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Linda Speidel (Tübingen 1991-93)
"What teaching can be like"

Somehow it seemed very fitting that I should end up in Tübingen as a Lektorin. The reason I had originally added Leeds to my list of university choices was because my father had been there as an exchange student from Tübingen in the 1950s. He later came back to England as a Lektor himself, so there was a sense of carrying on a family tradition, both in working as a Lektorin and in returning to Tübingen where several generations of Speidels had studied. However, although it appears in retrospect to have been some sort of grand plan, at the time it was a combination of laziness (a total unwillingness to even begin to look for a job) and good luck (happening to walk into the German Department at just the moment when Professor Beddow was looking for someone to go to Tübingen) that led to my applying for the job. It was an easy decision – I had absolutely nothing lined up after my Finals while everyone else seemed worryingly sure of where they were heading – and it was a decision that I have not regretted.

In many ways being a Lektorin was like still being a student but with lots of money and I think I had a more hectic social life then than at any other time in my life. It was also the only time in my working life when I did not wake up on a Monday morning feeling gloomy about returning to work, although the fact that I only taught Tuesday-Thursday may have had something to do with that. But I did really enjoy the teaching, even though the courses sounded rather dry: 'Oral Communication', 'Grammar & Usage I', 'Translation I and II'. I turned up to my first class at one o'clock sharp only to find I had no students. After rushing back to my office to check my timetable, my fellow Lektor and office-mate, Kelvin reminded me about das akademische Viertel. I was so nervous about teaching my first group, even though only eight students eventually turned up.

There were eight Lektoren in the Englisches Seminar and we generally got on very well. I have fond memories of morning coffee in the local Stehcafé, saving our Essensmarken for the fortnightly lunch at Kürner, where Paul Westney knew all the waiters, and Tuesday afternoon was always teatime in someone's office.

It was quite disconcerting, however, to have moved so suddenly from being a student to standing in front of a class. I felt incredibly young by Tübingen standards. I was the youngest Lektor by a few months, but I was also younger than many of my students. Both Kelvin and I were constantly mistaken for students and were frequently told off when using the staff photocopier, getting more than three books out of the library, having our own (expensively insured!) Hausschlüssel, or even parking a bike in the staff bike stand.

"Tübingen ist klein." How often that turned out to be true. In addition to the above mentioned connections, my sister had spent a year au-pairing for a family who knew everyone and everything. My partner, Chris and I had, as exchange students, worked in Macdonalds (a very politically incorrect Nebenjob) and my cousin was studying in Tübingen. Through my father I also had connections to his Verbindung, the Roigel. Everyone really does know everyone in Tübingen – I even discovered that I had, unknowingly, been teaching a distant relative for one semester. It amazes me even now, how many people I still come across with connections to Tübingen.

My time in Tübingen gave me a wonderful start to teaching, particularly as I then went on to teach for several months, before my PGCE, at a comprehensive school in Upminster. I was completely clueless about what Year 9 and 10 boys can get up to, and had I not had the experience in Tübingen to remind me of what teaching could be like, I doubt that I would have gone on to do my teacher training.

St Edward's, Romford, where I have been for the past six years, is by any standards a pleasant school to teach in and, for a German teacher, has the unusual, added bonus that German is offered from Year 7 and that German and French are on an equal footing. In fact, there are for the first time more German specialists than French in the department. It is easy to become despondent about language teaching in schools but I have led two trips to Germany this year which have given me much encouragement. One was a Year 8 exchange to Köln and the other a Year 10 & 12 study visit to the Rhein. On both trips we had a large number of pupils wishing to participate and had to turn people away, and those who came with us showed real interest and enthusiasm for what they saw. I find this very encouraging at a time when Germany in particular is still presented in a very negative way in the media.

Exchanges undoubtedly enhance language learning and language teaching. I was very fortunate to spend time in Tübingen as an exchange student and Lektorin. My large comfortable office in the Brechtbau and the polite, attentive students seem a far cry from the cramped office I now share with two other Heads of Year and the line of miscreants waiting outside, but I feel very privileged to have been able to experience both worlds.