You probably think that in a classroom it's only the students who learn and the instructor who teaches. There's nothing more wrong than that. Teaching German at Illinois State University for a year made me realize how much my students actually taught me – whether they knew it or not.
A year ago I left Germany and set off to Bloomington-Normal, IL, where I worked as Graduate Teaching Assistant teaching German to American students. I never properly worked as a teacher. I never had my own class of students for whom I had full responsibility. I have never been in the United States of America. And that's how my journey began; a journey full of daily challenges and struggles, funny mistakes and beautiful moments in a foreign country.
1. Be self-confident
Let's be clear: no student will ever respect an instructor who does not seem self-confident. If you show a lack of confidence, that bundle of young adults will question not only your authority but also your knowledge. I very clearly remember those last few moments before my first lesson. I remember how my hands were shaking, how my heart was racing and I still remember the nervous runs to the restroom. Oh yes I was scared, but I knew I couldn't admit any of it and simulate exactly the opposite if I wanted to win their attention. Fake it till you make it!
Maybe it isn't easy in the beginning but eventually it'll become easier, I promise! Dealing with your insecurities will make you strong over time up until being able to deal with unexpected situations or funny mistakes. I'll never forget how I panicked during my first class because I couldn't turn on the boom box. Turned out the cable wasn't plugged into the box! Time taught me to stay relaxed and self-confident even in situations like these and look for a solution.
2. Be an authority
Standing in front of a bunch of students every day definitely teaches you authority. Once you'll get over the self-confidence part you realize that authority is indispensable for your students to take you seriously and execute your requests and exercises. The work with students will teach you attitude and presence in the classroom, and foremost responsibility. Working as a teacher is a responsible job, as your authority decides whether your students will effectively learn something or whether they paid their class for nothing.
3. Be a motivation
Everybody knows it: if there is lack of motivation, there is no learning process. It's so much easier to sit down and study for a topic that we're really interested in or that actually inspires us than to do homework for a class we're absolutely not interested in. I was teaching German language, and guess what, there were not a lot of students who were motivated. In that case you have no choice, you have to learn how to be a motivator. Motivation is the key to engagement and commitment and thus to learning and successful participation in your classroom.
4. Be an entertainer
And what better way is there to motivate your students than being an entertainer and making your lessons as fun as possible? And let me tell you: it works! Some teachers maybe motivate their students with long preaches or threats. I'm not that kind of person, however. Instead, my students taught me the more fun there was during our classes, the more motivated they were to participate and showed way better results!
5. Cultural differences
Well, and then there is the international part. I'll be infinitely grateful to my wonderful students for teaching me so much about their country, about their study and work ethic, about their dress code at university, about their education system, their sports and their connections to the military. They taught me so much more than I have ever expected and they are the reason I had such an incredible stay in the U.S. Thank you so much dear students. I hope you had some fun learning German, and never forget that you taught me just as much as I taught you!