Unlike many girls my age, I have never been much of a kids kind of person. Tiny animals, yes! Tiny humans… well, not so much. Obviously, my mid-twenties are biologically forcing me to marvel at drooling newborns and “awww” at kids dressed up like Elsa, but this is pretty much where my excitement for the world of children comes to an end. Needless to say I have never EVER thought of myself as a teacher. And still – in a very urgent need to leave Germany and plunge into yet another adventure abroad, I signed up for an internship that allowed/forced me to be just that: a teacher.
To be fair, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. The job advertisement didn’t actually say “you’ll be surrounded by screaming Italian kids 90% of the time”, but now that I look back – I should have gotten it from the subtext.
So yes, I have been a German language teacher in Italy for three months. I’m not saying that’s a lot of time, but what I’m definitely saying is: A whole lot of experience has been made in that time. And yes, many of these experiences have been accompanied by tantrums or outbursts of hysterical laughter, but I still got to learn quite a bit about kids – and maybe even about the rest of us, too.
Here’s what a clueless 25-year-old intern learned from a bunch of Italian school kids:
Teaching is hard, man.
Ok, that I might have known before, but they definitely made sure I won’t forget. Every teacher who does their job properly and with enthusiasm has my deepest respect. You people are amazing and I am just not capable of doing what you do. I’m not patient enough. I don’t get how I can explain something for like 10 minutes and then receive the same absurd answer that has caused me to explain the whole thing in the first place. Anyway: Good teachers are awesome – and anyone who doesn’t truly feel this job is his vocation should absolutely not be doing it. Including myself.
Accept the unreason
If the kid doesn’t want to learn something, it’s not gonna happen. Being obliged to teach the subtleties of German language to these poor fellows, I know I sometimes gave them a hard time, like when they were supposed to pronounce Schwester (sister) or rechts (right, and yes, typical German word, haha, so funny). They paid it back to me a dozen times on other occasions, so I don’t feel too bad for it.
Just to make an example, I explained the pronunciation of the German word weiß (white) so many times I can still hear my own stupid voice in my sleep sometimes: “The w is like the Italian v. The ei is pronounced ai. And the ß is a special letter that we have in Germany, you say it like a doppia s.” I have said these sentences what feels like three million times. And after at least every second one, the kid would answer me with a robot-like weep that soon started to make me feel like crying. Weep. Weep weep.
Be ready for heartbreak
When teaching some essentials of the German language, I often had the kids colour the worksheets I handed out to them because a) I’m a shitty teacher and that took up quite a bit of time and b) I’m not that much of a shitty teacher and I realised it would make a nice exercise to have them explain the object’s colours afterwards. When I first asked one group of kids to colour the animals on their sheet, one of the girls reacted quite reluctantly but then started doing so anyway. I asked her what was going on and she said she doesn’t really enjoy colouring but she still does it because it makes the world more beautiful. I WAS LITERALLY CRYING INSIDE.
5 minutes later the same girl gave me a “thug life” comment when I asked her to wait for the other kids before continuing with the next page. I mean, come on!
Don’t worry – kids don’t care for political correctness.
After the first lesson with a new group, I tried to check if I remembered all the names (which I did, so yeay), but one of the boys obviously thought that was really boring so when I reached the last girl’s name, he said: “Noo, she’s called Francesca”. The problem is, I’m used to hanging out with adults and saying whatever the hell I like. So before I could even think about it for a split second, I had already shot back at him “YOU’RE called Francesca”. Oh. My. God. What did I just say? In my mind I was ready to freak out. Would the kid start crying? Would he tell his parents? Would they all tell their parents? Would I be prosecuted for leaving this kid disturbed and confused about his own gender? Would I go to court and be punished by Berlusconian Law? As you can tell, I was panicking slightly, but as it turns out, unnecessarily so. The kid just gave me a quick look of disbelief, then burst out laughing. Apparently my joke was not only inappropriate but also funny. So yeay, no lawsuit. I still learned to think twice before saying something dubious around kids.
Deal with the noise
Kids are loud. Seriously. And many of them don’t even notice. I had this one kid in my class who would just go on and on talking no matter what I did. It’s not that he wasn’t interested in the class (because he was), but he just simply didn’t notice he was talking at the top of his voice. I would address him like “Hey L, please stop talking right now” or whatever and the kid would get furious, gesture and wave his arms in the most Italian way possible and insist that he didn’t even say a word. Sigh.
Discover the true bullshit-source
In one class I had a kid that yelled “In Germany you don’t have to work and they’ll still pay you money” in the middle of me explaining something. The kid was ten. How the hell would a 10-year-old think of that stuff? Well, he simply wouldn’t. Good job, parents!
If you want to stay cool, shut your mouth
I didn’t only teach elementary school kids, but also some classes at a local high school. The kids in the higher classes were obviously torn between finding me cool because I wasn’t even that much older than they were and hating me like they hated their other teachers, because well, I was their teacher, too. Most of them seemed to choose the first option, but apparently, you can’t win with all of them. One day, a particularly cool kid from the very far left corner of the classroom came strolling forth in a demonstrative easy-going mode after class and casually started asking me whether I liked electronic music. I knew this was my chance to become the cool teacher for all eternity with him, but the truth is: I’m just not into that kind of music. So I told him. I could literally see my cool disappear from his eyes and be replaced with the pure disappointment of having to deal with yet another boring teacher. It took me a while, but I have accepted my uncool. I’m OK now.
The honesty will crush your soul
While I was explaining something in class, a fifth grader said something to his neighbour. When he only received a weird look for an answer, the kid repeated his question to me for the whole class to hear: “Do you even know Italian?”. Note, he decided to ask that while I was talking to the class in Italian. Slightly puzzled, I tried to explain him just that, but my efforts were in vain because he continued to explain to me that I “didn’t know certain words”. Yeah, well thanks for pointing that out.
Be ready for more heartbreak
Yes, I found my teaching experience extremely exhausting and oftentimes frustrating, mostly because I felt so unqualified for it. But if you teach a couple kids once a week for three months and receive these kind of Christmas greetings when you leave, it was still worth it just for this:
So, was my internship worth all the hustle? Despite all the not so cool moments and those that seriously freaked me out, I would go for yes. Before, I only knew how to act real awkward around kids. And now? Well I haven’t unlearned that (it’s still my major move), but I hope I got a little better at the occasional snatches of interaction in between all the weirdness.
Do you have any experience with teaching kids, maybe even abroad? What were your craziest stories on the job? Let me know how you dealt with the challenges in the comment section below!
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