On teaching English again away from the kiddos.

I’ve wanted to start a post nearly everyday since my holidays began, but I’ve been too busy relaxing. Shocking only because with only 8 weeks of classes, a bit of tutoring and a bit of waitressing, I really don’t consider myself stressed and needing a break at all.

Really it’s been very easy-going this first semester. Oh there’s work to be done, but there’s still plenty of time for everything else too. It will get harder and more busier, and I have said no to taking on some lessons, but only because I am not in such desperate need of money that I am willing to sacrifice my time to learn languages. Not when I have waited 3 years for this chance!

On that note, I am being very good at recognizing when people are looking to take advantage of me as a native speaker and not pay me for what I know my knowledge and experience are worth. Oh I am a cold calculating business woman, make no mistake. But Adults and professors are not learning “for fun” and they want to pay as little as possible and then make last-minute demands on my time. I am very comfortable saying no these days. If I don’t stand up for myself, no one else will. And I’m not running a charity organisation for people more than capable of paying.

Ouch this all sounds very harsh. Some examples will help illuminate this. Had a nice doctorate student hiring me to help correct some work for him. He paid very fair and appreciated the work. But then texts started coming to correct work he was supposed to correct himself and then last-minute projects he wanted me to look at quickly. I did look through his corrections but I said no to the last-minute offer and further emailed that last-minute does not work as my schedule is very inflexible now and I’d prefer a week’s notice so I can work it into my week.

It hurts my inner workaholic to turn down money. My schedule is rather fixed, but I can accommodate spontaneous projects from time to time. The problem is, or the question is rather: do my clients respect my time and abilities? Doing a correction in under 24-hours comes in every business with an extra “rush” charge. I could have mentioned that too. But that would have jeopardized our relationship more than flat-out saying no. And boundaries are important to establish, in case they weren’t clear enough before. I am a masters student editing on the side, not someone’s personal native speaker slave.

On the way to class I also got a phone call asking about correcting something by the end of the day, on my busiest day. The first thing that interested them was the price. I scoffed into the phone and said no way. Yeah you poor students are “busy” and “poor”. I bet you knew 6 months in advance when this project was due. I’m not gonna take on work from a lazy ass, disorganised person. No way, and I bet you are still getting “Kindergeld” from mama. I’ve got student loans from America, saved 3 years to go to school and still have to pay my own rent and health insurance. Cry me a river. Then he asked if I knew another English speaker that could do it for him. I said nope, sorry good luck! Wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

The next example was a professor who emailed in German a very casual weird message about me immediately having a job. I repressed my initial reaction of being flattered and read between the lines. It was written in a hurry it was a mass email, and most worryingly, it contained the phrase “some translating”. I turned him down saying I was too busy but he could check back later if he still needed help. Later from my fellow students I found out that despite their command of German he was pressuring all of them to essentially translate his book for them from German. What a ridiculously cheap, lazy ass professor. And later everywhere, he will be proclaiming about having “written” a book in English. He’s actually a knowledgeable, likable guy, but what a fraud, just write it in German you silly man and pay a translating company. It’s expensive but they have software like that for a reason. Word for word is incredibly hard work. I actually had to coach one of my fellow students working for him to tell him flat-out no, to translating, since she speaks little German, WITHOUT apologizing for something she had already told him once she didn’t feel comfortable doing. And most importantly, not to waste a single second feeling guilty for it! They are all working 15 hours instead of only the five they get paid for. What a joke! He’s not even a professor that can help them later. I dodged a bullet and I have no problem congratulating myself for smelling something afoul from the get-go.

Lastly I got an email about needing some English help. It raised further red flags, lots of questions very little info and lots of uncertainty about what she wanted. If I were working full-time, I would meet with her and discuss what goals she was looking to achieve. No problem. But for me at the moment, it seemed like too big of a risk. I only want to take on jobs where I know I will be successful. I want to work with people who have concrete goals. Languages are very personal things. Not being able to express yourself as elegantly as you want to can be embarrassing and unnerving. You are after-all presenting yourself every time you open your mouth, and when they judge your language competence, it feels sometimes like they are judging you. When someone writes and doesn’t know what they want to achieve, how can I be successful? Even if I work my butt off and give it my all, if they expect native level fluency, they will be disappointed with me in the end. That only comes after long hours spent talking with native speakers. No, I have no time to be someone’s psychiatrist as well as teacher. Especially if their questions about payment also make me nervous. They are getting a better deal hiring me privately than they ever would find with a company in a course. And if knowing that makes me a bad person, so be it. I’m not accepting jobs in order to get people to like me.

My favorite thing about Germany is that business and personal lives are expected to be kept separate and compartmentalized. That being said I have 2 permanent clients, one is an 11-year-old boy moving to Africa next year and one is a mother working on an advanced nursing degree from an online school in England. I get on with both of them very much and I look forward to meeting up with them and watching them move closer to their goals. Teaching is still something that fires me up and I guess when it boils down to it, I want to save my energy and brain for the projects that mean something to me and with people who appreciate and respect me.

In fact, going back to the topic of turning down work, without apologizing, it was from a recent conversation with the nursing student when the German expression: Wer sich entschuldigt, klagt sich an, came up. This expression means if you say sorry, you are incriminating yourself. Germans don’t say sorry as a natural reflex. When I say sorry in German, it doesn’t mean oh how nice, I am thinking of the feelings of others, it means I am a huge idiot and have guilty feelings about something. Which would explain why, even despite knowing this, my co-workers at the restaurant still tell me constantly not to apologize and look at me funny when I do. If there is one thing that irritates the hell out of Germans it is incompetence, why the hell else would they make a mandatory 3 year training program to become a flight attendant?!?!? Trust me, you do not want to reveal yourself as incompetent in Germany.

In that respect it’s a bit nerve-wracking still at Uni. I can see how much better my German is than other students here, but I need the vocab and expressions again for being at university. I want my professors to see me as a good student period and not just a native speaker with “ok” German. I’m a perfectionist, I know but I’m enjoying this new challenge.

On the other hand, coming back to my home in Nbg, seeing the kids and being reminded of how competent I was at my job, especially catching up with my boss and hearing from her about everything going on and even discussing helping out over semester break with the kids writing the hardest test, has worked wonders to soothe my feelings of being out-of-place still in Freiburg. Her good opinion means more to me than practically anyone else’s here in Germany and how good it was to think that this chapter of my life isn’t shut forever but rather always open if I choose to make time for it.

And so with that I wish you all health and happiness, success and love in 2013!




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