Oberlin Blogs

Wintersemester auf Deutsch

February 13, 2014

Ida Hoequist ’14

My last winter term is over. My last first week of classes is over. My last first cook shift is over. Everything is starting to be measured in lasts. I feel properly like a senior. Don't get me wrong, there are some definite advantages - four-day weekends! no morning classes! self-determined homework! - but January held some surprises for me this year, and I'm sad to see it go.

What did I do? Well.

Every year for winter term, Oberlin offers a few language intensives, which are designed to beast you through the material for the 101 course in the language of your choice so that you can go straight to 1021 - which, real talk, is extremely valuable in terms of trying to fulfill graduation requirements and also in terms of trying to have one less superstressful course in your semesters. Thing is, every year, those winter term intensives are taught by TAs and students.2 (In case this is the first blog post of mine that you're reading: I'm a native speaker and a German Studies major.) Now, can you guess what I did for winter term?

I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but I went into it thinking that, while it would certainly be a good experience, it probably wouldn't be the most fun. I mean, intensive teaching doesn't exactly sound like a barrel of laughs, right? Enter the first Monday. I wake up, make coffee, pull on my best pants, button up my favorite button-down, try to remember to not slouch, sweep into class in my most imposing coat, unpack my lesson plan, my freshly sharpened pencil, my special teacher-textbook...
Me: Guten Morgen!
My students: (mumble)
My students: guten morgen
Me: Okay, bitte aufstehen!
[I mime standing up and stretching until they're all out of their seats with their arms over their heads]
Only when it occurred to me that there might be a class under us who might feel anxious about the roaring over their heads did I let my students sit back down. And then I fed them juicy fresh kumquats that I'd picked from a tree in my backyard two nights before. They suffered so, poor things.

Point being, five minutes in, I was hooked. It feels marvelously empowering to put on my extrovert suit once in a while, be in control, and watch it actually work! That was the best part! I can't describe to you what it's like to start with thirty German-empty brains, fling material at them, and watch them fill up! I legit almost cried when, at the end of one of those "make a dialogue and say it in front of everyone!" exercises, two of my students got up and read a dialogue in grammatically flawless, almost accentless German. It was all I could do to pick my jaw up off the floor and not, like, scream.

Due credit to my students, though - they had a knack for turning the most tedious assignments into unpredictable, melodramatic, sometimes-poignant absurdist comedies. Using less vocabulary and less developed grammar than that of the average five-year-old, mind you. ("You want the soup? ONE MILLION DOLLARS." [later] "There's a hair in my soup." "Oh, I'm extremely sorry, let me- " "THERE IS A HAIR IN MY SOUP" "I'm so very sor-" "THERE IS A HAIR. IN MY SOUP." "I'm so sorry! I'm just a waiter! I'm sorry! I - [sob] - I need this job! I have a family to feed!" [entire dining party leaves classroom, single file, in a tremendous huff] And so forth.) Overacting was definitely a theme.

Might've had something to do with the fact that the class was half voice majors? Hah, no, but seriously, I remember on the first day, in the first break, hearing the students relax and joke around and then start laughing - and I was like, "okay that one's a voice major, and so is that one, and definitely that one..." If you've hung around opera singers, you know what I'm talking about. Not that I minded; they were all sweethearts! And I especially didn't mind when they sang things. Are you a German teacher? Have you ever heard a dozen Oberlin voice majors belting out the dative prepositions to the tune of The Blue Danube, with harmonies? I pity you.

Too bad they weren't little angels every second of the day. Let me tell you, dear Obie/potential Obie: if you ever get used to teeny seminar-sized classes? And then find yourself in a 30-person class? And you're like "dope, I can check my phone and stuff and my prof will be none the wiser? No. One thousand percent wrong. The front of the classroom is like an eagle's nest. I saw every drooping eyelid, every small epiphany, every shared glance, every zone-out, every text message. And they made me giggle.

On the whole, though, we had a good time. The level of derp was always high, whether it was a student forgetting to apply the rule we just taught, or me perpetually wiping chalky hands on my black pants and spilling coffee on myself, or the 'educational videos' featuring amazingly poor acting. We kept it silly. Which is about all you can ask for from three college kids teaching thirty other college kids how to navigate German consonants and the ins and outs of a case system, among other things. (Choice quote: "Okay but why do cases exist? Do they have a purpose???")

In that spirit, I'll close this out with a video we showed on one of the first days of class. Don't worry, it's not less funny if you don't speak German. Probably the opposite.

To everyone I've ever rolled my eyes at for telling me I would make a good teacher: I'm not sorry. But you do get infinite "I told you so"s.

1. I didn't feel like writing about the actual mechanics of the project, since they're rather more dull, but here they are: class is from 10-12 and 2-4 every weekday; we go through a chapter every other day; there is an ungraded quiz after every chapter. We do not assign homework, but students are strongly advised to do the optional exercises, which we are happy to correct for them. At the end, students wishing to get course credit (not just a winter term credit) may take an exam, which they must get an 80 or higher on. To get winter term credit, all students have to do is show up every day.

2. Eli wrote about his experience teaching Ancient Greek here.

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