Written on | November 26, 2009 | No Comments
Two weeks ago I did some work experience in the Modern Languages department at school as a foreign language assistant. Basically this meant that to start off with I just sat at the back of the class with a huge pile of vocab books and textbooks and jumped up to help anyone if they stuck up their hand. I was really apprehensive to begin with because the head of the department had put me into a majority of German classes, when what I’m really better at is French and Spanish. I barely know enough to keep myself afloat in German, how on earth am I going to be able to teach it to everyone else?, I thought.
My first day started with me taking the register and reading out the bulletin notices to a first-year tutorial class; and then when I had finished they all burst into spontaneous applause! Then, i spent the rest of the day in German classes where nobody really asked me to help them. I think it’s hard to be a language assistant, especially one who doesn’t even speak the language the class is learning as a first language like the foreign students we get on placements, because the classes don’t want to ask you anything or for help because they think there’s no way you could have as much expertise as their teacher and gosh, how on earth can she help us when she’s just a pupil here herself? So you’re basically sitting at the back of the class thinking, “Come on someone .. ask me something, anything” because it’s really boring to be sitting doing nothing and watching everyone doing their work.
As well as this, you may be a language assistant with some knowledge to help them (even if they don’t believe it!), but you certainly don’t have the authority the teacher has to order them around and discipline them, so I spent a lot of time watching people not doing what they were supposed to be doing and not being able to do anything about it because I wasn’t their teacher, and therefore didn’t have the authority to say anything to them.
Then towards the end of the week I finally started to feel like I was getting somewhere, people asked me how to say flapjack in german and check over their work, and I got to work with small groups. One of my favourite things that I got to do was work with people who were struggling and help them catch up with the rest of the class; because the classes are so big the teachers can’t really devote a lot of time to helping one person if they’re really behind, so that job fell to me.
I started off helping first years memorize their speaking tests, a tiny little conversation they have to have with their teacher that they were all so worked up about remembering. It was so funny to see them taking my advice “don’t worry about it, if you’re stressed you’ll just forget it all; and just keep saying it over and over and over” and working at it. One guy was so worried because he’s playing guitar in the christmas concert and was so overloaded with rehearsals that he had had no time to look over his German. The second girl was sitting at the side of the classroom crying because she was so panicked that she didn’t know it. By the end of the lesson they knew their pieces much better and just almost off by heart and were thanking me, the guy so profusely that you’d have thought I’d saved his life or something and the girl had stopped crying and was smiling instead! I was really happy that I’d gone from being this useless person at the back of the class to someone who really made a difference to their lesson.
Another person I helped was this guy who his teacher told me was totally apathetic towards French and really needed help writing an essay that the rest of the class had finished weeks ago. It turned out that he wasn’t apathetic towards French at all, he just needed someone to give him a shove in the right direction and help him with things he didn’t know how to say. His teacher was shocked because she came to see how we were getting on and he was actually smiling, something she’d never seen him do in French class before. (I was very smug about this!)
When the week was over I was really happy about how it all went, if anything it made me even more sure that I want to be a teacher because I was wanting even more responsibility. I found out that it didn’t matter how much German I knew (or didn’t know!), it was the way I taught it and helped everyone else learn it that was important.If I felt that i made a small difference to a few kids in one week then if I really was a teacher how much of a difference could I make then, every day, all the time? The language teachers thanked me and said I’d been a huge help, and I was kind of overwhelmed. I’ve never found something that I’ve really really wanted to do and had a talent for before. It’s given me something to work towards, something to look forward to, and right now I think I kind of need that. Of course it’ll be hard but I think in the long-run the rewards will make up for the challenges, right? I’ve never been one of those kids who’s always been dead-set on what they want to do, my “what I want to be when I grow up” changed every month or so: a midwife, a soldier in the army, a pilot, a primary school teacher, a translator. But now I think I’ve finally found what I want to do for the rest of my life and I’m just so glad.