class on how to teach foreign languages and that he keeps disregarding everything he learned there, which makes me wonder: what do they teach those kids at school?

In order to get my master’s degree in German philology, I had to take university courses about how to teach languages and also how to create language courses. As you can see, when I actually worked as a language teacher, I threw out of the window some of said ideas that my professors had taught me.

Here’s how I learned to teach a language: Create a context where the kids will want/need to use the new words/structures. So we create a shopping situation (numbers, prices, stationary, polite forms). Maybe bring the articles to class. I even have some British play money for real fake shopping. Demonstrate the forms, let them discover the words (hold up a pen when you say “pen”) , let them practise the new words and forms in a variety of contexts. One exercise my students really liked was as a quick succession of very short dialogues with a new structure. We do shopping? The kids get a card with the item they need on the front and the price on the back. They walk through the classroom and practise with a classmate:

“How can I help you?”

“I need two pencils, please”

“That’s 2.50”

“Here you are”

Then they do the classmate’s dialogue, swap cards, go to the next classmate, rinse and repeat. This gives them a lot of practise and they can practise with their peers (rather than having to speak in front of the class).

And grammar? Well, you still need to learn it. Not all kids learn rules intuitively. there are kids you can make absolutely unhappy with the answer “you just have to learn it” when they’re asking why on earth it is “caught” and not “catched” and there is no rule which verbs are strong verbs and which ones are not. In my experience they are very happy in Latin classes (which I almost failed spectacularly). If possible grammar is inductive: I give examples of a new structure, the kids find the rule. After 10 sentences “I like dogs, I don’t like slugs, I like horses, I don’t like bugs” most kids can tell you that to negate a sentence you need “don’t”.

To summarize, current language teaching prioritises tasks, active usage, cultural competences and lots of language input. Some good old-fashioned drill exercises still have their place, but a small one.

Teacher’s Corner: Why I Prefer to be Pseudonymous

On my last post about a mother sharing my private phone number with her son, brucegee1962 remarked the following:

I would never put anything on any social media that I wouldn’t want my students to come across.
This is why, aside from anonymously commenting on other peoples’ blogs, I don’t use any social media.

Obviously I have a different opinion here, and I really wanted to reply to this, but then I thought it deserves its own blogpost. This is in no way meant as a take down of brucegee1962 but an explanation of why I think having a pseudonym is a good thing for a teacher.

  1. Maintaining a professional relationship

It’s not that I’m in any way ashamed of what I write. It’s just that it’s occasionally very personal. I’m not one of those teachers who jealously guard every titbit of their personal lives. I always found that type to be quite stuck up when I was a kid myself. I share certain general information like my family status, I chat with kids about hobbies and movies. There’s a bunch of teenage boys who also play Pokémon Go. I occasionally will also tell them about times when I had problems or felt bad, because we’re all humans and I want them to know that it’s ok to have problems and that you can still make it. But we are not friends, we are just friendly. On here I will talk about health, grumble about Mr, share anecdotes  about my own kids, and occasionally well cover issues like sex and pregnancy and childbirth. While there’s nothing bad about these topics, they’re pretty intimate and nothing I want some teenage boys to know.


  1. Protecting my students

Writing pseudonymously means that my students are also not identifiable. This allows me to talk about some cases, to raise awareness to issues concerning education, abuse and child welfare. Just take the easy case of yesterday’s post: If I wrote this under my legal name, the kid would be identifiable. Instead of me complaining about a breach of trust on part of a parent and raising awareness about the issue of parents disrespecting a teacher’s privacy, I would be publicly shaming a kid whose friends and family could all read about it.  And that’s just the easy case and not cases where I talk about abuse and such. If I ever outed a kid like that I would and should lose my job. But we need to talk about these issues, so I will do so as Giliell.


  1. Protecting myself

Well, they’re teens. Not exactly the kind of people with the best decision making skills. Occasionally a kid will be angry with me and I really don’t want to have my Twitter mass reported and permabanned because I gave somebody detention. While I talk with the kids about Pokémon I won’t tell them my team or my name. And that’s just the kids and not their parents. We’ve had an older brother chasing the principal around school and the family of an expelled student making threats so they were only allowed to pick up his stuff with the police present.


  1. Nazis

Sadly, in 2020 that’s an issue. The right wing AfD has several portals where you can “report” teachers for being “too left” (i.e. not a Nazi and standing up against them). And while the school I work at has a high proportion of migrant kids, it is also in a place with a serious Nazi problem, the kind of Nazis with motorbikes and baseball bats. They know that I won’t let their kids use slurs or racially abuse the other kids. I guess I’m not on their Christmas Cards List.


I hope this makes clear why I don’t want my students to discover my online presence. Not because I’m ashamed, but because it’s better for all of us.