Saturday, November 24, 2012

It's a German thing

We're talking about jobs in my ninth-grade class, and on Tuesday started to describe the skills needed for different paths of employment. I asked the students to think of a job they may want to do in a few years, and make a little word map regarding the skills, positives, and negatives of that job. Then I wandered about as they did so and tried to translate the un-translatable jobs they wished to perform (turns out there's a general word for someone who works in an office). Happily, the teacher I'm assisting has a smartphone with a German-English dictionary.

I also chided some French exchange students who spoke no English and little German, because I thought they were just not doing their work. Oops. My actual students quickly corrected me. The struggles of only seeing a class once a week.

With word maps finished, we shared some of the attributes of their chosen jobs. The students told me about what was needed to be a nurse, engineer, banker, police officer, lawyer, and computer repairperson. I asked if anyone had picked a creative job, like interior designer, actor, musician, or even a museum guide. Please guess how many people raised their hands.

Got a number in your head?

Remember that number.

You'll want it in just a minute. Ready?

Zero. Not a single person in a class of thirty had chosen a profession in either the humanities or creative sectors. And this is a class of ninth-graders, with four more years to go before they have to take their big final exams. They weren't choosing their jobs, they weren't declaring anything, they were just picking something they might be interested in to write about for a classroom exercise and they all picked very practical, useful jobs. I was flabbergasted. I said so, and told them that an American classroom would definitely have included some aspiring actors, singers, artists, or communications majors. They looked at me with polite disbelief, as if I'd walked into the classroom wearing Princess Beatrice's hat from the royal wedding. I gave them the same look. It was a fascinating sociological clash.

Later, talking to a friend about this, she said that such a response is very typical for Germans. The students may have indeed cherished secret dreams of becoming the next big actor or actress, but these dreams are considered non-serious and possibly a bit shameful. Definitely they remain a secret. I told her about the American slogan that you can achieve anything you want, and she laughed at me. Germans don't say that, she said, because it isn't true. We don't tell our children they can do whatever they want because they can't.

Yikes. Part of me feels like German students miss out on something important by not hearing this message. Then again, Germany has one of the strongest economies in the world, along with one of the highest standards of living. I've not seen Germans unhappy with their lives, they just enjoy themselves outside of work. The concept of not loving your job - or at least not wanting to love it, in an ideal world - is entirely foreign to me.

On a totally different note, I found Hobbit-themed super-sweet fake chai at the grocery store. Did I buy it? You bet I did!

Tastiness, plus Elrond. Win-win.

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