Jennifer Kraeer: 2012 Teacher of Excellence Award Winner

Jennifer Kraeer Enlarge image A close friendship with an exchange student from Hann. Münden in Lower Saxony during high school sparked Jennifer Kraeer's interest in first learning, and later teaching German. (© Jennifer Kraeer) Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has much to offer. Along 1,700 miles of Chesapeake Bay shoreline, one finds a rich maritime heritage, the birthplace of Harriet Tubman, and picturesque waterfront villages where Maryland crab is at its freshest.

In recent years, Dorchester County has begun offering another type of cultural enrichment to its young people: German classes in its two public high schools. That students at North Dorchester and Cambridge-South Dorchester High Schools can now take German is largely due to the efforts of one outstanding educator with a passion for teaching and the German language: Jennifer Kraeer.

The Dorchester-Düren Connection

In 2007, the year Ms. Kraeer began teaching in the Dorchester County Public Schools, the county started a school exchange program with the Gymnasium Kreuznau from the district (Kreis) of Düren, located between Cologne and Aachen in western Germany. The two counties had formed a partnership in 2005, initiated by the metalworking company Gebr. Kufferath AG, based in Düren and with its US headquarters in Dorchester County.

North Dorchester High School

Though hired as a special education teacher, Ms. Kraeer saw an opportunity to put the German skills she acquired as a history and German double major at McDaniel College, and through study abroad, to use by offering German lessons after school for the students participating in the exchange program. She also volunteered to be one of the teachers who accompanied students on the trip to Germany.

After two years with the exchange program, Ms. Kraeer asked if she could teach German as a full, year-long course. Ever since her own high school years, when she became close friends with a German exchange student, Kraeer had had a strong interest in German language and culture. When she first visited Germany and her friend in the scenic town of Hann. Münden after high school, she spoke no German, and her friend’s parents no English. Kraeer thus had a very personal understanding of the importance of language-learning for intercultural communication.

Developing a Curriculum

The school board was receptive to Kraeer’s proposal and the German I curriculum she developed over the summer, and her German course was added to the Program of Study in both Dorchester County high schools during the 2010-2011 school year. Said Superintendent of Schools Henry V. Wagner, Jr.:

“Ms. Kraeer is, without question, the reason we have successfully initiated credit-bearing instruction in the German language in our district. Ms. Kraeer led the research, collaboration, and program design that resulted in the successful initiative of this program.”

From 14 students in her first German I class, Ms. Kraeer doubled enrollment to 32 students in her 2011-2012 class. The program’s popularity led her to develop curriculums for German II and III, and all three classes are now being taught in the county’s two high schools.

‘Crabtoberfest’ and Teaching Excellence

The flourishing German program in Dorchester County surely has much to do with the partnership with Düren. In early October 2012, the 6th annual visit of students from Gymnasium Kreuzau took place, with the German students and teachers hosted by families in Dorchester County. The American students are next scheduled to visit Düren in June 2013. To celebrate the sister county partnership, the Dorchester Chamber of Commerce even inaugurated a “Crabtoberfest” each October, highlighting aspects of Eastern Shore and German cultures.

Read more on "Crabtoberfest"

But the success of German in Dorchester County is also thanks to the dedication and inspiration of Ms. Kraeer, respected by her peers as a teacher with great leadership potential. Ms. Kraeer’s German classes incorporate diverse teaching methods, from vocabulary games, to dialogue chains, to ePals, a pen pals platform for the Internet age. In addition, she has instituted many intercultural connections with the world outside the classroom, from organizing a presentation by the German Society of Maryland, to involving her students in the German-American Day at McDaniel College, where popular German rock bands Madsen and Artig played in recent years.

For her extraordinary commitment to teaching German language and culture, and bringing German instruction to the young people of Dorchester County, the German Embassy would like to congratulate Ms. Kraeer as a 2012 recipient of the Teacher of Excellence Award. Weiter so, Frau Kraeer!