Assistant Professor of Germanic Studies
Ph.D. University College Cork, Ireland
Coming from a small town in northern Germany, the first thing I did with my high school degree was to choose a university at a safe distance of about 400 kilometers away from home. I then spent the first part of my undergraduate years at the Phillips-Universität Marburg in Hessen, in a city not unlike Bloomington in size, and started to study German and English language and literature with the aim of becoming a high school teacher. I don’t know why I never really considered alternative careers then (apart from a short flirt with meteorology). My English was bad, and I didn’t enjoy studying as much as I thought I would, but then there was the freedom of university life, which to me was really what it was all about at the time. After two years I went to Portsmouth, England, on a year abroad program, and had a great time without doing a lot of work (apart from speaking English, singing in an Anglican choir, playing the organ, and spending time in pubs). I liked it there so much – a city at the sea – that I stayed for a second year and found a job as German Instructor at the local City of Portsmouth Boys’ School, a comprehensive school that had just lost their German teacher (no, not to dubious circumstances). This second year in Portsmouth was a formative time for me; all of a sudden I had to teach, no matter what, without having had any formal training. Not only did I survive (being able to make my own mistakes in my own time), I also got a glimpse of lives much different from the sheltered household I grew up in – difficult family backgrounds, kids with all kinds of behavioral issues which, after getting to know them better, did not seem illogical at all. Drama, Music and German collaborated in putting a fantastic musical on stage (Smike, an adaptation of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby), which gave me a vivid sense of how students of various backgrounds and abilities can make something really outstanding through the performing arts. At the end of the year I took the drama teacher back home to Germany with me. We didn't stay together, but my fascination for the performing arts remained.
The second part of my undergraduate years was spent much closer to home at the Carl-von-Ossietzky Universität in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony. I took a lot of linguistic classes in the English department, having realized that merely “liking to read” was not a sound basis for an in-depth study of literature. During my last years there I encountered drama pedagogy for foreign language teaching and learning with Manfred Schewe, and fell in love with it. A Ph.D program in linguistics that was offered to me right after my graduation was not really what I wanted at the time, so I signed up for a teacher training course in Hannover. The Hanover course never came to pass. Instead, I took a one-year position as lecturer in German at University College Cork in Ireland. Ireland was another wonderful year, again near the sea, full of music (and yes, pubs again). As part of my duties at UCC, I directed the German Play Krabat (an adaptation of the book by Ottfried Preussler), an utterly exhilarating experience. At the end of the year I was offered an appointment as lektor of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) at the University of Leicester in England. During the four years I worked there, I found a way to combine my two major interests: drama and grammar; then graduated in 2002 with a Ph.D from University College Cork in German Language Teaching Research. My book Drama Grammatik was published in 2003.
I came to the US in 2000. By 2001 I was teaching part-time in the department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at MIT, and later on also at Boston University. Once my dissertation was finished I took a position as adjunct assistant professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. It was a small German section (I was 50% of it), but for the first time in years, I could make a tangible difference to a German program, and had time to find my feet. I published, taught, and became a teacher trainer for the Goethe Institute. And then, in 2006, I moved to Bloomington, where I became Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the German language program at IU. This, in a way, was what I always wanted: a job where I could train future teachers, yet where I would still be involved in teaching undergraduates myself (there are still too many teacher trainers in Germany that haven’t seen the inside of a classroom for years). I keep learning – from my students, from the absolutely fabulous bunch of associate instructors in the department, from observing lessons, or just from the stories about teaching we frequently exchange.
Since 2007 I have been co-editor of SCENARIO, a bilingual (English-German), peer-reviewed online journal, whose focus is on the role of drama and theatre in the teaching and learning of second and foreign languages. Working for SCENARIO has been an immensely rewarding experience. It keeps bringing me in contact with different research disciplines and fields of practice, including Literature Studies, Applied Linguistics, Intercultural Studies, Pedagogy, Drama and Theater in Education and Drama and Theater Studies, Psychodrama as well as Playback Theatre, and continues to stretch my horizons beyond Teaching German as a Foreign Language.
My teaching is informed by drama pedagogy – using techniques and methods of performing arts to drive language acquisition forward. At the same time I am aware that we are dealing with a whole gamut of different learner personalities and learning styles. My goal here at IU is therefore to train our AIs to teach in manifold ways that cater to visual, auditive, cognive, and kinesthetic learners (just to name a few). It is important to me that our instructors are aware of these differences in the student body and that they, at the same time, develop their own teaching personality. Just as no teaching book is perfect, neither is any given instructor the perfect teacher for everyone at a given time. However, I am convinced that learning is, and should be, a challenging process for both teachers and learners, and that part of successful learning is not only excelling in what you are already good at, but about striking new paths that can lead to new and deeper insights into one’s own learning. And this goes for both teachers and learners!
Language is at the heart of human existence. We communicate a lot of our thoughts and feelings, our dreams and way of life through words. Language shapes the way we think about ourselves and the world around us, and both self-perception and world views affect our language in return.
Learning a new language always introduces us to a new way of life. It is at the border of self and other where new meanings are discovered, negotiated, and acted upon. At IU, we endeavor to guide students towards an awareness and appreciation of other cultures and to enable them to interact with different worlds in an ongoing, ever-changing dialogue.
We strive to help our students reach out to different ways of life through the development of communicative competence, intercultural understanding and multilingual versatility, and to form connections with systems of learning in the fields of humanities, science, and technology beyond the bounds of the Anglophone world.