Why do we teach German?
October 2-8 is National German Week, and the AATG is raising awareness about the study of German and the need for more future German teachers! As stated on their website, “TEACH GERMAN Day is designed to recognize the important role that German teachers play in our schools and communities and encourage the next generation of German teachers.” As part of AATG’s “Teach German Day” initiative, we are sharing some personal reflections on our profession.
Here are some responses from faculty involved in the “Diversity, Decolonialization, and the German Curriculum” initiative:
I had a great high school German teacher who not only taught us vocabulary and grammar, but he also introduced us to “Seeräuber Jenny” from Dreigroschenoper and some truly weird stories by Peter Bichsel. I am grateful to Herr Suchomel for creating an immersion environment in the classroom, and for his passion as a teacher. After graduation, I was a high school exchange student at a Gymnasium in Schleswig-Holstein, and discovered first-hand that Germany is much more than Lederhosen and the Alps, but in fact that there are small fishing villages and sandy coasts. I had amazing Gastfamilien and made friends who I am still in touch with today. For me, the best part about being a German teacher is the fact that language classes open students up to new worlds and challenge some of their preexisting ideas about what is “normal” or taken for granted. I’m always learning with my students and from my students! I love teaching new texts and films and get excited to go to class to see what students will have to say about them. It’s a great profession that allows you to have friends all over the world, to keep exploring new cities and landscapes, to read different authors and genres, and to learn more about the complexities of what it means to be a German speaker in the world today. As college German professors, we rely so much on the amazing work done by German teachers in the schools. If you’re passionate about German and teaching, you will be a great German teacher!
-Kathryn Sederberg, Kalamazoo College
Teaching German to students in the U.S. made me look at my personal background in the East of Germany, my first language, and the culture around me when I grew up, in an entirely new light. There are moments when we discuss vocabulary terms only to realize that there are so many aspects and histories behind each word. This experience brings me joy because these conversations can lead to a chain of other beautiful and meaningful words. One thing that seems to stand out as a common goal for my students is being able to find other ways to convey what they want to say, even if they do not know the word. For the past few weeks, we have been covering the German elections in my conversational class. One of my students wrote in a reflection paper that she is not fond of discussing politics. She was unfamiliar with a lot of words and phrases that were being used in class and then had to look them up on her own. However, when her American friends were speaking about the election in the aftermath, she was able to give them more-in-depth information on the election process in Germany. I was so proud of her for being able to be an expert at this moment with her friends. It is amazing to see the students' growth over the course of one semester, barely fifteen weeks, where they are excited, tired, inspired, frustrated, and all struggle and succeed-- each in their own way. The uniqueness of each student surprises me over and over again.
- Christin Zenker, Washington University in St. Louis
One thing I wish everyone knew about teaching German is that it is a broadening field with increasing reach beyond the classic “lang and lit” model. As someone with an interdisciplinary background who came to German Studies through the “side door,” I find this trajectory highly rewarding to teach and remarkably enriching for students. Today’s German course topics, texts and tasks require students to critically and comparatively examine diverse spheres of everyday life and culturally embedded modes of thought from several analytical perspectives. But most exciting to me is the opening of German Studies to become a space for awareness raising and activism surrounding social justice issues—racism, environmental justice, gender equality, etc.—making the study of the German-speaking world a space for critical reflection on students’ home cultures.
- Amanda Randall, St. Olaf College
Something magical (and strange) takes place when learning a new language. Students feel unsettled in the first semesters and slowly come to find a firm ground to stand on in new linguistic and cultural contexts. I feel that these moments in our German language and culture courses have great potential for transformation: that is, because they have the potential to uproot students from the way they have done things (linguistically and otherwise), they offer important chances for social change. This is why German Studies in particular and language/culture studies in general are so important to me and why I love being part of this profession.
- Ervin Malakaj, Sam Houston State University
I love to inspire my students to push their boundaries and discover that they can do much more with the language than they themselves thought possible. This can happen at all stages of language learning. In 101, students feel empowered, when, after less than four weeks of German, they are able to ask enough questions to find out a fellow student’s secret identity during an in-class game. Last semester, I challenged advanced students of German to write a DADA-style poem that they performed in an avant-garde concert on campus. The whole class was nervous when I told them what we’re going to do (including me); however, the resulting poems were fantastic and after the performance, everyone beamed with pride! In moments like these, students grow through their use of German and that’s why I love being a German teacher.
- Petra Watzke, Skidmore College