Granddad

During the last months I have often been thinking of my granddad. And today after blurting out crying a couple of times I thought I write up a couple of memories and inevitably learning about teaching.

He worked in an agricultural boarding school, after having to stop being a farmer. The young adults—many of which where send there from Berlin having a long list of priors—were send into the sticks to a boarding school to undertake a college degree in agriculture. 


He told me about an arrival interview. He had a folder–a particularly thick one–of the young man sitting in front of him. He told me he never opened the folder. He said to the student that he didn’t want paper to tell him who the student was. He told the young adult: ‘You show me who you are. I won’t open this file. You can start fresh.’

I know we can discuss power mechanisms here, and more complex themes of masculinity, East German system and more. What remains indisputable is every time my granddad would take me into town we would be stopped by at least one person who would run up to him to shake his hand, and clap his shoulder, wanting to talk, and every time this were former students. So maybe sometimes someone who is a gatekeeper in a power position just needs to say the gate is open?


Anyway, I was thinking about him often lately. I miss him. His goofiness, his way to listen, his inability to cope with conflict, that I could talk about weird body stuff as teenager with him, the value he installed in us, and that he could carry 100 kg under each arm. We used to snip cherry stones at one another, across the kitchen table, the moment granny turned her back, like naughty children trying not to get caught. Once granny would turn around we would sit facing one another from table end to table end and silly grin or giggle.

I was also thinking about two of my friends staying over for the weekend as a little break from studying, and we walked through the garden with granddad chatting about things we were up to. And we were just walking back up to the house laughing and bantering with granddad when he suddenly stopped dead. What is up Opa, one of my friends asked. Because they called him granddad, too. And he just shook his head, deep in thought and said: ‘Oh you girls, you will have such a hard time to ever find a partner.’ Why is this granddad? We were curious of this sudden announcement. He said: ‘You don’t need us (men) you are all so strong and smart, and independent. [See how he didn’t say pretty?] What do you need a man for? What would be our purpose?’

Mind you this was someone born in 1929. I can’t remember details about how we reacted. I just remember this deeply profound emotional moment he had. He didn’t want us to have to live alone. Which is really strange because he was key to bringing up only daughters and granddaughters and being the most influential person for us developing said independence, confidence, and strength.

We are back in the kitchen; this time we are not sitting at the respective table ends. But granny has a stew on the cooker. My granny’s food was amazing but it was always on the mild side. Granddad and I were rather partial to chilli. So while the stew was bubbling I would sneak into the kitchen, when gran was outside and put a little bit of chilli in and do so a couple of times a day. However, during my last effort granddad walked into the kitchen and asked me what I was up to, already smirking though. He had immediately sussed me! Anyhow, I confessed. He laughed, shook his head and in turn confessed of having done the exact same, and also several times during the morning. Then we looked at one another each of us tallying up the accumulated amount of chilli. Uh oh. We are in trouble.

Fast forward to lunch time. The stew was amazing! Granddad and I dug in. Granny however took a couple of spoon fulls and mumbled something about spicy today. Granddad and I looked at one another and then quickly–like your students when you asked them a question–focussed intensely on our plates. But granny saw the look. We got a telling off, and after that she bought Tabasco and we usually had Tabasco on the table.


I am thinking about all of this as I am thinking about teaching and teacher identities, about all the things we bring to our teaching.
Granddad had managed his cancer for years but didn’t tell us until relatively late that he was ill or how ill he actually was. I think only granny knew and for once she kept mumm, too. During my undergrad I had applied and gotten a part-time job teaching English in kindergarten. Long story short it was the early 2000s and there was no such thing as an early language curriculum or material. So I developed everything myself. Until then I only worked in culture and museum education so teaching kindergarteners was an entirely different ball game. Every time, twice a week on my drive home, I would switch on my speakerphone and call my granddad for a debrief. Granny told me later he was always waiting for my calls knowing when I finished teaching. He was very excited, got his coffee and cake (Germans gotta German!) and would wait next to the phone for my call. I wish everyone who begins teaching would have something like this, an experienced educator eagerly waiting with coffee and cake for the call. When teaching on our postgraduate certificate this is something I try to recreate. I could talk about everything in our debrief time: the things that went well the things that didn’t and all my worries and insecurities. True reflective practice learning. And this reflection on action, inadvertently taught me reflection in action, with my granddad, his coffee and cake, on the phone. I also always got tips and suggestions about educational principles and teaching techniques. I think I learned more on my speaker phone than in my Didaktik course during this semester.

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