What I learnt from my German Teacher (by Christopher Wilson)

Let me start off by saying I was not a good German student.

I found learning languages very hard at secondary school and only took German because I had to study a language and I found it easier than French (despite studying French for longer).

During the run up to my GCSEs (Secondary school exams in England for students between the ages of 15 and 16) I would regularly become “ill” on the Wednesdays when my German classes were, sometimes even recovering by the time my next class started! Amazingly no one caught on. All this led me to lag further and further behind my classmates.

Add into that my dyslexia which made me even less motivated and which I used as an excuse for my poor performance (and lack of effort). I was probably the worst student you could wish upon a language teacher. Unmotivated, no concept of the value of learning a language, sporadic attendance, learning disability, and a moody teenager.

Everyone expected me to fail my exam except my German teacher.

German Teacher

Flickr: JSmith Photo

My German teacher was from Austria and had lived in England for some time. She worked in my school which had a larger than average number of students with learning disabilities and was full of enthusiasm.

She kept encouraging me to try harder, kept rewarding my effort and pointing out when I did get things correct.

As my exams approached she helped me to focus on the topics that I liked and I was good at, but she also helped me with activities I struggled with but needed to know for my exam. She invented silly rhymes that stuck in my head all day.

And it changed my attitude.

With my exams looming and my new attitude, I realised I needed this exam grade and that I actually enjoyed my classes, despite my attempts to convince myself that I didn’t!

In the end I actually passed my exam and when I went to collect my results I saw my German Teacher. She was smiling from ear to ear and congratulated me before I even got my result. I honestly think she was happier with my C than the 3 A’s in my class.

Her dedication and hard work has stuck with me.

It can be easy to get annoyed at the unmotivated student in the back of the classroom or feel overwhelmed by the student with the strong learning disability. Sometimes it feels like the only thing we can do is wash our hands of them and leave them to do the best they can. But then I remember her hard work and how she converted me from the worst student and made me actually achieve something.

I may not have stolen great ideas from her style of lessons but I definitely aim to steal her attitude.

Have any of your teachers inspired or affected the way you teach?

Note: This article by Christopher Wilson originally appeared as a guest post on Teaching Village and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

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6 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    Thank you, Chris. Your story really moved me. I think we’ve all had students who needed extra help. Sometimes they are a challenge for teachers, and sometimes they make it easy for us to ignore them because they do their best to fade into the background.

    I’ve had a lot of teachers who helped me along the way, but the one who always stands out for me is Mrs. Helms, my 5th (and 6th grade teacher). She’s the first teacher I remember who convinced me that I was smart, even if my smart was different from the future engineers and rocket scientists who were in class with me 🙂

    I hope that I can be like your German teacher, and Mrs. Helms, and convince my students that “smart” can be different for each of us.

  2. chris wilson says:

    Thanks Barbara, both for the comment and the opportunity to guest post. I really hope I too can be that teacher for my students who doesn’t give up on them even when everyone else seems to have. And help them achieve their full potential where ever it lies.

  3. Rose Bard says:

    Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing. I’ll keep your words in mind.

    As for remembering my teachers, I remember my chemistry teacher who inspired me so much that I ended up applying for chemistry technical course in high school. It wasn’t about chemistry after all, it was about his attitude. And since I started teaching, I tend to connect with the less interested ones in my subject in class and making one of my main goals to inspire them to find pleasure in learning it. I don’t remember my chemistry teacher’s name, but the role that he played in my life will never be forgotten.

    • chris wilson says:

      It’s great that so many teachers can draw lessons from great teachers in our past, usually the ones who really made an effort with us. It’s great that you try to make an effort to connect with the less interested students, it can be all to easy to go for the best students.

  4. Kathy Fagan says:

    Very inspiring, Chris! May it remind me to have faith even in the students who don’t seem to be motivated …

  5. Alicia says:

    Thanks, I needed to read this. I am usually very motivated, but lately I was feeling a bit down because my students tend to be very unmotivated and miss quite a bit of class. Out of the 19 I have enrolled I usually have 6 in class and they rotate, they are not the same ones every time. Except for one student, he has dyxelia like you. Eventhough he thinks this makes it harder for him, he is one of my best students and just when I feel like it’s not worth to put too much effort into the class I think of him and push myself. But last week I just felt completely unmotivated, then I ran across your article as I was preparing for class and it helped me do a shift in my thinking. I will have more patience and do my best to help especially those annoying students who want to sit in the back and chat, because it is those that have the hardest time in class.