Tag Archives: Interviews

More German efficiency

In a bid to make a bit of extra cash before Christmas, last week I applied to a school that is approximately 30 seconds from my house; perfect for these cold, dark, winter days. I got a reply and dutifully trotted across the road at 14.50. I rang the bell. No answer. I rang the bell again. No answer. I called the number and was routed to some central messaging service where, surprise, nobody answered. Slipping in behind a woman who had a key, I made it to the front door of the school, rang several more times and then gave up.

At around 15.10, an unkempt woman with greasy hair and rumpled clothing appeared.

Frau Sau: How did you get in? 

Me: A woman had the key. 

Frau Sau: Huh.

She opened the door and instructed me to sit down in the hall. No apology then. She went into her office and reappeared with part of her coffee machine, went into the bathroom, filled it with water and went back into her office, all the while looking at me like I was some sort of curious exhibit in a museum.

Finally, I was called in. After the oddest interview ever –

Frau Sau: Do you have the right to work in the EU?

Me: I’m Irish. We’re EU citizens. 

Frau Sau: For now…

Frau Sau: This school has been going for years. I don’t know how many.

Me: 28.

Frau Sau: Oh. You know more than I do.

– she offered me a group of 5-year-olds as a cover lesson at the end of the week. Now, I have taught kids before but it’s been a long time and even they were 7 or 8.

Me: Hmm. OK…

Frau Sau: Great. So, 15.30 on Friday.

Me: Well, OK but what am I supposed to do with them? Did the regular teacher leave any notes? 

Frau Sau: (Blank look)

Me: Or is there a book that they normally use? 

Frau Sau: I guess you could try this. It’s in German but pictures are pictures.

Argh, my eyes, my eyes!
Argh, my eyes, my eyes!

Me: Um, OK. What if I want to make copies? Is there another photocopier here? Your office will be locked. (She works from 15.00 – 18.30 every day – poor woman must be exhausted.)

Frau Sau: You’ll just have to make your copies now.

Me: But I don’t know what I’m doing with them yet.

Frau Sau: (Blank look)

Me: Which classroom should I use? 

Frau Sau: Any of them.

Me: Huh.

Frau Sau: Can you sing? 

Me: Uh… (putting the book in my bag)

Frau Sau: You can’t take that with you. I’ll leave it out in the hall for you for Friday. 

Me: …

She then proceeded to fill out forms on her computer, making me say everything out loud, despite all of the information being in front of her in my freshly-printed CV and certificates. After that, she took me through the “student database” – a box filled with alphabetically-filed cards. Instead of there being one card for the group with all of the students’ names on it, each student had an individual card which would have to be filled in after the lesson. Sigh.

As I would want to get there earlier than 15.00 having had no tour of the school or any clue what I was doing, she gave me the key to the building – this seemed a bit strange as she really didn’t know me from Adam. Stranger still was that I didn’t need any sort of police background check before working with young children. Then again, maybe German law is different?

I went home and got on Facebook to tell Han how it had gone.

Me: Ugh, I don’t even know what a 5-year-old looks like…

Han: They look awful.

Me: They can smell fear, right? 

Han: Yup.

Me: Gulp.

On Friday at 14.45, I let myself in. I had a wander around the rooms and chose the biggest one. I had planned on doing a lesson on food but changed my mind and decided on parts of the body, mainly because I didn’t want to sing this:

Even for 5-year-olds, this seems retarded.
Even for 5-year-olds, this seems retarded.

“Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” I could get on board with. I located the one CD player and got set up. At around 15.05, Frau Sau showed up.

Frau Sau: What are you doing with that book? 

Me: That’s the book you left out for me.

Frau Sau: But that’s a book for kids.

Me: I’m teaching kids. 

Frau Sau: No, you’re teaching school children. 

Me: But you said 5-year-olds. 

Frau Sau: Must have been a misunderstanding. 

Me: (panic) OK, so how old are these kids? 

Frau Sau: Oh, from grade blah blah to blah blah. 

German grades don’t make much sense to me but this sounded like a big range of ages and levels.

Me: Riiiiiiiiiight. So what am I supposed to do with them? Is there a book?

Frau Sau: No. 

Me: Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. So what am I supposed to do with them? 

Frau Sau: I don’t know. Their homework I guess. 

Me: Christ. 

I went back into my room and had a moment of ARRRRGGGGHHHHH. The floor looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” was written.

20161111_1509361

The “kids” started to show up. I guess they were between 9 and 16, with wildly varying abilities. Some of them had English homework, some didn’t. Some of them had English books, some didn’t. Three of them were actually there to study German.

Me: Gulp.

I got the ones who had English homework started on that and set the others a simple writing task. After about 30 minutes, they were all done.

Me: Gulp.

Wolff: Where are you from?

Me: Ireland. 

Wolff: Coooooooooooooooool! 

Gerlinde: Where’s that? 

Wolff: (with much eye-rolling) It’s an island near Great Britain. (Sigh. Eye-roll.)

I decided that we may as well play games for the last hour so we whiled away the time with past simple Xs and Os, Hangman and Who Am I? I have no idea who the cool kids know these days but I figured it was a safe bet they’d heard of Donald Trump. I put Heribert standing with his back to the board and wrote Donald Trump on it.

Heribert: Am I a man? 

Wolff: I HATE YOU!!! 

Heribert: Donald Trump? 

5 o’clock rolled around.

Gerlinde: That was so much fun! Are you going to be here on Monday?

Me: No, sorry, it’s just for today. 

Wolff: Tuesday? 

Me: Nope, sorry! 

All: Awwwwwwwwwwwww!

Me: Yeah, I know. 

Hedde: I really like your hair…

They trundled out and I went to the office to find Frau Sau. Naturally, she’d chosen this exact time to disappear. I stood making idle chatter with a parent she’d also left sitting there waiting.

Mutter: (rather ominously) Yeah, I’ve had dealings with Frau Sau before…

Frau Sau reappeared, went into the bathroom without making eye contact with either of us, and then emerged to call me into her office. I started filling out my invoice.

Frau Sau: I need the key back. 

Me: (through gritted teeth) Yes, in a minute. 

Frau Sau: How did it go? 

Me: Yeah, fine. We did their homework and some writing practice and then played some games. 

Frau Sau: Oh, there are a load of games in that cupboard. You could have used those. 

So I grabbed her by her greasy hair, swung her around a few times and hurled her through the window.

Not really.

Needless to say, I won’t be going back there.

English and Elvis

I’m happy to say that I’m finally feeling a bit more settled in Berlin, thanks to my new home and my two lovely German ladies. (And no, we don’t braid each other’s hair and have pillow fights, in case you were wondering.)

I’ve got my head around my work schedule and feel that I’m now in a position to talk a little about what it’s like to be an English teacher in Berlin.

I guess I should start by saying that if you’re looking for a safe bet, Berlin probably isn’t the place for you. Most schools hire on a freelance basis, and won’t interview people who don’t already live in Berlin. The only thing you can do, which is what I did, is find a list of English schools here and send your CV to ALL of them. Then cross your fingers and hope one or two reply, move to Berlin, cross your fingers again and hope that you get an interview.

I got two interviews (and two jobs) within around a week and a half. I now realise how insanely lucky I was after talking to another teacher who said that it took her four months to find any work at all. In short, it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Oh, and you'll definitely need one of these...
Oh, and you’ll definitely need one of these…

In addition, if you’re looking for a job where you go to a school, work five or six hours a day in the same building and go home again, you might want to rethink Berlin as your first choice. If you’re freelancing, you’ll likely be travelling to different companies to teach there. And as most companies want lessons either before or after normal working hours, you’ll probably have to get up at stupid o’clock to get to 8am lessons.

Of course, it can be a bit tiring, but seriously, who wouldn’t want to spend their days wandering around Berlin? I’ve got to see so much of the city this way and, every day, something new surprises or tickles me.

From the wonderful...
From the wonderful…
to the wonderfully historic...
to the wonderfully historic…
to the wonderfully weird.
to the wonderfully weird.

In short, Berlin is fantastic. And there are also some pretty impressive, double-take-inducing German moustaches roaming the streets. (Attached to men, of course. Berlin is crazy, but not that crazy.)

The school that I get the bulk of my hours from is fantastically well-run. The teachers are financially taken care of and support is always available. We even get paid for training, induction, and travel expenses. And, every now and then, the Director of Studies bakes…

A sausage roll! A rare sight indeed in Germany.
A sausage roll! A rare sight indeed in Germany.

And finally, ze German students… In my (admittedly still limited) experience, they’re great – warm, friendly, chuckly, open, smart, hard-working, and pleasingly self-aware. I recently had two students act out a telephone role play.

(Afterwards)

Me: Um, it was good, but maybe a little… direct?

Fritz: You mean too German? 

Me: Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.

So overall, it’s hard work, it’s stressful in the beginning, but if you’re really determined to move to Berlin, you’ll find a way to make it work eventually – and it will be worth it.

Still, all work and no play makes Linda a dull girl, so last night I had the honour of being invited to an English stand-up comedy night by Victoria over at The British Berliner. We met up for Happy Hour cocktails at the rather fabulous Bellini Lounge, and then to the main event at the Quatsch Comedy Club.

Free stuff :)
Free stuff 🙂

The star of the show, Daniel Sloss, is a young, up-and-coming Scottish comedian, and if you like no-holds-barred comedy, which made half an audience in Indianapolis stand up and leave the show, then he’s the guy for you. If you’re not easily offended and like penis jokes – as I do – then you’ll laugh your ass off.

The warm-up act, the very funny Jack Woodhead, joked, sang and played the piano in an outfit and make-up that would have had a Latvian woman squealing in envy (and a Latvian man squealing in fear and pushing himself up against a wall – not that he’d be in any danger, I’m sure. Jack looked like a discerning individual…)

We got chatting to both comedians over a couple of drinks after the show, but I had to pretend to be a sensible person and leave early(ish). 5.45am starts bring out the sensible in most people. At around midnight, as I was walking from the train to my flat, the strains of people singing roaring along to ‘Suspicious Minds’ drifted my way.

Naturally, I should have kept walking but curiosity got the better of me, and I found myself outside a cute little French bar called ‘Place Clichy’. The bar was heaving when I managed to push open the door.

“HOORAY!!!”, roared everyone.

“HOORAY!!!”, I roared back, with no real idea why. I went to the bar and got talking to a very merry German.

Heinz: Where are you from?

Me: Ireland.

Heinz: (roaring) SHE’S FROM IRELAND!!!

Everyone: HOORAY!!! 

And so, my new buddies and I shouted along to Elvis tunes, and drank €2 glasses of wine, until around 2am, when I really had to be sensible and go to bed.

Ah Berlin, there’s never a dull moment with you, is there?