Melanie Krehbiel: 2011 Teacher of Excellence Award Winner

Out on the Kansas prairie, smaller school districts often lack the resources to offer foreign languages beyond Spanish. Students wishing to learn other languages must rely on distance-learning via television and the Internet.

Enter Melanie Krehbiel, better known to her students as “Frau Krehbiel.” Though hired to teach English at Sedgwick High, a school of 150 students around 20 miles north of Wichita, in 2008, Krehbiel requested to teach a German class as well. As she had done at Flinthills High, a smaller school in Rosalia, Kansas, where she began teaching in 2004, Krehbiel not only started teaching German. Through her special talent to inspire and motivate, she grew the German program, attracting many students to German language and culture. Sedgwick now offers German levels I to III. In the words of one student, she “brought a refreshing desire for opening teenage minds to the Great Beyond.”

“Sie ist die beste!”

How to explain Krehbiel’s success? For Renee Simon, a former student, it was the “little things that set Krehbiel apart.” Young, vibrant, and culturally canny, Krehbiel “presents the material in new, exciting ways; ways that made us all want to travel to Germany and taste a little of that world for ourselves,” she wrote. “Sie ist die beste!”

Another student, Elli Kingsley, listed some of the activities in Krehbiel’s German classes: “[We]…learned many German songs, acted out short German stories, made our own German comics, German Pen Pals, German trivia game, sidewalk chalk of German words, German movies, went to a German restaurant, went to a German Christmas presentation, and had her German friend come into class to answer questions we had.” After taking both German and Spanish, Kingsley decided to continue with German. Her reason? Frau Krehbiel’s teaching.

Nanette Bergen, Vice President of the Kansas Association of Teachers of German, presented many reasons why Krehbiel is an outstanding teacher and deserving of the German Embassy Teacher of Excellence Award. One example: Krehbiel writes stories tailored to each class, incorporating relevant vocabulary, which students then act out. The stories, featuring Benni the Bear, are expanded upon as students gain more language ability, an example of the TPRS (Total Physical Response Storytelling) method of foreign language instruction.

Innovative teaching methods introduced by Krehbiel include an ePals unit, in which students practice writing emails to pen pals in Germany; a Bundesliga competition in which students track German soccer teams and record their progress, thereby learning soccer-related vocabulary; and a “deutsche Weihnachten” Christmas field trip to a German church in Newton, Kansas, recalled enthusiastically by students who attended.

A visit to Schwäbisch Hall

Though Krehbiel, who graduated summa cum laude from Bethel College, had been to Germany once before as a tourist and spent 2003-04 in Karlsruhe as a volunteer with a cultural exchange work program, she had never before been to Germany specifically to learn. During the summer of 2012, she traveled to Schwäbisch Hall for a two-week language pedagogy course, part of her award as a German Embassy Teacher of Excellence winner.

In addition to studying at the Goethe-Institut, Krehbiel stayed with a host family who graciously welcomed her into their home and engaged her in stimulating conversations about German and American politics, cultural differences, travel, and history.

Krehbiel enjoyed the city’s cultural offerings, such as the Freilichtspiele (open-air performance) on the main Marktplatz, and the many opportunities to sample typical local food.

The course itself included visits to German classrooms, allowing Krehbiel to get to know the variety of teaching methods used by other German teachers. She was proud to receive her certificate at the end of the seminar, which she called a "challenging, intellectually-stimulating, and life-changing experience.”

Given her success launching popular German programs in small Kansas schools, on top of her involvement as a Language Arts and newspaper teacher, the German Embassy would like to congratulate Melanie Krehbiel as a Teacher of Excellence Award recipient. Weiter so, Frau Krehbiel!