The English Teacher

31. The Professor: Write about a teacher that has influenced you.

She made it look so easy.

About ten minutes earlier, students had started to trickle into the classroom. It was the first day of their B1 English class at the Munich Volkhochschule (continuing education center). There were awkward nods and smiles as students took their seats, careful to leave at least one empty chair between them.

I sat with the trainees at a table along the side wall. It was our first day, too. At 13:30 on the dot, the Professor walked in. She closed the door behind her, and smiled in a business-like manner, saying, “Hello everyone.”

There were murmured replies here and there. She placed her things on the table at the front of the classroom, and looked up as if in surprise. She repeated, “Hello everyone!”

This time, the students took the cue. “Hello!” they all responded cheerily.

And with that, the Professor launched into an apparently effortless demonstration of excellent teaching.

Without engaging in any chitchat whatsoever, she invited all the students to stand and come into the middle of the classroom. With clear and concise instructions, she made them all stand in a circle with her.

They proceeded to do a warm-up get-to-know-you game. By the end of it, the students all knew each other’s names, and the Professor knew theirs. (“There is no excuse for not remembering your students names. Learn them.”)

At the Helm of the Class

From then on, she kept the class moving smoothly ahead. There was never any doubt about who was in charge or what the task was. But what was so remarkable is that she gave instructions and taught concepts all the while seeming like she hardly spoke a word.

She must have spoken! The students somehow knew which page to turn to, which activities they were doing, how they had to engage and respond. Within ten minutes of starting the class, the students had been paired off and were on their fourth or fifth activity of the class.

The other trainees and I sat there in complete awe. It was a two-hour class, and before we knew it, it was over.

It wasn’t until afterwards that we learned how much work she had put into her preparations. She knew her timing and her lesson plan by heart. She had gone so far as to script her instructions so that they were as clear as possible.

My Turn

The following day was my first day of teaching. I had prepared a 40 minute lesson. I’d mapped out the lesson plan, and even had my instructions scripted like the Professor had.

But five minutes into my lesson I was off track. I could hear myself talking nervously, causing confusion amongst the students.

Teacher Talking Time

The first feedback I got was about TTT: teacher talking time. It was too high. The Professor said, “I guessed this would be a problem for you, Jane, and I was right. You’ve got to let the students do the talking.”

Luckily, I had enough self-awareness not to be surprised or hurt by this. And I was absolutely determined to show that I could take feedback and apply it.

I beamed with pride when it came time for feedback after my second day of teaching. She looked at me with surprise in her eyes and said, “I am very pleased to see you took my feedback so quickly to heart. Your TTT was way down today.”

Coming from her, it felt like the best feedback anyone had ever given me.

Why She Impressed Me

What struck me so much about the Professor was her no-nonsense, matter-of-fact approach. She wasn’t unfriendly, but she didn’t seem to worry about making you like her. She smiled and laughed with students, but never let things get off track.

She was there to teach, to help you learn. She was not there to be your friend.

I admired her professionalism, the way she wasn’t bothered whether you liked her or not. She never seemed to use more words than absolutely necessary, but she knew exactly which words were required.

She was an excellent communicator and a gifted teacher. She made it look so easy.

I wanted so badly to be able to teach like her.