Janelle Morgan: 2012 Teacher of Excellence Award Winner

Janelle Morgan Enlarge image Janelle Morgan uses interactive SMART Board technology to engage students in her classroom at the Milwaukee School of Languages. (© Janelle Morgan) In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, language learning, and German language learning in particular, is taken seriously. After completing kindergarten through Grade 5 at the city-wide, bilingual Milwaukee German Immersion School (MGIS), students may transition to the Milwaukee School of Languages (MSL), one of the few public language immersion schools in the United States. When they graduate MSL, students in this urban and very diverse public school district, having mastered a second language, are well-prepared for a world of global competition.

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Top student performance demands top-performing teachers. Since 2008, Janelle Morgan has provided expert instruction to the 6th through 8th-grade German students of MSL. From her initiation of a high school exchange program with Hildesheim, to her bringing the German Language Diploma (DSD I) to MSL, to her students’ top performance on the AATG National German Exam, Ms. Morgan has won praise from students, parents and administrators for her enthusiasm, commitment, and teaching excellence.

From Magdeburg to Milwaukee

A study-abroad year in Magdeburg during college confirmed Ms. Morgan’s interest in pursuing a major in German Education. “My first experiences in Germany, in an authentic learning environment, affirmed my passion and interest to become familiar with the culture and improve my language skills,” she says. “I loved learning first-hand and being able to improve my language skills in everyday life.” Her passion for languages led Ms. Morgan to work for two years as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Linz, Austria.

Upon returning to Wisconsin, Ms. Morgan took up teaching in the full-immersion German program at MSL, where teaching has been an “amazing experience.” MSL has a “unique climate,” she says, not only because it’s an urban, public language immersion school, but also due to the special connection with MGIS and the presence of the German Immersion Foundation—an independent, parent-run organization advocating for high-quality German instruction in these “two Milwaukee treasures,” MGIS and MSL.

The German Immersion Foundation

A fruitful relationship with the German Immersion Foundation has been mutually beneficial, as Ms. Morgan has received support in the form of curriculum writing grants for the middle school German program, stipends for visits to exhibits in Berlin during the exchange program, and more. In turn, Ms. Morgan has advanced the foundation’s mission by invigorating the German immersion middle school program, said German Immersion Foundation President Dave Sachs.

High Academic Achievement

One of Ms. Morgan’s major accomplishments has been to bring the first-level German Language Diploma or DSD I to MSL—something she undertook to highlight the students’ skills and give them worldwide recognition of their accomplishments as second language speakers.

Bringing the DSD I exam to MSL was not easy, said Mr. Sachs, but Ms. Morgan persevered, collaborating with the German Agency for Schools Abroad (ZfA) to make it happen. In order to earn the right to proctor the exam, Ms. Morgan attended the German Immersion Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, pursuing the prerequisites she needed and enhancing her teaching methods as well. Now working towards bringing the upper-level DSD II to MSL, Ms. Morgan says pursuing the German Language Diploma was worth it. “Not only does this allow them to compete globally,” she says, “it validates their high academic achievement.”

Students in Ms. Morgan’s classes are exposed to a wide variety of activities relating to modern German culture and language that go beyond simply following a textbook. German poetry walls, oral readings and a project in which students created books—in German—on renewable energy sources, provide but a few examples. Ms. Morgan incorporates electronic media in all of her classes, using a laptop connected to a SMART Board—an interactive whiteboard—to present material in dynamic, fun ways.

Parental Support

In addition to the rapport she develops with students, through engaging classes but also after-class “hangouts” in German, Ms. Morgan has earned the respect and admiration of many MSL parents, helping her to grow the program. One parent, Mike Carroll, explained how Ms. Morgan helped remove one common reservation concerning language immersion programs.

“A common criticism of full immersion programs is that while young students quickly pick up the verbal skills necessary to speak the target language proficiently, they often struggle at higher levels because they never learn the proper writing, grammar and critical thinking skills needed at the university level,” Mr. Carroll wrote. “Ms. Morgan’s tireless efforts to improve the middle school German curriculum, leverage technology, and create a more interactive and interesting language learning environment in her classroom has completely removed this objection and has positioned her students for further study.”

For her success in developing the middle school German immersion program at MLS, the German Embassy would like to congratulate Ms. Morgan as a 2012 recipient of the Teacher of Excellence Award!