Learning to teach


If anyone had said to me that I would be teaching English in Germany 5 years ago, I would have giggled and said: “Mmmmm yeah, I doubt that”. Well, it happened… I was teaching English… in Germany! You got me! What a crazy turn of events.

Many people think that anyone can be a teacher, “it’s an easy job man”, “what an easy life”. Well, I am here to say that these are actually misconceptions. Not anyone can teach, it’s not an easy job and not the easy life people think. So my background has no connection with teaching. I have a degree in Communication Management and 3 years of work experience in communication and marketing. Granted, I did a TEFL English course and helped my sister give a few Italian lessons a while back, but that’s about it.

Becoming a teacher was never a dream of mine. If you asked high-school Gabi what she wanted to become, you would probably hear actress, astronomer (even though I wasn’t good at maths or science), chef and maybe even President. But I don’t think I ever imagined myself as a teacher… Until a bit later in life that is. Don’t get me wrong, I love children and I have grown up being surrounded by them, but the notion of educating them was still a seed that had not begun to sprout yet.

nelson mandela quote

After a few years of life in the corporate world (which is also not easy or for everyone, might I add), I started having “what if I…” thoughts. “What if I opened a bakery” or “what if I became a nursery school teacher”. And so… I watered that seed, and the thought became a sprout that just never stopped growing. It became a part of my life plan. I wanted to do a bridging course and get my teaching degree, and someday when I had kids of my own, become a teacher. Not just for convenience or because I thought it would be easier, no. The more I thought about it, the more I thought about me, and about the teachers that inspired me, the idea of me inspiring others and being a teacher became a desire.

I have always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, whether it’s big or small, significant and memorable or just a smile for the day. I just never knew how. Turns out, my opportunity was awaiting me in another country sooner than I thought.

Moving to Germany was a huge step, filled with unknowns. The biggest unknown for me was where I would work, what would I be doing with my life. I naturally gravitated to what I know and have been doing my entire working career and applied for marketing and communication positions. However, before we even left South Africa, I started an online TEFL course to teach English as a second language. I am not sure what the exact reason was, perhaps because it was on sale, maybe as a backup plan in case, I never found a job in marketing… whatever the reason, I am so glad I did it because it helped get me to where I am now. After hundreds of job applications for marketing and communication positions, and just as many rejections, I decided to try looking elsewhere. I looked at tutoring jobs and language schools but to no avail. But, as always, God had a plan. Stew and I were taking German courses, and our very first German teacher became a very good friend. She first asked me to spend some time with her daughter because she wanted her to learn English, and soon after we became wonderful friends. It was this amazing friend that mentioned she was thinking of enrolling her daughter in a bilingual school close by – a school I never heard of or found in my job searches. I decided to do some research and send an email to the school to see if they needed any help with English.

And just like that, I had my first small job at a bilingual school. I was there to help out in the classroom as well as watch over the children after school.

So, the school systems in Germany are different, and this school was quite unique as well. It was a small school, with only 4 classes. Each class is made up of 1st – 4th graders. Each class also has a German teacher and an English teacher. A wonderful concept. To say I had a lot to learn was an understatement. But the teachers were wonderful, and I felt myself wanting to do more every day. After some time, and a lucky turn of events, I was offered to teach English temporarily while another teacher was away on maternity leave.

I accepted of course but was terrified. Knowing that you are responsible for the education and development of young minds is a daunting concept. Not to mention, you are teaching a second language, to children who may not understand you, and you are working with a completely different curriculum. It was hard work and a big learning experience. But with the knowledge from my course and amazing colleagues to guide me, I did my best. It was tough at first, but so rewarding.

I taught English there for 2 years. 2 years where I grew so much as a person, where I learned so much about children, teaching techniques and how young minds learn. But the biggest takeaway was my newfound respect for teachers. This is not an easy job, or something anyone can do. Every day you face new challenges. Every child is unique and learns differently. Every child has their own strengths and challenges. As a teacher, you do not only consider the child but the family as well. The individual child and the collective group. You need to be strong and gentle at the same time, be able to discipline but have compassion. Teachers give all of themselves to educate children, to expand their knowledge, channel their interests and embolden their curiosity.

It is difficult, often looked down upon job, but one of the most rewarding. And when you have a teacher who is truly called to the job and does it with love and passion, you can see the difference in how the children feel about learning and going to school. I often think back to my school days, and the teachers that made an impact on my life. I am thankful for all of them.

While I may not be teaching at the moment, I know now that teaching is definitely something I love doing and that being a part of children’s learning and development is something that I love. Where this takes me next, I am not sure, but I am excited to find out.

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