The Professor

I spent four years with the same teacher, three of them in a club he was in charge of, one of them as vice president of said club.

In those four years of high school, I had countless conversations with my German teacher, countless experiences, and countless lessons. Countless, but I’ll try recalling some.

One of the biggest lessons I can remember, one that admittedly a lot of teachers tried teaching me at the time, was to challenge myself, that it really pays off. Throughout middle school and particularly high school I kept hearing that I had so much potential, if only I applied myself. I knew that, I understood that, but, for some personal reasons, I still didn’t live up to that potential.

My German teacher didn’t tell me that, not really. It was understood in my senior year that I was falling short, but he didn’t give me endless guilt trips or lectures about it. He gave me chances and recognition for the work that I did do, both for class and the club. It actually made me feel worse about letting him down more than any other teacher.

Another lesson I can remember is that ignorance will cost you more than any education. I’m not even sure he ever said it. I know it was on a poster in his classroom, a poster I saw and read every single day for four years. That mindset was a big part of why I went to university despite my lack of funds. That’s been a personal struggle that I’m going to have to keep figuring out, but, so far, I don’t regret it.

I find myself thinking back to the four years I spent in that classroom more and more as I have now found myself teaching a foreign language. I ask myself almost every day what he would do in my situation and how he did so much, because he really did the most.

We did more in that class than in any other. There were projects for every unit, penpals, the opportunity to go on exchange, the opportunity to do a homestay for a whole year…I made music videos, puppet shows, and skits, I planned a fake trip to Vienna, I helped organize a chocolate taste-testing with Austrian chocolate, I made a gingerbread house every single year, I made actual wienerschnitzel (and sold it to the school) every single year…

What astounds me the most as a language teacher now is that we didn’t really even have a textbook. We had units with specific themes and endless materials, and it was all from him. He put it all together. Barely any of it felt like language-learning materials, too. We learned real German songs and watched real German movies and learned real German fairytales. I don’t know how he managed to do all of that work.

I am a better language teacher because of him. I work harder at my job because I know it works. I put in extra effort to find authentic materials, come up with creative activities, and even sometimes assign projects, because I know it will help my students learn more effectively in the long run. I took the time to find penpals for my students because I know actual communication will be the most rewarding experience of all.

More than anything, I learned the value of hard work.

Those four years in that classroom were the most memorable of my education, as well as the most relevant. I am eternally grateful for everything I learned, and so happy to know that other students are getting the same invaluable education I received.

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