It was always clear to me that I wanted to be a teacher. It was just as clear that Germany would not accept my British qualifications, and so in 1984 I had the idea that I could teach English to German adults in our local Volkshochschule, one of over 900 in Germany.
” The task of the VHS was to give clarity and community and to serve the people but also to serve democracy. The main idea is that learning starts with the learner and their needs and that the programmes are oriented towards what supports an individual and the society. VHS see themselves not just as learning sites, but also as meeting spaces, where people can come together and learn together, learn from each other and share ideas. What’s very important is that VHS are open to all, to people of different backgrounds, religions, political orientations, social statues. This also means that VHS are supposed to offer affordable education. VHS are not profit-oriented and don’t just depend on participants’ fees but also receive public funding.“
My first class was at 6.30pm on Monday 3 September. I wore a tan-coloured skirt and tan and white striped top I had bought in J C Penney when we lived in Florida, said goodbye to my children and my (at that time) husband and set off for school, far too early. I remember that lesson so clearly, the feeling of being completely in the right place at the right time, and when upon coming home my (at that time) husband asked me how it had been I replied “It was marvellous. I loved it.”
As the years passed I offered more and more different courses at different levels.
While my students were learning English, I was learning from them too. In 1991 the phone rang and it was an offer to teach English at a local company, DESMA. I was very unsure if I was able to do that, but yes, I would give it a go. I remember those first lessons too, and how I fell in love not just with teaching English but also with the world of industry. I had never known that manfacturing was so beautiful.
The next call came from one of my VHS participants who worked for Mercedes-Benz. Guess what, they needed an English teacher too. Would I be interested? That would be a ‘Yes.’
So off I went, and fell in love with not only the beautiful vehicles produced in Bremen but also that very same participant, who not only spoke excellent English, was funny and charming and thoughtful but also valued me as a teacher and a person. He became my lovely husband in 2002. And had the idea I should have my own logo – I chose a penguin.
Just before that, a call came from the University: a group of psychology lecturers and their professor wanted to improve their English – was I interested? Oh, yes! Through them I learned (among other things) about the work of Hannah Ahrendt.
Then came so many calls from so many companies, and everywhere I taught I listened to my students and learned so much – about design, advertising, packaging, carton, waste water, travel agency back offices, ERP software, packaging machinery, automobile suppliers, margarine, honey and doughnuts…
As well as science…
Along the way I produced intranet English pages for the companies, English-language press review CDS for their management, helped primary school teachers in Germany deal with teaching English, and wrote company magazines. Even a book about company history. I became the head of our town VHS. I loved it.
It was all so interesting, and I thought it would never stop. Then along came Corona, and over the course of the lockdown summer I realized that being at home was quite nice, not driving 100s of kilometres per week was even nicer, and my lovely husband (already retired) was nicest of all. And I started this Blog, to keep in touch with all my participants.
Writing has always been easy-peasy for me. No, more than that, a sort of obsessional behaviour of having to write something before I can settle. I always just wrote for myself, and once the story or poem or whatever was finished I was not interested any more. Now I write here every week, and although I can’t see who reads my texts, I can see how many, and where. It’s quite surprising.
So I came to the idea to give myself a sabbatical – to write a book, gulp, the sort I enjoy reading myself. And so the last weeks have been one goodbye after another to my (virtual) classes. Sigh.
The last 35 years have really been a carnival. I have had such fun. I learned so much and met so many different, interesting people who were willing to share their lives with me.
I will be continuing with this Blog. But for now, my teaching carnival is over:
But, students, I’ll be back!