This is a story about a girl named Chelsea who hailed from America and had a fondness for German. Even as a young child of only 19 years, this passion for Deutsch led Chelsea down a tangled, twisted, sometimes tortured path. She traversed the Valley of Separable Prefix Verbs, ascended through the infamous Adjective Ending Chart Mountains, and sailed down the deadly but often tedious Subordinate Clause River, where she searched for and, one day, miraculously found the often-sought but seldom-discovered village, curiously named Verb at the End of the Sentenceville.
At the age of 22, she emerged from the Reflexive Forest, herself a victor, herself a conqueror. Such triumphs, though celebrated, were mere hiccups for our fine explorer. Chelsea knew that though her skills had been tested and her quest had been noble, no journey could prepare her for what lay ahead at the end of the map.
No, there was nothing to be done that might have allowed Chelsea a glimpse into the future. To a world in which her battles didn’t matter, her successes were but moments in the past, forgotten and made unimportant by the passing of time. To the present day, to miles and miles away, to now, where Chelsea, age 23, finds herself: as a teaching assistant, at two German schools, in Sachsen.
This is a story about a girl, a girl who spent years struggling with German, fighting her aging brain to just please let me have a little more space I only need to shove a few more irregular verb conjugations in there okay guys; it’s a story about a girl who spent many a night alone in her room, a Wörterbuch her only bedfellow, highlighter in hand and crazed glint in her eye, a girl who couldn’t sleep at night for the unending questions rattling against her skull– Is that verb reflexive? I can see how it might be… but I can also see how it might not be. But it seems like it’s reflexive. Oh well, I’ll just go to sleep… actually I better look that up.
For all that time, that effort, that struggle– and what? A decent grasp of the German language, of course. But did that prepare Chelsea to take on a role as an English Teaching Assistant? No. Not at all. Because to be an English Teaching Assistant, knowledge of German is only 5% of whatever I’m vaguely talking about. 95% is making a fool out of yourself and trying not to offend anyone. Only anecdotal evidence may shed some light on what this truly means…
And now, what follows, are short tales of life in a German school as seen by an American teaching assistant. Ignore the Erich Kästner in her hands and imagine instead that our German pal Angie up there is reading these little vignette-y things out loud to you. It’ll make everything that much more authentic.
Today, we bring you 3 stories– all true, all plucked from Chelsea’s daily life, and all not actually presented by Angela Merkel.
1) The “Beaches” Incident
Chelsea sits in a small “Vorbereitungsraum” with three 9th graders, two boys and a girl, practicing English conversation skills. A few uncomfortable moments where kids tell me their families don’t have enough money to travel to other countries and look at me as if to say “and why the hell is this your business?” I want them to know, it’s not my fault! It’s just the activity I was given! But otherwise so far, so good. Question to discuss: where would you like to go on vacation if you could go anywhere in the world and why?
Noah: I want to go to Monaco.
Chelsea: Oh really! That’s interesting. I’ve never been there. Why do you want to go to Monaco?
Noah: Um… I think for the fast cars. And also for the bitches.
(Other two kids start to laugh)
Chelsea: For the beaches?
Noah: Yes, yes, the beaches. (Noah starts to laugh)
(Everybody’s laughing now. Chelsea is laughing, but she isn’t sure if she should be laughing)
Chelsea: I mean, unless you mean bitches. Or bitches on beaches. Right? Yeah guys? Right? Haha… heh… I don’t know.
2) Do You Have a Scorpion for Me?
It’s almost Halloween and Chelsea is preparing a lesson for the kids at the Grundschule. Shopping for ideas, she runs across a bag of neon glittery plastic insects– spiders, cockroaches, scorpions, the like. “Perfect,” she thinks, “the kids will love these. I’ll give them to the winners of the memory game I will go home and spend three hours making by hand, with love.”
Fast forward to the following week. A fourth-grade classroom. Children’s screams echo down the hallways for sure and Chelsea stands in the midst of their source, surrounded by the kids themselves.
Kids: That’s so MEAN. It’s not FAIR that only the winners get them! It’s not even like the game was HARD it was just all about LUCK this isn’t FAIR you’re MEAN CHELSEA.
Kids: THIS ISN’T NICE THIS ISN’T FAIR
Chelsea: (resigned to the fact that she is not cut out for this long-term) Would it help if I bought you guys presents and brought them next time?
One Kid, Conceding: Yes… but can I have a sparkly spider right now though?
While no children were harmed in the battle of the Iridescent Plastic Cockroach of 2014, a few tears were shed amongst the students. All other classes were told that there were no prizes, there had never been any prizes, and anybody from another class who told them that there were prizes was a dirty, dirty liar.
3) Rebel Rebel
Chelsea walks in to a 4th grade classroom. This class isn’t always the most well-behaved, but there’s a certain group of girls who make up Chelsea’s “fan club.” They usually participate and try to impress with their knowledge and enthusiasm for English class.
Today, they grab Chelsea’s arm and notice… her tattoo.
Evita: Is that a tattoo!
Leah: I want one! That’s so cool!
Evita: Me too!
(The girls run to grab a pen. Chelsea sits at the front of the room. Silent. Wondering if this is what parents mean when they call something a “bad influence”)
Katja: Can you draw it on me, Chelsea?
Chelsea: Umm… I don’t think that would be… I don’t know if… Uh, well, you go ahead, I guess.
So! Meine Damen und Herren, until next time.
This has been the first edition of MÄRCHENSTUNDE//STORYTIME, brought to you diesmal by Angela Merkel & friends. Join us next time for the fun with a different German moderator, just as much unnecessary extravagance, and, most importantly, more tales from the Vaterland about Chelsea, our adventurer, and the ridiculous things that happen when you hang out with foreign children in school all the time.