A few days ago I volunteered a few hours of my afternoon to teach English at the Martin-Buber-Schule in Gießen, a school for mentally disabled and/or physically handicapped children. It was organized by fellow CSer Philipp’s mom, a teacher at the school, and turned out to be one worth remembering. The two hours I spent with these eight 17-year-olds were heartwarming and above all, fun!
For all of them, it was their very first English lesson (ever!), so we learned the basics: hello, good-bye, my name is _____, I come from _____, thank you, and the numbers 1-10. Two of them were especially excited to show that they could already count to ten, despite never having learned it in school, and one particularly vocal boy happily sang choruses of “What’s my name?” by Rihanna. Ah, American pop culture, your power frightens and pleases me simultaneously…
After the lesson, a few of the kids volunteered to lead me on a tour of their school. One of the girls, Sarah, grabbed me by the hand and enthusiastically led me through the building that the teacher described as a “prison”; to prevent the kids from wandering off and getting disorientated, the doors — all of the doors — must be opened by key, and a metal gate surrounds the entire school and playground. The security was great, the resources available to the 140 kids were more than adequate from what I could see (there was even a relaxation room with a waterbed, disco ball, and lit tubes of colored bubbly water)!
An unexpected added bonus: I learned something too! One of the girls is Germany’s #1 speedstacker in her category (stacking cups, that is — not bad, eh?), and taught me the basic stacks. Apparently no English lesson with me is complete without some spontaneous dancing, which delighted the kids to no end when another of their teachers showed up and started twirling me around!
It was fantastic to see how motivated the majority of the students were, regardless of their handicaps. I found it difficult not to compare the abilities and personalities of my students to theirs. It’s maddening when I see the huge potential of some of my students at the Friedrich-Magnus-Gesamtschule going to waste because of pure laziness, something the students in this class at the Martin-Buber-Schule thankfully lacked. It was also wonderful to feel so appreciated, and to not feel any societal distance between me and the students, as these kids all used the informal du form of “you” with me. I had a lovely afternoon, and was happy to hear “You can come back again, you know!” from many of the kids when it was time to go. Their cheerfulness and zest for life certainly makes me want to!