After my initial two months of intensive German courses in Freiburg and Cologne I moved to Berlin for my full time job and found it increasingly difficult to schedule time for continuing my German education. After making a lot of excuses for far too long a colleague and I finally convinced each other to go and check out an evening course. We really enjoyed it and officially signed up for Monday and Wednesday nights.
That was in April and we have been going ever since. In that time we had one young male teacher who was very nice but a little on the lazy side when it came to designing lessons.
Most of our nights were based around exercises from the book and very little pre- explanation. It was a little frustrating but he was a nice teacher and patient. When he left we got a new teacher. She was much different and put a lot of time into setting up tasks not from the text book and also taking a lot of time to pre teach the concepts we were about to learn in the next exercise. I really appreciate her approach to teaching especially as I have gone through the intense CELTA teacher training and know how important it is to pre teach and not go through the book religiously. I believe I have learned a lot during the months she has been our teacher. Unfortunately for us she was taking a few weeks out to go back to her home town. In her place we had an older, louder man. He had taken us once before and the lesson had been very out of the ordinary and his teaching had not exactly struck me as effective. I wasn’t looking forward to having him teach us for another two weeks in our teacher’s absence.
The first night I turned up for class with an open mind thinking it would be good to experience a different teaching style.
However, from the moment I sat down I felt uncomfortable and on edge. His approach to every aspect of the class was aggressive. From asking our name, what we did and why we were in Germany I found my answers to be abruptly cut off and his impatience at my searching for a word was most uncompromising.
The lesson continued with this man pointing to different students and addressing them with the wrong name in an attempt to be funny perhaps. I was addressed as Peggy, a Brazillian student as Phillipo, my British friend as Paul and so it went.
We were learning the Passive tense. The teacher chose not to use the text book at all for this lesson and relied heavily on the use of the black board and writing example sentences to show different ways in which the verbs are conjugated depending on the passive tense. The example sentences he chose to use were: the burning of the books at Bebelplatz, the Kristalnacht, destroying mosques, bombing Hiroshima. The bombing of Hiroshima was a sentence I was instructed to contribute to ‘Give me an example of a place that was bombed’ I was barked at. The examples continued in this aggressive approach.
The entire class having only been introduced to the passive tense that very evening and in many different forms were slow to catch on and we were having difficulty completing one of these arbitrary sentences when put on the spot. As a student in a language class you become used to being put on the spot to answer a question and it is customary for the teacher to give you time to comprehend and construct the sentence. Not this night, if you didn’t answer within two seconds he became impatient ‘oh come on!’ he would yell. I sat in my chair willing myself into invisibility so as not to be called upon. Towards the end of this harrowing hour and a half he went around the class drilling each student with random sentence examples again impatiently barking at the student who didn’t automatically answer correctly. At one stage he asked who had written down the examples he had written on the black board. When only 3 students put their hands up he exploded demanding an answer as to why we had not recorded what he had written. For one thing we were too busy trying to listen to him in fear of not understanding and being called upon. Secondly we are adult students who pay to attend the class after working full days at work. We go along with our text book intending to complete the exercises we are given. A lot of us don’t take anything extra with us to record extra written work on. The fact that I was being reprimanded by this man as a paying student in my own time was not ok. I felt like I was back in high school and about to be given detention for not having completed my homework.
The faces across the classroom I can guess mirrored my own: shocked, bewildered, astounded and mostly disconcerted.
Again I copped the brunt of his ridicule when he asked why I didn’t understand. My friend beside me tried to explain ‘This isn’t clear to me’ but that was unacceptable. When I could not tell him why after an hour I was not fluent and perfectly comprehending the new tense he stood over me with his large intimidating girth persisting ‘Why don’t you understand’
At that moment I just stood up grabbed my things and left. Feeling unjustifiably attacked and bullied in an environment which should be comfortable and encouraging.
Afterwards I spoke to the other students who agreed how uncomfortable it was and how aggressive he had been. I chose not to return until our teacher was back from holiday. The next day I wrote an email to the administration of the school explaining the situation to them. Their reply was defensive and condescending and I was very disappointed by their response.
I found this particular segment to be particularly entertaining: “It is true that he seems to be rude sometimes, polarising and provoking, but this is his teaching style, that - according to many reviews he received from students - seems to be very inspiring and motivating, because he forces everybody to somehow react in German, and if it is only to argue with him. ...I also know that he is a fantastic and patient explainer of vocabulary and grammar.”
Patient! The man in the class room that night was the dictionary definition of impatient!
If in fact his attitude is to inspire argument in the class room, it is definitively inappropriate at our level to expect such a reaction. We are only A2 level students. I would love to hear from any of my class mates from that evening who felt inspired and motivated after that class.
If they had not agreed to charge me only when the other teacher returns, I may have been inclined to do some real social media damage. This little blog is not going to hurt them in any way and I haven't mentioned their name. But I have experienced first hand what an unsatisfied customer will do if they feel hard done by.
As an educational facility it is your responsibility to ensure the students who attend the classes you provide feel comfortable and happy. The school I worked at in Auckland made it their utmost duty to find out from the students how they felt about the classes, teachers and the school environment. Granted this is a much smaller establishment, however, it should never decrease the responsibility of the school administration to keep the enrolment of paying students. This should be even more important for a smaller school like this one.
If their response had been understanding and apologetic on behalf of the teacher I would have been very impressed and felt more inclined to return. As it is I will return only when the other teacher is back from her holiday and only because the school agreed to not charge me for the lessons I have missed. That was their one redeeming point from this whole debacle.
I believe it is incredibly important to voice your opinion in a situation like this where you are a paying customer of any kind. Employees are paid to do a job and if a job is not completed to a high standard it is not acceptable. In a shop, in a restaurant and in a school this is always the case.
A complaint is always warranted and any institution should take one seriously.