Learning Teaching by Learning German

A few more observations about what I’m learning about teaching by taking a course at UMW. First, I’ve taken courses in multiple disciplines: a course on Science Fiction taught in the English department, Spanish 101, and a Costuming class in the theater department (and I should disclose that in the latter case, I was only able to complete about one-third of the course due to course load and my other obligations).

Everyone should do it — it’s masterfully eye-opening for a teacher.

Now I am taking German 202, and it’s difficult, but going well. I took German for two high school years and three in college, though I haven’t spoken it much in 25 years. Word endings, verb tenses and intransitive changes are particularly difficult, but I am especially proud that my pronunciation, apparently hard-wired, is still relatively good. Other things are coming back.

I got 102 on my first quiz — and then I took my mother to Florida.

Lesson one: it’s easy to get behind. I forget that as a teacher. I am not trying to make excuses, but it’s important to note that sometimes family and other obligations are difficult to avoid and one must make trade-offs. Here, I traded in on my status as a professor by just telling my instructor I would be gone for a week. Also, I’m not worried about my grade. But I’m definitely going to suffer for it; so difficult to get back on top.

Lesson two: there are varying levels of interest in this course. Two years of language are required at UMW, and for some students it’s a burden with unclear purpose, whereas I am extremely committed to re-learning German because I intend to use it in my research. There are many students in the class for whom proper pronunciation is not a priority. Others don’t really engage in the classroom exercises. Of course as a professor I do know that some students are committed to my course content, some intend to never use the material again, and some are only hoping to get by. It’s been more enlightening, though, to be viscerally and immediately reminded of this varying commitment from the students’ perspectives.

Lesson three: On Friday I went to the one o’clock class instead of my usual two. The instructor occasionally asks (or allows) us to answer in unison (it’s a neat technique — I don’t think I could use it in my courses, but it’s a useful way to get people to use the language often without as much fear of being wrong). I was my usual vocal contributor, but of course NO ONE KNEW ME. Here is a random stranger out of nowhere. I think I even heard someone say “who is that?” I didn’t think it would matter — and as an instructor, I let students do this often if I have two sections. But it’s probably good to make some introductions when that happens!

Finally, class was canceled today due to snow — first time as a student this has happened to me. Of course, “as a student,” I was elated, since we had a test today. But, then I felt bad for my instructor, whose schedule has gone awry. And myself, since of course I still have to take the test!

Back to studying…

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