Amy Flynn: 2013 Teacher of Excellence Award Winner
Enlarge image (© Courtesy Amy Flynn) When Amy Flynn began teaching at Bear Creek High School in Jefferson County, Colorado eight years ago, there were 55 students enrolled in German.
Today, there are 123 students enrolled in German levels I through IV. The popularity and growth of the German program in this district just outside Denver is due—parents, administrators, students and fellow teachers agree—to the enthusiastic, engaging, and inspired teaching of “Frau” Flynn.
Crossing the threshold into Flynn’s classroom, students “are transported to a country halfway around the world,” in the words of one parent. They hear German music and are greeted in German. Vocabulary is taught through a variety of activities that emulate real-life scenarios. Students order in a simulated restaurant, recreate a fashion show or any number of daily-life situations. They listen to songs and analyze the lyrics, learning not just vocabulary and grammar, but cultural context. “They cook, make crafts, listen to music, role play, learn poems and so much more,” says a fellow teacher. “Mrs. Flynn has very structured lessons based around German culture that get students excited about learning.”
A Human Connection Tool
Mrs. Flynn has the ability to ‘hook’ students by “teaching language as a human connection tool rather than just an academic study,” says World Language Curriculum Coordinator and Director of International Exchange Anna Crocker. “Yet she addresses all standards and modalities with rigor and accuracy. Her students understand that language is a connection that is both essential and fun.”
In her never-ceasing quest to engage students, Flynn maintains a cutting-edge multimedia classroom. Whether it’s VoiceThread, Schoology, or another Web 2.0 application aimed at fostering engaged learning and interaction, students learning German with Flynn benefit from her innovative use of the latest technology. “I am invigorated as a teacher when I find new ways to offer material to the students, be it for time management, lesson delivery or language production,” she says. “My students in turn are motivated by the variety of vehicles with which they can learn and create, and the immediate feedback that technology can provide.”
Even the best student-centric teaching and technology cannot replace the transformative power of international exchange. As the German American Partnership Program (GAPP) exchange coordinator for her school district, Flynn invests great time and energy in planning biannual trips for her students to experience Germany firsthand, often for the first time. The exchanges with different schools in Bavaria give her the chance to introduce students to a part of Germany where she feels a strong connection. “I love the people, the dialect, the scenery, the food and culture,” she says.
On the road they travel to Salzburg, where Flynn spent a year as a Fulbright teaching assistant in 1994-95, the group passes through a small town called Laufen. Though she has never stopped there, Flynn admits she “drinks in the beauty of that place each time.” “I believe I could live there the rest of my life and be perfectly happy.”
In the opposite direction, she coordinates the German school groups coming to the United States, matching host families and ensuring the visitors get a good taste of Colorado. She leverages the attractiveness of the GAPP exchange to promote her German program as well, making sure the exchange students give presentations at the feeder middle school. The strategy works: “Every year I am told by students that that experience drew them to the program.”
Bear Creek High Principal Kevin G. Carroll added his words of praise for Frau Flynn’s GAPP exchange with different schools in Bavaria to those from students and parents:
“We are proud to have Ms. Flynn representing our school during exchange programs with students from Germany,” Carroll says. “She has served as a positive and professional ambassador when escorting our students to Germany and an elegant host when exchange students join us here at Bear Creek. Due to her attention to detail, these experiences are rich learning opportunities for all students.”
A Positive Influence
What truly defines the success of Frau Flynn’s teaching is the long-term bonds she creates between her students and the German language and culture. Though not all students will continue their German studies beyond high school, Flynn points to the many students who minor or major in German in college. “I have just ‘produced’ my first future German teacher this year!” she says with pride.
Perhaps Katie Franek, a student in Amy Flynn’s class for four years who went on pursue her BA in Karlsruhe, Germany, put it best: “Without Frau Flynn, myself and other students who graduated from Bear Creek High School wouldn’t have excelled so far in German and continued on studying in Germany. Frau Flynn is definitely a teacher that makes a positive influence on all of the students who pass through her classroom.”