Ada Abroad: Living and Working in Germany

An online journal recording two years spent as a Fulbright/Pedagogical Exchange Service Teaching Assistant at secondary schools in Germany. (2003-2004 I was in a village near Bautzen; 2004-2005 I will be in Nordrhein-Westfalen.)

Location: Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

I'm an American living in Germany, working as a foreign language assistant at a secondary school. Future plans: getting my Ph.D. (probably in Germanic Linguistics), becoming a professor, living an ethical and meaningful life.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Well, Back in MY Day...

One of the teachers left me alone with a room full of fifth-graders all day. He said he needed to make a few photocopies and would be about five minutes late to class, but apparently something came up, because he never showed. I generally like working with the younger kids-- they're cute, and they're utterly unselfconscious-- but managing 32 perky, pint-sized individuals who have no sense of irony for a full hour is beyond my capacities. I'm not a trained teacher; I'm a trained LINGUIST. Besides, my contract specifically states that I 'shall not be required to hold entire lessons without a teacher present.'

Mild chaos ensued.

It started with hats. 'Can I wear my hat in class?' asked Felix. 'I don't know. What do the other teachers say?' 'Some let us, some don't,' said Malte helpfully. 'Well, what does your regular English teacher say?' 'He lets us.' 'Then it's ok.'

After we had established that they could wear their hats and gloves (but only if they wore both, because wearing one reminded me of Michael Jackson, which was frankly creepy), that drinking was ok, but eating was not, and that shouting over the children I had actually called on was still unacceptable, two of the girls asked if they could use the bathroom. I let them go-- at the same time. This was my first mistake.

As soon as Maike and Anne were out the door, Klara tapped me on the shoulder and whispered... 'You know, both of them took their mobile phones with them. I don't think they really just wanted to go to the toilet.'


This caught me completely off guard. Having grown up in the last century, it simply hadn't occurred to me that ten-year-old kids would have their own cell phones, let alone bring them to school. Even when I was in high school, none of my friends had mobile phones-- only a handful of spoiled rich kids did. And the only people who could bring them to school were the diabetics, who might conceivably need them for a medical emergency. I know that things have changed, and I wouldn't have been surprised if one of my twelfth-graders had pulled out a cell phone. But the cute little ones? These are people who wear their hair in pigtails and are pleased to find LEGOs in their shoes on St. Nicholas Day! What do they need cell phones for?

'Boys and girls, someone has just brought something to my attention. Everyone who has a cell phone, please put it on your desk where I can see it.'

Two dozen tiny people rummaged through their backpacks and coat pockets until their stubby (and occasionally sticky) fingers clasped objects of high technology that didn't even exist when I was their age.

'Ok,' I said, using my best teacher voice. 'From now on, no one touches their phone during my lesson. And that includes during bathroom breaks.'

Some of the little people began to look mortified.

'By the way, what do you kids need mobile phones for, anyway?'

Hands were raised.

'To call my friends.' 'To send text messages.' 'To call my mom in case I need her to pick me up.' 'My daddy pays my cell phone bill from his bank account.' 'Really? I have to pay mine myself!' 'I got a new phone for Saint Nicholas Day.' 'My phone used to belong to my older sister, but now she has a new one...'

When the discussion degenerated to the point that various groups of children were shouting over one another or chatting loudly with their friends, I motioned for silence. Then I used a phrase which I have never used before in my life, and which made me feel like a senior citizen as soon as it left my mouth:

'When I was a little girl...'

I explained that when I was in fifth grade, NO ONE had cell phones. And that this wasn't really all that long ago-- I'm only 24. And that we got along without them just fine, thank you.

'Oh, but things are different today,' said Florian knowingly. 'It's hard to get by without a cell phone these days. What if I need my mom to pick me up early?'

I should have told him that fifteen years ago, when children needed their parents to pick them up early, they used pay phones. But instead, I told them, 'Well, I don't have a cell phone.'

32 sets of eyes looked at me with undisguised pity. 'Oh,' said Ann-Christine. 'Maybe you'll get one for Christmas?'

I wonder how they would have reacted had I told them that I don't have a television, either.

It's funny how little things like this can suddenly make a person feel like an aging schoolmarm instead of a fresh-faced college kid. I'm so out of it that not only do I not have a cell phone, but I didn't even realize that most preadolescents today do. My lack of a cell phone seemed just as exotic to them as my grandmother's stories about sharing bath water with her seven brothers and sisters did to me when I was their age. How did I suddenly get to be an old person? What the hell happened?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Adrienne: Oh my gosh... Shall I send a subscription of AARP.


3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How funny! It must run in the family because I don't have a cell phone either. Love, Mom

6:19 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You're not alone. I have a cell phone for work but it's so outdated that once I came back from Switzerland, I couldn't even figure out to use the darn thing. I use it to pick up or call someone. Nothing more works on it!

I don't have my own personal phone nor do I plan on getting one any time soon. So you aren't out of the loop and I'm 29.

I don't think kids need phones because they don't know what to use them. Maybe parents should have a one number only system. I bet a lot of kids would loose interest really fast!

10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mine can take digital photos and 15 second videos. it has a lot of other little features as well, like news highlights. the built in camera and calculator come in handy when i don't have the real thing, but i prefer the real thing! i usually just make calls with my mobile. i am not much of a fan of one thing trying to do too much. who wants to watch tv on a 3x3 screen when they probably have an awesome 42" plasma tv at home? anyway, they just banned moblies in the high schools here, until they have time to address the issue next year, and it is causing a big controversy! (because of a safety issue). it is complicated, but i can see both sides.

10:52 PM  

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