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Supporting teachers in the classroom – German Educational Trainees

Author: Emily Fitchett, West Lothian

Recommendation 31 of ‘Language learning in Scotland: A 1+2 approach’ suggests that schools and local authorities consider engaging with skilled and trained native speakers to work under the supervision of the class teacher to support delivery of languages in Scottish schools. German Educational Trainees (GETs) aim to boost language learning and intercultural dialogue in schools whilst providing an invaluable opportunity for German trainee teachers to enhance their classroom practice.

GETs from Universities in Mainz, Leipzig, Koblenz and Saarland work in Scottish schools for a six-month placement from September/October to March/April. Participating students are native German speakers, training to become secondary teachers of English, which means that their level of English is advanced, as is their knowledge of the pedagogy associated with teaching languages.

West Lothian has shared its experiences hosting GETs. Read on to find out more about a day in the life of Lara Brandt, a GET at James Young High in West Lothian.

A day in the life of a GET

What kind of tasks do you do?

I work in the classroom, either with individual groups or supporting the teacher. I think the main focus is stretching those who need extra challenges and helping those who need extra support.

For Advanced Higher pupils, I prepare topics for discussion. At the moment, we are looking at the topic of society and are discussing gender roles, marriage, gay marriage and the ageing population. I think it’s important for the pupils to get lots of first-hand information on what is current in Germany right now.

I help the Higher German students once a week, after school, to prepare them for their speaking exam and I have taken part in a primary to secondary transition event, which consisted of fun activities all about the German language and culture. The event aimed to promote German as L3.

What does your average day entail?

I arrive at school around 8am and start getting ready for lessons. I ask the teachers I will be working with if there is anything they would like me to prepare. After that, I am in classes most of the day supporting pupils.

When I have a period off, I prepare up-to-date materials to support topics taught in class. If I know I am to do group work with the pupils, I try to prepare the activity in advance. I also read up on what I could do in the next lesson with the classes I am involved in.

After the lessons, I catch up with teachers, giving them feedback on pupils’ work, especially when they have achieved something that is challenging for them individually.

What are the best bits and what have you found challenging?

It’s great to get to know the pupils and see them improving. Working closely with pupils individually gives you even more insight into their strengths and abilities.

It is interesting to compare the different education systems. In Germany, we have an ability-based education system but, in Scotland, there are mixed abilities in every class. Languages are highly valued in Germany. In Scotland, languages are valued but don’t receive as much time on the timetable. In Germany all pupils from 11 years old receive three to four periods a week of English or French. They then add one other language the next year and have three periods a week of the L3. By the age of 18, most German pupils are almost fluent in English.

In terms of challenges, at the start it was quite hard to gauge the level of work for the classes but now I am getting used to it. It has also been difficult to know how to manage behaviour as it’s the first time I have had to set my expectations. That said, if I’m stuck I can ask the class teacher.

Impact of a GET on pupils

“Personally I struggle with pronunciation of words in German and Lara really helps with that.”

“It was really useful especially when she talks about topics with us and I feel I have a better idea of what is going on in Germany right now.”

“Having a language assistant has helped our class a lot with giving us good background to the topics we’re studying. Lara has helped me with my pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. She has helped us all a lot in class.”

“I feel more confident and have improved my communication skills.”

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