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The Staff Room

Author: Markus Orths

Translator: Mike Mitchell   Cover design: Marie Lane  

Back in the staff room I had just taken a deep breath when I saw Frau Klüting’s eye on me. The interrogation by the head had activated my guilty conscience so that I decided to clear things up. I went over to Frau Klüting and said, Frau Klüting, I would like to apologise for my absence at the departmental meeting yesterday. Oh really? Frau Klüting said. I . . . I simply forgot, I said. It didn’t matter, Frau Klüting said mildly, I could forget it, on the contrary, she said, she, actually that was her husband, should thank me for my absence. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I was relieved that I had been spared. I was going to slip away, afraid she might change her mind, but Frau Klüting held me back and said, just a minute, just a minute, don’t you want to know which textbook we’ve chosen? G2000, I hope, I said. In the secret ballot, Klüting said, all the departmental staff present had naturally voted for Cornelsen’s G2000, the reasons were plain for all to see. But just as she was about to enter the result of the vote in the minutes, the door had suddenly opened. She paused. Someone had come rushing into the departmental conference room, she said. Who? I asked. Frogs, she said, five of them. Frogs? I asked. Klett representatives, Klüting said, all in green. They had burst into the meeting and their spokesman had begged the teachers to stay with Klett. No other educational publisher, the Frogs’ spokesman had said, laid so much emphasis on visuality in their books as Klett. And he didn’t need to tell them, the subject specialists, how fundamental visuality was for teaching. Children, the spokesman had said — it was starting to sound like a lecture — only learnt things when they were presented to them in concrete, visual terms. A successful learning outcome when introducing new vocabulary was only possible if the unknown word was semanticised by an object that corresponded to the word or an action that corresponded to an activity. Verbalisation? the Klett-man said. A waste of time. Antonyms? Useless. Visuality was the magic word. Once, years ago, he, the spokesman, had witnessed a remarkable lesson that had illustrated his opinion perfectly. At that time, the spokesman had said, launching into a story, he had not been a Frog, he had been employed by the Whites and one cold January day he had been examining a demonstration lesson in English. Oddly enough, the trainee teacher who was being tested that day did not exhibit the symptoms of nervosity his colleagues usually showed, he wasn’t pacing up and down the staff room, pale as a ghost, nor did he almost collapse when the two examiners, that is he himself, as chairman of the examination board at the time, and the trainee’s subject tutor, appeared. The trainee had been quite calmly sitting there, confident of success, he’d been drinking coffee and not let the appearance of his examiners disturb him. He’d stood up shortly before the bell, picked up his briefcase and calmly gone to the class, followed by the examiners. It had been a third-year class, the theme for the lesson: violence, exploration of the semantic field. The lesson had begun very sluggishly, the trainee had talked about the difficult situation of trainee teachers in general, the intense competition between them, then he’d suddenly said that his chances of getting a post in a school would be considerably improved if he could get rid of his rivals. At that, he took a gun out of his pocket. Immediately he had pupils’ attention. The examinee went to the wall cupboard, opened it and dragged out a fellow trainee teacher, bound and gagged, said the word to kill, loud and clear, and shot his colleague. His colleague had collapsed, streaming with blood, beside the teacher’s desk. The trainee had then let off another shot into the air, in order to counteract the pupils’ cries of horror. Then there was silence. Just a few of the girls had continued to sob quietly. In the transition phase that followed, the trainee got the pupils to repeat the word to kill several times, not forgetting to remind the pupils whose voices were choked with tears that they must speak louder. In the next phase the trainee, following the guidelines, wrote to kill on the blackboard since, as they, the subject teachers, would know, in foreign language teaching speaking the word had always to precede reading and writing it. From the word kill the trainee had then been able to demonstrate further important words to the children visually just by pointing to the equivalent that was there in front of them. Blood, body, bullet, then cartridge case, smoke and traces of powder. Following that, he had developed a mind map of the pupil’s response, getting them to repeat words such as fear, screams, trauma, tears and horror, subsequently writing them on the board. Trembling, the children had written down the words in their tear-soaked jotters. He, the Frogs’ spokesman, and the subject tutor had been mesmerised by the scenario, in their excitement they had completely forgotten to record the examinee’s mistakes on the official assessment form, as required. At the end of the lesson the trainee got the class to repeat the word suicide and write it on the board, before putting the gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. For a moment the children had sat there in silence. Then they’d all jumped up, screaming, but before they could rush out of the classroom, the trainee and his colleague had stood up and wiped the tomato ketchup off their faces. The children had sat down, rigid with shock but spellbound, so that the lesson had taken one more marvellous turn leading to the semanticisation of the word fake. The schoolchildren who had been present, the leader of the Frogs said, would never, of that he was absolutely sure, would never forget that outstanding example of visuality in didactic practice. The words kill, smoke and fear would be branded on the children’s brains for ever. It was a perfect example of how indispensable visuality was in the semanticisation process. It simply wasn’t enough just to scrawl a picture on the blackboard to bring home to the children the meaning of the word car. Nor was it enough to bring a Matchbox car along to the class. Car was neither a chalk sketch nor a Matchbox car, the meaning of car was solely a real, actual vehicle driving along a tarmac road. Ideally, therefore, semanticisation demanded the teacher bring a real, genuine, large-as-life car into the classroom, which, given the spatial constraints, was naturally not practicable. However, the spokesman had said, they could get the children to look out of the window, down into the school playground. They could park the car in the playground before the class so that it would catch the children’s eye immediately. And since Klett was well known for its generous provision of all kinds of visual aids, he was now asking the subject teachers to look out of the window where they, the Frogs, had set out some of the objects occurring in the first units of Greenline, life-size and true-to-life. The teachers, Klüting said, had gone over to the window where they had seen a car, several bikes and television sets, radios and other aids to semanticisation. These objects, the head Frog had said, were now theirs, the specialist teachers’, in order to enable them bring the highest possible degree of visuality to the teaching of English in the lower school. At that the teachers had applauded vigorously and set about dividing up the things among themselves while she, Klüting, had signed a contract with the Klett representatives guaranteeing that the school would use no other textbooks than the green ones for the next ten years. The Frogs had withdrawn, happy with the result, and the teachers had cracked a bottle of champagne. Frau Klüting concluded by explaining that I had thus already been sufficiently punished for my absence since the bicycle, that had been intended for me, had been given to her husband, who taught English at the KNOGY, a Klett stronghold. It didn’t matter, I said, with a sigh of relief, as long as the matter’s forgotten. Klüting was shaking her head when I heard someone outside in the corridor kick the staff room door. I went over, opened it and saw a 15-year-old girl who had cupped her hands and was holding something in them, I couldn’t tell what. She asked me if I could give this here to Frau Hoffner. I nodded and held out my hands; the girl filled them with a pile of dry gobbets of used chewing gum that had obviously been scraped off the pupils’ desks, turned round and went off. I dumped the chewing gum on Frau Hoffner’s desk, telling her that this here had been handed in for her. Excellent, Frau Hoffner said, and started to count the gobbets, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, very good, the first time it was five, the second ten, the third twenty. Then she looked up at me and said she didn’t mess around, there was one simple rule: if you chew, you scrape it off.


RRP: £6.99

No. of pages: 112

Publication date: 12.08.2008

ISBN numbers:
978 1 903517 55 0

World English