Ms. Fetterhof, tell us about your background: Where, when, and why did you learn German?
I learned German at Abington Heights High School in Clarks Summit, PA. I’d always been interested in languages, and German seemed very unique and special. My high school offered Russian, too, but since I am also German by heritage, I figured German was the way to go.
Where, when, and why did you decide to become a German teacher?
I majored in German in college (Fordham University) because I loved it, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. For a long time, my answer to questions about future occupations was “anything but teach!” I’d started tutoring, though, and found it incredibly rewarding to help my peers understand the subject I loved so much. That experience planted the seed that perhaps teaching wouldn’t be so bad, and a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship as well as teaching intro courses as a graduate student confirmed that inkling.
What is the most challenging part in teaching German? What is the most rewarding?
The most challenging part of teaching German is two-pronged. From the administrative side, it’s hard to convince that budget committee that German is worth learning and how important it is in a global economy. American high schools are much more focused on math and science and the direct link they see to the monetary success of students. In the classroom, the most challenging part is getting students to understand the cases.
Is there anything like a “special profile” to those students who take learn German?
Many students chose German because they are interested in history or have German heritage, like I did. At our school, many students are aware of our great GAPP exchange and make friends with German students when they are here for three weeks, which in turn encourages them to take German. This also contributes to many younger siblings enrolling in the program, and we often have “family legacies” as a result!
Where did/do you get support, guidance as a yet relatively inexperienced German teacher?
There are so many amazing resources to get guidance as a relatively inexperienced German teacher. Offline, the Goethe-Institut does a great job of supporting us though workshops such as the Lehrkräftetag that happens yearly in Boston, or the Nachwuchslehrerseminar that I recently attended in San Francisco. Online, I frequently use “Step into German”, Deutsche Welle, and the AATG listserv to get ideas and materials for class. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention my mentor and bright shining beacon of German teaching, Joan Campbell. I now have the privilege of working in the same school as she does, but even before I came to Lincoln Sudbury, Joan supported me and my teaching.
In your opinion: What are the prospects for German as a foreign language in the US?
I think German has good prospects as a foreign language in the US. German is even more relevant now than when I was in high school 15 years ago. The country has distinguished itself on the economic and political level, soccer is becoming more popular in the US and Germany has been very visible in that arena with its recent victories, and German film stars and musicians have become famous here in their own right. Germany has a bigger presence here than ever, and I imagine that will only continue. I think these things will help to promote and sustain German as a foreign language in the US.
The interview was conducted by Christoph Veldhues and Olga Liamkina.