Ms. Schultz, tell us about your background: Where, when, and why did you learn German?
With a name like Schultz, it is clear that my family has German roots. My grandfather was born in a German community in Wisconsin, and he spoke German until the war. We did not speak German at home at all. Still, when I was a teenager, my mother accused me of being “so German” – hence I decided to study German, in typical teenager fashion, just to annoy my mother. I studied German at my high school for a year, and then I continued in college for another year. One of my instructors recommended that I study abroad in Germany. I followed her advice and went to Bonn, and that is what really hooked me. I changed my major from music to German, I completed my BA in Germany, and I continued to graduate school.
Where, when, and why did you decide to become a German teacher?
I got my first teaching experience giving music lessons, but not at a professional level. Still, I liked teaching. In Germany, I taught English at a language school and enjoyed sharing my skills. However, when I started as a TA in my Master’s program, I loved that I could introduce students to something that was completely new to them. It is very satisfying to see the progress that students make! I also really enjoy the challenge of explaining everything in German.
What is the most challenging aspect of teaching German?
It is always difficult to make materials relevant for students. The course should be entertaining and challenging at the same time, and you have to find the right balance. This is particularly demanding if you are working with someone else’s course, as it is the case now where I support students with the online material.
Another challenge with the online materials is time management. Students complete assignments in class on their computers. How much time is reasonable without boring some or losing others? I guess that gaining more experience will help here.
In my class at the university, I speak only German. In the online course, all instructions are in English and the students are afraid if they don’t know a word. They have no tolerance for insecurity, and it is harder to motivate them to speak German and to respond to questions in German, when they don’t understand every word.
You always need to motivate students, and it is not easy to deal with teenagers. You don’t wish to be scary but you need to keep discipline.
Is there anything like a “special profile” for students who learn German?
Now that I know my students, I would say there are two groups. In one group, there are students who are already bilingual or have an international background; the other group consists of rather serious minded students who are very diligent. In my experience, the boys are very competitive.
Where did/do you get support, guidance as a yet relatively inexperienced German teacher?
Actually, I don’t have support as a German teacher at the school. If I have a problem with a student, I can ask a colleague who knows the student. I am still a TA at the University of IL at Chicago. Hence I can ask other TA or professors there if I have questions related to language or instruction. I can also ask the Goethe-Institut for help. Of course, I know the American Association of Teachers of German, and I plan to become a member once I have a full time position but memberships cost money, and to be active in an organization is time consuming – and time is something that I don’t have, at least at the moment.
I know that some of the problems I encounter in the school stem from my not being a full time teacher of Chicago Public Schools, for example I don’t have access to a copy machine or technical assistance or even a comprehensive computer access. Fewer bureaucratic hurdles would be nice.
I always need additional materials and/or hints on where to find them. Some materials are also a matter of money, even simple things like colored paper and such to create objects for tactile learning.
I enjoyed the TA workshops where we learned things that we could adapt for immediate use in the classroom.
In your opinion: What are the prospects for German as a foreign language in the US?
We have seen the numbers; there are many more students studying Spanish or French. German is never the obvious choice. I believe that students need to have a reason to pick German. This may be German roots or a specific interest. For example, we have a number of engineering students studying German because they want to study abroad. However, high school students may not know about such study opportunities for German speakers.
However, in general, I believe that German will exist always. It will never be super popular but it will always be there – provided students continue to learn about the advantages. Here, outreach is important.
The interview was conducted by Christoph Veldhues and Olga Liamkina.