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
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