Teaching Statement (German)

The teaching statement below reflects my work in courses I taught in the German Program at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador German Program at the University of Manitoba in 2015. I currently teach German in the 200 and 300 level in the German Studies Program at Michigan State University in a team of instructors.

My goal in teaching German language, literature, and culture is to make the strange and the familiar visible as points on a continuum.  Thus the unfamiliar becomes approachable while still emphasizing the inherent aesthetic dimension.

I incorporate role-play into my “Beginning German” classes whenever possible. Role-play bridges the gap between familiar situations and a still unfamiliar language. One way I do this is to set up the classroom as a small town. The students navigate the space in three roles: as someone given a task like buying stamps without information on the location, as a sales clerk or as a town’s person. Grammar practice is integrated as questions about two-way prepositions arise from the situation. The inventiveness the students exhibit during these activities speaks to their motivation, which in turn grows their willingness to use circumlocution, instilling further confidence in their foreign language communication abilities.

My aim for a recent second year “Exploring 20th Century German Literature” course, taught in German, is to acquaint students with various genres of short prose and poetry, in order to recognize literature both as a work of art and a linguistic simulation of Lebenswelt. This means students need to be aware of the cultural specifics literature transports. One of these specifics is humor which presents foreign language learners with an added difficulty. Towards the end of the course my recent class analyzes Heinrich Böll’s satirical short story “Es wird etwas geschehen” by way of a filmic adaptation. After reading the script and an initial analysis, the students compare text and script. For the screening, groups of students watch for particular cinematic devices, such as choice and depictions of characters, camera perspective, design of space, sound, and montage techniques. The comparative analysis of the original text, the script, and the film leads the class to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of intermedial adaptations. This approach contributes to a critical appreciation of the different media, and­ – in turn – to a deeper understanding of the short story.

My “Introduction to German Culture from 1918” course centers on the exploration of German cultural identity through history. Over the course of the semester the students learn to examine what insights can be garnered for the present from an analysis of the past. I therefore introduce current news articles and videos about the recently formed anti-Islamization movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West). The animated and nuanced discussions of how this group compares to the anti-Semitism of the Nazis demonstrate the students’ grasp of the post-war changes in Germany and their understanding of the stakes of being ignorant of one’s past.

I embrace e-learning opportunities and keep a website for my German classes, on a multi-user WordPress based platform, where I can set up blogs for all of my students, add forums, conduct surveys, embed videos and a lot more. An extensive link collection allows students to explore other aspects of German culture on their own.

By exploring issues of identity and culture of the German-speaking world my students not only learn about the vital role these areas played in shaping Central Europe as we know it today but gain essential tools to examine cultural specifics in other contexts. They are enabled to identify implications of cultural policies relevant to their own world and to recognize the transformative power of artistic expression.