Thursday, March 14, 2024

Teacher Tributes: German

I have always had an excellent memory, the ability to read and retain things quickly, and often well past when I needed them. 

The ENORMOUS exception to this is languages other than English. 

I have tried several reputable programs and websites to learn Spanish since meeting Rosa. Some of those were shortly before being immersed in the language on trips to Peru. It doesn't stick. I can usually follow conversations she and Anabelle are having, unless they get emotional and speed up. I have little hope of finding the words needed to speak it myself. Honestly, a large portion of what I do remember comes from shared Latin roots of scientific names of animals and dinosaurs. 

This language barrier was a huge hinderance in High School.

I took four years of German. The only time I remember any of it is when I try to speak Spanish to my family, and the proper word in Deutch comes out. 

This is not helpful.

I did have some dangerous waves of apathy in High School, but there were many instances where I would spend more time studying for German than everything else combined. I could do the reading and writing assignments with help from context clues and a heavily thumbed dictionary. However, when it would come time to take a straight vocabulary test all four years, I'd be lucky to get 40% right.

Luckily, there are other things to learn.

The first two years of German class had stereotypical teachers.

German 1 was taught by a round faced, smiling man, that I could easily believe had lederhosen and an oversized brass instrument at home.

German 2 was taught by a small, stern faced woman, *drops into Eddie Izzard voice* "Very Prussian, very organized. "

Then came Herr Elbin for German 3 and 4 and things were different. He was tall with thinning but still somewhat out of control hair, a bushy beard, and a frequent, disarming smile. The differences were brought home during our first quiz when he had his sandaled feet up on his desk and was strumming his not-plugged-in electric guitar to pass the time. 
Aside- his coolness increased when we learned his wife worked as a keeper at the Bronx Zoo. I never found out her name or what area she worked in, but I feel like, due to statistics in general, I must have seen her there sometime in my life.

His class provided instruction in far more than a foreign language. 

Without warning, one day he was completely serious, separated us into groups based on clothing color selections, and forced one set of students to stand in the back.

That's an example of his "show don't tell" methods of instruction to highlight the important  "Nazis are bad" concept. He made sure to highlight the methods they used, such as encouraging prejudice, turning one group against another with artificial information, assuming authority will not be questioned and other of the more sneaky tactics that evil group used in order for us to recognize them when others try to pull them.

We did an in depth section on Faust too, which had a boat load of applicable to the present day lessons built in, that he clearly highlighted.

When assigning biographies of famous Germans, he made sure I'd get Doctor Wernher Von Braun, knowing full well that not only would I know who Tom Lehrer was, but that I was one hundred percent certain to bring in his song about the Doctor as part of my presentation.

We were reading a murder mystery in class and were asked to write our own endings. Two guys found the book (much tougher in those pre-online caveman days) and learned the reveal in the ending was the victims were stung by scorpions. We weren't supposed to do that, but since they had the murderer be Klaus Meine, lead singer of German metal band "The Scorpions" ("Rock You Like a Hurricane") he decided it was too funny to get mad about.

Teaching a language can be very focused on the topic at hand. Granted, the later years connect more to the literature and culture of that language, but it can still be very focused.

Mr. Elbin made sure we learned not only a wide variety of topics, through the lens of German class, but also adjusted the classroom atmosphere and assignments to ensure his students used peak creativity and a variety of ways of thinking. He gave us examples that showed a multiple communication methods and ways to relate better to other people, not only via a new language, but through culture and humanity in general.

As the transition into Junior year, when I first entered his classroom, was my lowest point, one of the greatest compliments I ever received was what he wrote in my yearbook.

"I think you may have picked up more than anyone else in German 3 & 4  ... and I'm not necessarily talking about the t-shirt collection."

It was and continues to be obvious to anyone that knows me that he was not talking about the German language either ... but the other part still means a great deal.

Herr. Elbin- this teacher tribute is for you.


longbow said...

Very nice. sounds much better than Senora Weiss. She came to class drunk one day. We had to describe drawings. One was of a skier who had fallen badly. Her example was "Stephano" {raises her middle finger} "sube, eh?"

Jeff McGinley said...

Wow, classy!
Thanx for sharing!