Wednesday, 26 November 2008

My life behind "The Iron Curtain"

One of the best teaching experiences in my whole life took place from 1981-1982 in the former GDR in the city of Dresden. I taught EFL at The Technical University of Dresden. I had just done my PGCE in EFL and I was offered the golden opportunity of seeing what life was really like in a Communist country during the end of the "Cold War" in the early 1980's. It was to be a fantastic learning curve for me. I taught small classes of maximum six males - all eminent scientists, doctors, professors and leading experts in the fields of science, medicine and technology. My students
were all "mature" complete beginners and I
was relatively young in comparison. I had a secret "Stasi" member (East German secret police) in each class whose job it was to report whether my lessons contained any reference to three "taboo" subjects - religion, the Royal Family and politics. As you can imagine, I found it difficult to avoid talking about these subjects but somehow, I managed it.

Life is indeed a circle. The "hot" coursebook in 1981 in the GDR was the Streamline series by Bernard Hartley and Peter Viney and I used "Streamline Departures" (OUP) for the whole year with my beginners and that is why I know the contents inside out!! I recently used the same trusted book to teach a complete beginner. Twenty seven years later it is still doing a "solid" job!!

I made many friends in Dresden and I am still in contact with them. I remember that "Animal Farm" and "1984" by George Orwell were forbidden books. Nobody was allowed to have copies of them. However, I managed to smuggle a copy of each book into the country and therefore eluded the dreaded border control guards at "Checkpoint Charlie".
The look on my friend Uli's face when he had the books in his hands was priceless. It taught me to appreciate what I took for granted. The freedom to read and talk about whatever I wanted.

"The Lives of Others"
is an excellent film which reflects what was going on in the former GDR at the time I was there. When I saw it for the first time, I felt as if I had been transported back in time...

To be continued....

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