On my first day in class, my students taught me something invaluable that I, all over-prepared and determined to perform well as I was, could not anticipate in its fullest sense: teaching begins with an encounter. In fact, it begins with many encounters, always anew in every interaction between the people involved. Teaching, therefore, inaugurates an unforeseen lesson from the get-go; it means learning about a multiplicity of students, about their different expectations, their ambitious learning goals, and individual needs – none of them ever the same. Learning, under the condition of such a permanent beginning, therefore, is not simply an objective; rather, it marks the point of departure for every preparation and realization of a class. In its most fundamental sense, the concept of teaching co-constitutes the act of learning; it delineates the site of an encounter between teacher and learner, and it is at the gateway of this encounter where I want to position myself as an instructor of German.
Learning about the difference of a particular class and particular students, to begin with, means asking for advice; it means to present a syllabus as a proposal, for instance, and to see where students come from, what their objectives are, which topics they find interesting, and, consequently, it means to put them in charge of their own learning process. As a form of continual learning, moreover, my teaching aims at creating a meaningful context for every assignment and exercise, that is, it aims at structuring a space in which any subject and the students’ experiences overlap and diverge. It is in the very friction of this process, I feel, in which students engage most, share their experiences, and shed light on a subject from a diverse range of perspectives. With activities, such as think-pair-shares, group discussions, presentations, and puzzles, I encourage students to make incessant use of the German language, to use a plurality of media and materials – including YouTube, Instagram, Kahoot and Spotify among others – and, thus, to create their very own idiom of German, in which the somewhat difficult German grammar comes to life before we even realize that it does.
The idea of teaching as learning and, accordingly, planning and thinking from my students’ objectives also involves a careful consideration of the structure and agency of assessments. I am in full agreement with my students to state that respectful, precise, and prompt feedback is key to facilitate the permanent redefinition of what creating a German speaking culture in the international context can be. I highly encourage students, therefore, to become their own experts of the language for each other; for instance, I assign peer review sessions on a regular basis for students to evaluate their work, to apply and enhance their linguistic and social skills, and to exchange their knowledge of the German language with others.
As a teacher and, more importantly, as a learner, I am myself most thankful for any student’s feedback, and I seek to establish a perpetual exchange between me and all participants in class. Such a feedback loop ranges from an activity such as the simple application of the subjunctive in German, that is, the question ‘What would you do?’, to students planning, preparing, and taking over sections of our class, to opinion polls regarding the focus and the material of our sessions.
Ultimately, I think that the commitment to mutual learning exceeds a particular setting in a particular semester: to this day, I am thrilled to learn about my students’ experiences alongside their professional trajectories elsewhere. I am more than happy to confer about their semester at NYU Berlin, for instance, or their engagement at other German speaking workspaces, to which the encounters of our German class paved the way.