In School in Germany: Picture Games

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To start off this article, I would like to offer a word of advice to teachers whose passion also includes photography: Take as many pictures as you can and keep as many as you can. You may never know when and how you will need them- especially if you find the best ones for an activity (or several) for your class. 🙂  This principle I’ve followed for years which has led to not only successful activities but also successful articles.

This applies to vacation time, as two thirds of the population of German children are starting school now, with the remaining third still out until September. The same trend applies in the US, where half the schools start in mid-August; the rest after Labor Day. Children gather vast amounts of experiences through travel, summer camps, visits to long-distant relatives and friends, work and other events that add experience and enrich their knowledge of what’s around them. And at the beginning of the school year, they would like to share that experience with other classmates and especially their teacher.

After all, as we would like to look at their interests and get to know them, we can help them along so they can be what they want to be, right?  Be all that you can be, like in the US Army commercial. 😉

 

If you, as a teacher, have some problems coming up with activities to encourage the students to use their language skills and share their experiences with others, there are some activities that can help. Using a collection of photos, you can introduce the following exercises to them to motivate them to speak and be creative. These activities are not only meant to break the ice in terms of establishing communication between the teacher and the students, it is meant to unlock the knowledge that has been sitting in the freezer inside the students’ heads and it just needs to be thawed out. For the first exercise, photos from the teacher are required for use, whereas the second and third activities one can also use the photos from the students, if requested. In the fourth and final exercise, the students should present their photos and images, even if through Powerpoint or a slideshow.

Here’s a look at the photo activities you can use in the classroom (suitable for all ages and language levels):

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Picture This:

Based on an exercise in Baron’s TOEIC Preparatory Book, the object of this game is to look at a picture provided by the presenter to the group, and identify what is seen in there. How students view it and express themselves depends on what the picture has. The picture can be a landscape, a certain scene with people doing activities, a phenomenon, or something totally different. What is seen is what is to be identified. Some people may feel restricted because they have to focus on the picture itself and therefore may have some difficulties finding the right vocabulary for the pictures. Yet by the same token, especially if the activity is done in groups, one can take advantage of learning new words from this game or even refreshing the vocabulary that had been sitting unused for some time.  There are two ways of doing this activity: one is in a large group where each student can find what is in the picture and make a statement on it. The other is in pairs or small groups, where each one receives a picture, analyses it and can present it to the rest of the class. With the second variant, five minutes of preparing and five to ten minutes of presentation total will suffice, pending on the number of students in class.

As a trial run, use the picture above and find out what you see in there. You’ll be amazed at what you will find happening at a place like the Westerhever Lighthouse at the moment of the pic. 😉

 

Finish the Story: 

This activity comes from the film, Out of Africa with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Originally in the film (produced and directed by the late Sidney Pollack), the character Karen Dinesen (played by Streep) is a story-teller and in a conversation with Denys Hatton (played by Redford) and others, she explains the concept, where one starts the story with a sentence, where the other finishes the story the way it is seen fit. Like in this example:

While one could adopt this concept in the classroom, if it was a one-to-one training session, in larger groups, it would not be as exciting as it is when each student adds a sentence to the first one given by the teacher, and going through a couple rounds until the entire class feels the story is complete. This concept helps students become creative while at the same time refresh their knowledge of sentence structure and a bit of grammar. While one can try this without pictures, more challenging but exciting would be with pictures, especially from summer break, like the ones presented below. Try these with the following sentences below and complete your own story……. 🙂

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It was afternoon on the North Sea coast and a storm is approaching. It is windy and perfect weather for kite-flying………   

 

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It is high tide, and the beach is underwater. Two people sitting in Strandkörbe are taken by surprise……..

 

Make a Story:

 Going further into talking about vacations and things to do in the summer is creating your own story, using a pic provided by the teacher. In groups of two or three, students have five minutes (for those on the beginner or pre-intermediate levels, 7-10 minutes should suffice) to create a story to present to the class. The advantage of this exercise, is that students are able to exchange ideas and knowledge to create a fantastic, rather interesting story to share with the rest of the class. In small groups of six or less, the exercise can also be done individually.  Even when you have pics like these below, which are rather simple, one can create great stories out of it. The whitest and plainest of canvases make for world-class pictures with this game.  Word to the wise  from my former uncle, who was a world-class painter. 😉

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Mini-Presentation:

With time constraints being the thorn in the side of teachers, one has to go by the principle of “Less Means More,” and optimize your class, in order to make learning as effective as possible. Mini-presentations are the best way for students to talk about their vacation in the shortest time possible. With a couple pics as support, each student has 2-3 minutes to talk about their trip.  The downside to this activity is that the student does not have much to talk about. It is possible though to choose one aspect of the vacation that you love the most and would like to talk about. The best aspect always receives the best attention. How it is presented depends on the student’s creative talents. One can focus on a sport the student tried, a wonderful place the student visited, a local food the student tried and loved, or a local event that took place during vacation. It can also include a summer job, summer camp, talent show or even a local festival, such as a parade, county fair or city market. Whatever event was the highlight, the student should have a chance to present it- as long as it does not overlap with another presenter.  🙂

 

There are several more activities which require the use of photos, while an increasing number of them require the use of 2.0 technologies, such as blogs and other interactive platforms, yet these four exercises do not require the use of technology (minus the Powerpoint aspect), but more with your language skills and your creative talents.  While these four activities can be used at any time, with even different themes, such as Christmas or school-related events for example, for the purpose of reactivating their language knowledge and getting (re-)acquainted with the students and teacher, are they perfect for the occasion. By implementing one or more successfully, the class will become so involved, it will appear that the first day in school never happened, and that the class will pick up where it left off before break, without missing a beat.

Even more so, when using photos for classroom use, a teacher can do a lot with them, while the students can benefit from them through their own stories. Therefore, take a lot of pictures and be prepared to use them for your future classes. Your students will thank you for it. 🙂

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Genre of the Week: What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali

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Typical one-room school house and church in Iowa. 

Teaching:  A profession that is undervalued, underappreciated and underloved. Teachers: People who enter the classroom with one thing in mind: to teach people the basics for real life and skills for their dream job. To teach people means to show them not just how to communicate and obey the structures of our society, but also how to be decent to others, how to be tolerant towards people from different backgrounds, and lastly, how to understand the feelings and reactions of others as well as adapt to different backgrounds.  Some people perceive teachers as travellers with a backpack full of books going from place to place to teach students. Others, like Pestalozzi, taught in empty buildings, where not even the basic necessities, such as a chair or table, or even a chalk board existed, and therefore they were forced to be creative and vocal in teaching their students.  In either case, the teacher brings out the best in each and every student, by finding and developing their talents, showing them how life works and people should be treated, namely, with decency and respect.

Many people enter the profession with high expectations, only to quit the profession after 10 years for the following reasons: lack of pay and benefits, lack of available resources (esp. with regards to technology), lack of respect from the students or other members of the faculty, but most importantly, lack of support from family and friends, claiming that teaching is a “loser job” that pays “Hungerlohn!” (German for salary that is barely enough to support even one person). This explains the reason behind schools closing down due to too many students, too few teachers and too little pay.  This goes beyond the bureaucracy, test guidelines and the political talk that makes a person want to write a novel series about this topic.

And for the record, coming from a family of teachers and having taught English since 2001 (all in Germany), I have experienced enough to justify even a mystery series in a form of Tatort, exploiting the ways to anger students, teachers and even parents. 😉

But what we all don’t know is why we teachers choose this profession to begin with, let alone stay in this profession for as long as the generations before us. From a personal point of view, if it has to do with money, you would best be a lawyer, lawmaker or litigator. You’re best needed there. If it has to do with status, you would best work in a corporation. If it has to do with family, you would best be a scientist, like Albert Einstein.

You should be a teacher because you have the creative talents, ideas, character, dedication and most importantly, the heart to make a difference in the lives of others. Plus you should be a story-teller, an example for others, funny, chaotic, crazy with ideas but cool under pressure and able to handle the stress like nerves of steel.  And lastly, learning from my father (who was a teacher), you have to strategize like you are playing chess- and actually have played chess. 😉

If you are looking for more reasons, then you should take a look at this Genre of the Week entitled “What Teachers Make,” by Taylor Mali. A 12th generation of the original Dutch immigrants of New York City, Mali once taught in the classroom, having instructed English, History and test preparatory classes before finding a niché as a writer, a slam poet and a commedian. He has written six anthologies full of poems and narratives, several audio CDs and three books, one of which is entitled What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the Worldpublished in 2012. The poem presented here comes from this book. Mali nowadays offers seminars and lectures to teachers and other professionals, providing them with an insight into the profession that is sometimes highly disregarded, yet one that is highly needed and, if one does make a difference in the lives of others, most loved.

So watch this audio by Mali and look at the comic strip provided by Zen Pencils, and then ask yourself this question:

  1. Why do you want to be a teacher?
  2. What aspects of teaching do you like?
  3. As a teacher, what difference can you make for the students? Yourself? Your institution?
  4. If people play down your profession, how would you convey and convince them that you love your job and the reasons behind it?
  5. Do many students come back to you years after you taught them? Why?

For nr. 5, it is very important for if you are in touch with them even today or come to you for a visit/help, then you definitely belong to this profession because you are doing a damn fine job.  🙂

And if you have the urge to write about it in your later life, then you really should stay in that profession until Jesus Christ tells you otherwise. That will definitely be my destination and my advice to all teachers out there, young and old. 😉

 

Link to Taylor Mali’s website you can find here as well as via youtube.

Video with soundbyte from Mali:

 

Image courtesy of Zen Pencils:

124. TAYLOR MALI: What Teachers Make

 

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In School in Germany: The Characteristics of Being a Great Teacher of English (as a Foreign Language)

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A few months back, I was approached by a colleague of mine, who runs a pair of online columns devoted to English writing, wanting to know from me some of the things that are important for teaching English as a foreign language.  After some thoughtful consideration and looking back at what I’ve experienced in the 15+ years I’ve been teaching here in Germany, dealing with everything in the sun, I decided to compile a list of ideas that are especially useful for those entering the field or are struggling in their first year on the job. The characteristics I mention here do not necessarily mean that if you don’t have them, you will never be a great teacher. It just simply means that if something goes wrong, you may want to think about them and ask yourself if it is useful to try them, at least. After all, each teacher has his/her way of teaching English language and culture.

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  1. Image is Everything- This was the slogan that tennis great André Agassi used for his Nikon camera commercials in the late 1980s and 90s. As a teacher, you have to market yourself to the students in a way that they will respect you from the first day on. This goes beyond your outer appearance. It even outguns the knowledge of your native language. It has to do with being on the level with your students and finding ways to get them to follow you. Sometimes you and your students find the right chemistry right away and you have a productive and successful class. Other times there is a wall that you cannot overcome, even if you try. Then it is like the love affair between man and woman, or in my case, the beamer and the laptop as stated in an earlier article.
  2. Your Students are your Audience; your Friends. Treat them with Care- I was once told that teaching is a business and the students are your customers. If you have students who “hate” you and your teaching and decide to annoy you at their convenience, then that is where the German formal “Sie” and the business-like relationship comes in. However, not all of them are like that. Many of them stay with you as long as you are working at their institution and even become your friends for life. To give you a hint: In my last semester teaching in Bayreuth in 2009, I had a class where all but three of the 20 people had been in my previous classes. All of them are still in contact. If you have this experience, then it is because you did something right, by listening to what they want, customizing your classes to make them interesting and you are integrated into their “culture” and they into yours. Almost all of them are eager to learn from you, and not just for the sake of languages.
  3. You need Structure; You need Discipline- A Frank Fitts from American Beauty quote that definitely applies to teaching, especially English. As Germans, especially in the eastern half, are obsessed with a structured form of teaching, you should structure the teaching to cater to their needs. It’s like a presentation: you have the introduction, the key points, the summary and time for questions and clarity. Then you make sure that they are kept in line with what they learned. Entertainment only serves as a frosting to the cake. This was a lesson I learned from a colleague at a private institution recently.
  4. Less is More- Too much of everything in an English classroom, even worksheets, are never a good thing. If you find yourself having a complaint where there were too much print materials to work with, you may want to reduce it and alternate your teaching methods. Sometimes some help from another source will help a great deal.
  5. Back-up your stuff in the classroom: Stewart Tunnicliff, who runs a couple Leipzig-based websites and a translation/proofreading business once said this when he presented the WordPress presentation at the Intercultural Blogger Conference in March. I have to say it also applies to teaching as well. Despite the careful planning that Germans are famous for, a back-up plan must always be in store, should your original plan fail in the classroom due to the students’ lack of interest, some technical glitches, missing elements because you were in a hurry, etc. While some teachers believe that Plan B is non-existent, they haven’t seen some situations, including those I experienced, where it was warranted. So have a Back-up plan ready, and ……
  6. Plan for technical doomsday- Your computer will crash, its relationship with the beamer will fail, the files will not open, the speakers will not operate, anything will happen. It has happened with the best teachers and they have dealt with them. Almost all of those who experienced a technical “Panne” have learned to do this one important item next time they work a technical equipment: check to make sure everything is in order before entering the stage with eager students awaiting to watch something “educational.” 😉
  7. Creativity and spontaneity are bread and butter- If there is a characteristic a teacher must have, there are two of them: being creative and spontaneous. A creative person comes up with activities on paper, through brainstorming and best of all, in the classroom in a spontaneous manner. A spontaneous person foregoes a planned session because of cock-ups along the way, presents a new strategy out of the blue, and gives it to the group for them to do. 99 times out of 100, that works every time. Teachers must have the brains to do both if they wish to continue with their career in the long term.
  8. Be a great storyteller- Storytelling not only provides students with a sense of entertainment, but also lessons for them to learn from, both in a moral and philosophical manner as well as when learning a foreign language. The stories told don’t have to be very personal ones, but they should be ones that are related to reality, and students can relate to. Even the tiniest story, including a person and a chain-smoker, who disregards the no smoking sign, getting into a debate on smoking, brings value to the students as some of them are smokers wanting to quit but don’t know how. Think about it. 🙂
  9. Slow and easy always wins friends- Especially for Americans teaching foreign languages, teachers love to speak at their tempo, which is for the non-native speakers of English, too fast. Sometimes a problem with dialect can hinder the success in the classroom. Slow down. Speak high English (with a Chicago dialect), have someone listen to you if you feel it is necessary. No student will mob you if you speak extra slowly and clearly, or did one student do that?
  10. Make sure your exits are covered- If a student complains about a bad grade, explain to him/her why and what can be done to improve it. If students become a smart-ass, surprise them with a quiz to test their knowledge. If a person wikiing his assignment says his grandma helped him with English, invite her to class unannounced. If lectures are needed, give it to them. Students will respect you if you keep pace with their learning but will love you if you are ahead of the game. A lesson I learned after dealing with the unbelieveable. 🙂
  11. Finally, be decent. Teaching students goes beyond the subject or the basic skills needed for the job. The main goal of a teacher is to show students how to be decent. Decency is a commodity that is well underrated but one we need so that we can love our neighbors and friends and respect their rights and wishes. It also means that teachers learn by example, by being professional and kind to others. A video with a lecture of how decency and justice goes together, shows us how important our job is, which is to teach our future generation how to be decent.

There are many more, but these eleven are the most important elements of a teacher, in my opinion. Each teacher has his/her style of teaching which works in some cases and fails in others. Even more so, teachers have different personalities that can work out or cause conflicts. In either case, what is important is making sure the students get a proper education so that they can go out, see the world and experience it themselves. How it is done is solely up to the teacher, yet if something fails, they should take a different approach. In either case, in the end, if students walk out of the halls of school or university with a great sense of satisfaction, then it is a sure-fire sign that they will leave footprints in your hearts forever,

let alone pairs of sneakers on the line outside your home. 🙂

 

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Genre of the Week: Fack Ju Göhte!

Goethe Gymnasium in Flensburg, taken from the Südermarkt. Photo taken in 2011
Goethe Gymnasium in Flensburg, taken from the Südermarkt. Photo taken in 2011

Author’s Note: This article contains some profanity that is not suitable for children under 13 as well as those who cannot understand the logic of this article. If you are one of those who dislikes profanity, you can skip to the next article. It’s better than complaining to the author about this. 😉

Before we go to the genre of the week, let me introduce you to a universal terminology known to everyone today as FAHCK! There are three definitions of this word: one has to do with Romeo and Juliet.  Enough said! 🙂  Another is used as a stress test for a sentence in English, similar to the German word “doch.”  Example, when a German says “Halt doch die Klappe!” it means in English: “Shut the FAHCK up!”  Got the hint there? 😉  And lastly, as seen in the title of this film written and directed by Bora Datjekin and produced by Christian Becker and Lena Shömann, it means in diplomatic terms “Leave me alone with your crap!” 🙂

FACK JU GÖHTE (meaning FAHCK you Goethe) may be a film that has received many awards, including the Bambi Awards, the German Comedy Prize and probably many alternative awards for its excessive swearing. 😉 However, when watching the film for the first couple of times, the main idea is not necessarily school life and how teachers are underappreciated for their work. We saw Lisi Schnabelstedt be doused with ink in front of her eighth grade class, Ingrid Leimbach-Knorr try killing herself by jumping out the window and the main character Zeki Müller lose the seat of his pants because he was glued to the chair. A sign of disrespect by the students at a Gesamtschule bearing the famous German Goethe. A teacher’s nightmare, if he/she does not have the nerves of steel, speaking from personal experience.

The theme in this film has to do with redemption and a new chance at life. The protagonist, Zeki Müller, is released from prison for theft and applies for a job as a janitor for the Goethe Gesamtschule. Yet the primary reason behind the job is to retrieve the stolen money buried during the construction of a new gymnasium (or in German, Sporthalle), and pay up his debts he accrued prior to his incarceration. Because of the suicide attempt of Frau Leimbach-Knorr, Müller is roped into teaching a dysfunctional pupils with an attitude problem and no motivation for anything in school. Faced with the prospect of repeating the 10th grade, Müller gives the students a lesson on life they never forget, showing them the dangers of not finishing school with a tour through the slums, supporting them in what they are doing, and showing them the limits. All of them in an unorthodox way, as seen in the film clips below:

The beauty of this is despite Lisi finding out what Zeki was doing regarding the money, he wins her heart and his job as a teacher, despite not having the qualifications of a teacher (please see article on Lehramt studies). Most importantly, though, Zeki won the respect of his students, despite having to put up with their crap at the beginning.

Fack Ju Göhte satirically brings out the other side of the German education system which has been the focus of scrutiny because of the lack of quality of teaching, combined with outdated materials and lack of technical equipment. Furthermore, the relationship between the teacher and the students have been questionable, especially with regard to authority and responsibility (an example can be found here.) Yet the film should not serve as a scare tactic for future teachers. Although even yours truly (a veteran teacher of almost 15 years) sometimes had an itching to do what Zeki did in the film, I still love my job because of all the quotes and stories the students share every morning, and every single one that has since been stored away waiting to be told to my daughter who wants to be teacher, like Papa. 🙂 And for Zeki, despite all that he had endured, he loves his job in the end, setting the stage for a sequel that is coming out this month.

And if the satire is not enough, here’s a preview of what you can expect in Part II:

More trash talk in the film? Ja. More blunders in the school? You bet? And more fun with the teacher? Absolutely! It would not be surprising if Part II outdoes the original, not just because of the characters (and actors) in the film, but how the story unfolds further into chaos, with the students enjoying the ride. And with a cultural clash on the horizon, you can bet there will be plenty of discussion once the film is released and more accolades pile up, in addition to what the Files’ has given them for Part I. Stay tuned…..

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FAST FACT: A German Gesamtschule is an American equivalent to a junior high school, where pupils between the ages of 11 and 18 attend, regardless of criteria, and basic education is provided with the goal of proceeding to either the Hauptschule or Realschule. A few manage to make it to a technical school or even the Gymnasium (German high school).

Schuleinführung: Entering Elementary School in Germany

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In the past 2-3 weeks, we’ve seen scenes similar to this one at a German elementary school: children, parents and grandparents dressing up for a big event, marking the end of life in Kindergarten and the start of life in elementary school (in German: Grundschule). The children are introduced by the principal, have their books and other goodies loaded up in their back packs by their homeroom teacher, and finally, receive their Zuckertüte, as seen below:

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As mentioned previously in an earlier article, the Zuckertüte is a very big thing for children leaving Kindergarten and entering school. They receive one during both occasions, even though the creme de la creme they receive on the day of the Schuleinführung. 🙂  Known in English as Orientation Day, Schuleinführung is on par with graduation from college, high school and even Kindergarten in the United States: speeches and dancing during the festivities in school, followed by receiving the Zuckertüte, which is the same as receiving the diploma for the hard work leading to graduating to the next level. Receiving the Zuckertüte closes the ceremony, but the celebrations continue through the evening, with family and close friends. It is not surprising if a child received not only one Zuckertüte from the parents and one from the grandparents, but as many as a couple dozen!  😀

As we do not have something as formal and festive as the Schuleinführung for kids entering American elementary schools- we just have informational meetings and open houses- it does lead to a question for the forum as graduation from a school in Germany (especially from high school (or Gymnasium)) is not as dressed up and sassy as in the US.

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Which of the celebrations would you prefer for your child: orientation (Schuleinführung) or graduation (Abschluss) and why?

Share your thoughts here or on the Files’ facebook pages.

To end this article, I would like to close with a comment mentioned by the principal of my daughter’s elementary school, which she is attending in the coming days. She had a wonderful Schuleinführung celebration, and as for me as a parent, it was a once in a lifetime event to watch her enter the next stage in life. But this quote definitely serves as a reminder of what is yet to come: “You kids are no longer playing, but you will be learning; learning to read and write, learning to do math, learning to be independent. Parents, don’t be afraid if they say I can do this myself. They’re growing up.”  So true it is, so true it is (sniff, sniff!) 🙂

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In School in Germany: Teachers and Burn-Out Syndrome

Goethe Gymnasium in Flensburg, taken from the Südermarkt. Photo taken in 2011
Goethe Gymnasium in Flensburg, taken from the Südermarkt. Photo taken in 2011

To start out this entry, here is a pop quiz for you to try:

Choose the situation where a person is NOT burned out and why?

SITUATION A:  Tom has been teaching third graders for 15 years at a school in Cleveland, Ohio. His preference is working with kids with serious social issues, such as drug addiction, uncontrollable behaviors and aggression towards others, just to name a few. Yet one day, he submits his letter of resignation out of the blue. Reason: He had spent more time testing the kids and evaluating them than he had ever had time to create various activities, resulting in him being detached from his teaching duties and his private life but at the same time, doing work similar to a robot. He blames the Ohio State Legislature for these tests and the budget cuts that have affected the state school system.

SITUATION B: Katie teaches sixth grade music at a school in Madison, Wisconsin. She also has obligations as an organist and a choir director. Yet the last three years, she experienced a loss of energy, insomnia and a sense of negative energy towards her work that in the end, all she could do is recommend to others not to take up a career. When she resigns from her post, she is replaced by three people who shared her duties. She is now a substitute teacher but despite loving the job, she is looking for something different.

SITUATION C: Susan teaches high school English at a Gymnasium in Glauchau in the German state of Saxony. Coming off a divorce, she finds that her work was underappreciated and despite demanding for more pay, she still receives 1,600 Euros a month, barely enough to make ends meet, especially as she has to cover court costs including child support. One day, she ghosts the school, disappearing into the sunset without telling anyone, only to be found trying to take her own life on the peninsula of Holnis northeast of Flensburg by drowning herself in rum. Luckily for her, a stranger walking by stops her and helps her.

SITUATION D: James teaches Social Studies and History at an International School in Hamburg. In the past two weeks, he only had an average of four hours of sleep because of a project he and his class had been doing on immigration and integration in Germany. Suddenly, during the presentation of the topic and standing in front of a crowd of 250 people, he becomes dizzy and blacks out. The next thing he knew, he is in the hospital and is subsequentially assigned to rehabilitation for a sleeping disorder.

SITUATION E: It is the end of the semester at the university in Mannheim and Corrina has had it. After a rigorous semester where the assistant professor of civil and mechanical engineering had to contend with paperwork involving grants, a cheating scandal involving students in one of her seminars, and a horrendous workload involving 22 hours of teaching, combined with a break-up with her partner of 7 years, she decides to take three weeks off and engages in a long-distance bike tour entitled “Tour of Tears,” which she soaks in the experience of visiting towns between Basel and Emden and feels better after the trip.

While the answer will appear at the end of this article, each example inhibits the symptoms of a mental illness that has taken hold on our society, thanks to the changes in working environment where the quality of work is being trumped by the quantity put in. Burn-out syndrome was first diagnosed by Herbert Freudenberger in 1974, but despite the different symptoms discovered by doctors and scientists, Christina Maslach and Susan Jackson in 1981 narrowed them down to three key categories, namely physical exhaustion, depersonalization- meaning cynicism and dissociation from work and lastly, low personal accomplishment and appreciation. The same duo created the Maslach Burn-out inventory, which features 22 questions to determine if and to what degree the person has burn-out. The German scientific organization Arbeitsbezogener Verhaltens- und Erlebensmuster (AVEM) created four classes of burn-out syndrome, ranging from type G being a slight case (tiredness and agitation), to type A, which represents the worst case as severe depression, obsession compulsive disorder and suicidal thoughts and/or attempts are common.  Burn-out syndrome is most commonly found in white-collar jobs, where people with office jobs work longer hours and have more demanding tasks than those working in the blue-collar jobs. Even more so are the teachers, police officers, administrators and government officials affected by this disorder, for the jobs demand human contact and a set of ethical rules to follow, something that is difficult to do, especially if one is a teacher.

Yet how is burn-out syndrome a serious problem among teachers? According to a survey conducted by German scientists Bauer, Unterbrink, Hack and others and involving questionnaires and observations, the teaching profession ranks number one as the most underappreciated job, number one as the job where a person can retire the earliest and sadly, number one on the list of professions where a person is most likely to develop psychological disorders, such as burn-out syndrome on the short scale, but on the long scale, the person can develop non-communicable diseases like cancer, stroke and/or even heart disease. In a survey conducted with 949 teachers in the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, burn-out syndrome is more prevalent among those who are either single or divorced than those in a relationship or are married, yet the average person suffering from the disease has the second worst type of burn-out- type B, which features depression symptoms, lack of concentration and creativity, dissociation from the job, indifference, and unchecked aggression.

The causes of burn-out among teachers are numerous and unfortunately universal, no matter which country you plan to teach. If there was a top five of the causes, they would start out with the lack of funding and support for the education system as being problem numero uno. Budget cuts means less money for materials, including books and technical equipment and lower salaries and less job security among teachers. Right behind that is the increase in paperwork in terms of administering more tests than necessary, rewriting the curriculum, documenting the results of tests for each student and filling out forms that justify the ordering of materials for class. The end result is less preparatory time for classes, less time for students and less time to create one’s own activities for class.  Number three is dealing with parents of delinquent pupils. This means instead of standing by the teachers in disciplining their kid, the parents are standing by the kids and cursing the teachers for not getting the job done. Schools have witnessed an increase in helicopter parents in the past 10 years, sometimes to a point where teachers have to handle not just the kids but also their parents in terms of discipline.  Number four is the lack of appreciation for the work put in. This can not only happen in the school when staff criticizes the work. It is worse at home when you receive little or no support from your loved ones because their work and your work is totally different. This happens to even those who are student-teaching for even a limited time. And lastly, the problem of balancing work and family life has become a major problem even recently. That means teachers are competing with white collar workers at a financial or multi-national company for the most number of hours a week clocked in- between 50 and 60 hours a week to be exact. Normally, teachers are entitled to work between 35 and 40 hours a week, as their job is on the same level as a governmental official. This explains the reason behind an increase in protests in Germany in the past five years, as many states have attempted to reduce funding to their education system due to less income brought on by taxes.

During my practical training at a Gymnasium in Thuringia, I observed a wide spectrum of veteran teachers who were affected by burn-out in one way or another. A couple of them had recovered through treatment prior to my arrival in March 2014, yet others appeared to be frustrated by the workload that had increased. One of them had the cheek to use a Dr. McCoy- Star Trek line during a class while doing some office duties with the students, saying “Dammit! I’m a teacher, not an administrator!” Some of the frustration also stemmed from the delinquent behavior by the students, namely those between grades six and eight.  Even some of the student teachers can get hammered by symptoms of burn-out for a combination of stress and long hours can result in the body not being able to fend off the unthinkable for viruses. This was the experience I had in the first month, where I was downed by a virus thanks to the lack of hours of rest plus getting adjusted to the working environment. Four weeks being bed-ridden, yet my colleague was nice to respond with this comment “Welcome to school. You survived the initiation ceremony!” Some initiation party I went through!  :-/

But yet, there is a good point when it comes to being a teacher: one needs to have nerves of steel and a heart of metal alloy, ticking 24-7 in order to survive the profession. That means one needs the following four Ps in order to be a successful teacher: passion, persistence, perseverance and patience, followed by a wild card P, meaning pride. This means a dedicated teacher nowadays needs to survive the increase in bureaucracy and politics, the complaints from parents, the disinterest of the students and the dog-eat-dog competition from colleagues, while at the same time, walk one’s own line in terms of the curriculum, creating activities, teaching and keeping the students in line and knowing when to say when. Sometimes when one speaks softly he needs to carry a big stick- and use it too!  Yet it is not easy if you find yourself feeling worn down, rejected and detached from your job, your family and even your own environment. Therefore while various forms of counseling and therapy are available, one has to sit down take stock at the situation, make a list of benefits and drawbacks to teaching, including the successes and problems in school, and make a plan where one says this is what I will do in addition to my teaching duties, but no more than that.  It is hard to do that, but in the end, it is doable. This is why in SITUATION E, where Corrina decides to take a break from her job and do the bike tour, it was because she wanted nothing more than to avoid burn-out. And sometimes, a hobby like a long-distance bike tour can help a person reflect on the job and recover for the next round.

And so to end this segment on burn-out, here is a question to all the teachers out there: when was there a time when you had burn-out and how did it happen? How did you handle the problem and why? And lastly, did it affect your decision to remain a teacher?  The Files would love to hear your stories about them, even if you keep your name anonymous.

While I had my whiff of burn-out during my practical training, it did not influence my decision to remain a teacher for one good reason: on my last day of class at the Gymnasium, a group of sixth graders, who were royal PITAs during my time teaching them, gave me a thank you card and a standing ovation! If a group of trouble-makers showing their appreciation towards your work does not convince you to remain a teacher, like mine did, what will? 🙂

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Author’s note: The situations are partially made up but a couple instances were based on true stories and accounts by people known by the author. The names and places mentioned here are fictitious and are in no way connected to these stories.

In School in Germany: The Culling of Quatsch in German

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How to eliminate trash from the German language in order to make it more sophisticated

A few weeks ago, you know, there was like a cool article from that whatchamacallit online thing, where writers, like put down something like 15 words that should, you know, be eliminated from the vocabulary, because they are, like very dailylike and not good for use in college. Do you know wha I’m sayin?

First reaction from the audience: “Mr. Smith, can you please repeat that? I don’t know what you are saying.” (Typical reaction from a dedicated student from Denmark learning English for her job.”

Again: Don’t ya know, there was like an article on taking out stuff from the language, you know, English. It was like we cannot use these words because they are, you know, babylike…..

Second reaction from the audience: Basketball star Elena Delle Donne shakes her head in disbelief and puts on her headset listening to some iTune music, getting mentally prepared for the next WNBA basketball game. Yet at the same time, a hysterical mother of three stands up and says this as a third reaction:

“If you say one more like, I’m gonna pound you! Do you know how many likes you’ve said in a MINUTE?!!”

You can imagine, how many responses came out regarding the article that was posted in the Files’ facebook pages as well as the pages in the circles dealing with Anglo-Saxon and German cultures: in the short paragraph above, identify the words that probably made it to the list made by the newspaper and in the group circles.

While English is becoming more diluted with slangs and other expressions, which is making the language less sophisticated in both the oral and written senses, the German language unfortunately is suffering from a similar fate.

Take a look at the example that a former colleague from a German Hochschule where I taught for two years  received from a student of civil engineering via e-mail:

Hi, ich hab mal ne frage zur presentation, wir sollen die ja schon 2 wochen vorher abgeben, was is aber wenn wir später noch was ändern wollen, ich glaub kaum das ich schon 2 wochen vorher die finale version der presentation hab und die 2 wochen lang für gut befinde und nichts mehr dran ändere, auserdem wollt ich wissen wann ich jez eigentlich meine presentation hab jez wies aussieht alles nach hinten verschoben und ich weis nich mehr wann meine dann ist…..

In English:

Hi! I have a question regarding my presentation. We should hand it in two weeks beforehand. However, what if we have to change something? We doubt our presentation will be done beforehand. In addition, I would like to know if it is possible to push my presentation date back and if so, when. (This is a shortened translation of the German text, by the way.)

This is from a native speaker of German. Do you trust him constructing the next bridge carrying a German Autobahn? Especially the one being planned at Rendsburg over the Baltic-North Sea Canal in the next two years?

If you are a German academic or an expatriate who has lived in Germany for more than ten years, like I have, you will see the mistakes in less than a second.  Sadly, more and more e-mails, papers, documents and even theses are containing words that do not belong in the German language if a person wants to write like Goethe or Schiller- words like: geil, doch, noch, was and –ne, as well as some Denglish words, such as liken, downloaden, fischen, etc. While one could communicate them orally (but please, sparingly), they do not belong on paper.

So what is there to do about the erosion of the German language? It is a surefire fact that we need to eliminate some stuff from the German language in order to make it pure again, just like with the English language. And while Germans have adopted many words from English that can be used, and vice versa, there are some words that just do not belong in the vocabulary, period.

If you were a German teacher, which words would you like to see your pupils NOT use- both orally as well as written? Here are the English words that many people have listed that should be at least capped for use:

Whatever, like, awesome, umm, stuff, thing, honestly, irregardless, would of (instead of would have), actually, viral, addicting, just, maybe, really, very, went, that, literally, and absolutely.

Und du? Welche deutsche Wörter möchtest du zum Verwenden begrenzen, außer was erwähnt wurden? Her mit deiner Liste in the Flensburg Files Comment page, sowie in den anderen Seiten und wir freuen uns auf den Vergleich zwischen den englischen und den deutschen Wörten!

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