Being Introduced to a New Class

One of the things a British Council language assistant has to go through is being introduced to a new class at his/her school. This may sound very simple, and in some cases it thankfully is, but I thought I’d write a small post about my experiences of it, which might perhaps be a nice read for those of you who are hoping to be language assistants next year.

The reason this topic came to mind is because I am now on my third timetable since starting in September, due to my school being massive and my mentor wanting me to be in as many classes as possible (which I am very happy with), and in total I’ve been in approximately 24 classes, ranging from 4. Klasse (aged 10-11) to 13. Klasse (aged 19-21).

What would I expect?

My expectations of being introduced to a new class would be that the class are very excited to have someone new in their class, not just because I’m English, but also because of my age – as we were told a lot, it’s not just that we come from a different country, but it’s actually also because we’re generally younger than the teachers, meaning us assistants and the students have something a little more in common.

Due to this, I would expect the students to ask a few questions, from how old I am, to where I come from, to what my hobbies are, and similar questions like that.

Has what I expected actually happened?

Yes, it has. In some lessons. The general norm is that the children sit there and get all chatty to each other when I walk in, and I get a few ‘Wer bist du?’ (‘Who are you?’), and I’ve even had a couple ‘Wer sind Sie?’ which is the formal form of the same question, even though the whole school uses the informal ‘du’ form.

Normal questions I’ve had are:

  • How old are you?
  • Where do you come from?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • Do you have any pets?
  • Do you have any brothers and sisters?

And you can see the pattern going on there – nice, friendly questions which let the children learn more about me.

What happened that I didn’t expect?

Starting with the general reaction to me walking in the room: I have, in a couple of classes, sensed a wave of panic when I walk in. The teacher has asked what questions the students have for me, and I have literally been asked no questions whatsoever, even after I tell them to not worry about speaking English as I’m only there to help them, as well as me giving a little speech about the basic things about me. I didn’t think it would happen, but it does actually feel quite awkward when you’re not asked questions, partly because it’s a room of around 25 people in pure silence, and partly because it may suggest the students aren’t really bothered about you (which is a bit of a let down, especially after you’ve been to a class who couldn’t stop asking you questions).

So a word of warning is to be weary that you might just have some classes who are quite shy, and that it can be quite awkward. But just stand at the front and smile and try and look friendly, and hopefully you’ll get something out of them, even if it’s simple questions which they may already know the answers of.

What unexpected questions have I been asked?

This is the fun bit. As I said, there have been classes who have asked quite a few questions, some of which I have been quite shocked at, and have sometimes just had to laugh at. Here are some of the ones that have stuck in my mind, and just remember some of them might be a ‘you had to be there!’-kind of funny, but hopefully you can picture the situation in your head! These are not just questions I’ve been asked in my first classes, but also questions I’ve been randomly asked throughout my time with different classes.

  • ‘Are your parents divorced or married?’ This was approximately the 5th question I got asked by a 6. Klasse (aged 12-13), after being asked things like ‘how old are you?’. I was very shocked, for obvious reasons, but managed to laugh it out along with the teacher. I obviously answered honestly. But it did suggest the student was using the recent vocabulary learned, as I assume family-vocabulary will be a big topic at that age, which is definitely a good thing!
  • ‘What colour Nintendo 3DS do you have?!’ When the kids ask me about my hobbies, I mention video games (which always cues a ‘sigh’ from the girls and a ‘gasp’ from the boys). A general question after that is ‘PS3 oder Xbox?!’ to which I answer ‘Neither – Nintendo!’ (deprived German kids), and once a class got out of me that I have a Nintendo 3DS (and proud) to which the boys got all excited and started asking me what colour my 3DS is and what games I like playing. It got very hectic with question after question about video games being thrown at me.
  • ‘Do you like Justin Bieber?’ – Quickly answered with a ‘no’.
  • ‘Do you like One Direction?’ – I sometimes worry what the students think of me.
  • ‘Have you ever kissed a girl?’ This was asked by a kid in a 4. Klasse, who first had to ask the teacher how to say it in English, and it was followed by around 25 kids giggling. I laughed, and the teacher chuckled and mentioned something about me being 20 years old. The next question was asked immediately.
  • ‘Why does your German sound funny?’ – The teacher saved me quickly by saying that I do come from England so my German isn’t necessarily going to sound like I come from Hanover. She then mentioned that the student, who asked me the question, doesn’t speak English with a perfect English accent, to which the student was quite shocked by (which I did find quite funny with it being a 4. Klasse, aged 9-10).
  • ‘What have you done here?!’ This was more of a grammar fail (and do please note I’m not picking on the student, it was just funny at the time because of how the student said it!) Basically, the teacher had said to the student ‘Frag ihn, was er hier macht!’ (‘Ask him what he’s doing here!’) and the student panicked and blurted out ‘What have you done here?!’ in an interrogating voice. At least they tried! Bless!
  • ‘Have you Facebook?’ A typical grammar error of sticking the verb at the front of the sentence to make a question. And yes, I do have Facebook, but no, you’re not adding me on Facebook. Weirdly, to this day, I’ve still had not one friend request from a student at my school, though I know of other assistants who’ve had about 12! I’m thinking it might be because my surname isn’t very well known due to all teachers being addressed with their first name.

So those are just a few of the weird and wonderful questions I’ve been asked at school, so to those of you who are hoping to be assistants next year: be ready for interesting questions, but also be ready for no questions at all. It depends entirely on the class!

It’s all an exciting process though, and despite those awkward quiet moments and those awkward questions you could be asked, I wouldn’t change anything I’ve experienced so far at all!