Sasha Johnson: 2014 Teacher of Excellence Award Winner

Sasha Johnson initiated the German program at Noble High School in Oklahoma in 2011, where she taught until spring 2014. She now teaches at the Rilke Schule German School of Arts and Sciences in Anchorage, Alaska.

Sasha Johnson initiated the German program at Noble High School in Oklahoma. Enlarge image Sasha Johnson initiated the German program at Noble High School in Oklahoma. (© Sasha Johnson) Students in Sasha Johnson’s class are not just learning standard High German—they are being exposed to regional dialects.

“I have special fascination for German dialects, and love to listen to the different ways people speak,” she says. “People from different generations, ages and different linguistic backgrounds use the language in their own special way, and this usage reflects their individuality. I always find myself paying special attention to this.”

As review material for German 2, Johnson used the Österreichisches Sprachdiplom Deutsch or ÖSD, an Austrian examination and assessment system for German as a Foreign Language, which allows students to hear Austrian and Swiss dialects. She has invited German exchange students from the University of Oklahoma to come to her classes so that students can interact with a native speaker. In the summer of 2013, following a two-year fundraising campaign orchestrated by Johnson, Noble HS German students embarked on a two-week trip to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, directly encountering regional intonations.

Most impressive, Johnson created these opportunities, and more, in a German program she began herself.

Starting as a teacher of AP English classes, Johnson’s passion for German inspired her to launch a German program with one small class in 2011. Within two years, she grew the program to 47 students in German 1 and 23 students in German 2.

Her innovative approach to learning inside and outside the classroom attracts and motivates students to thrive in German. In her classes, students sit at cluster tables where they must interact with one another in the language.

Building on her MA thesis, which focused on the use of podcasts to bolster German listening comprehension, Johnson incorporates a variety of online platforms into her teaching. From Quizlet (online flashcards with audio and pictures), to Audio Lingua (podcasts with native speakers), to Das Geheimnis der Himmelscheibe (an online learning game offered by the Goethe-Institut), students use cutting-edge tools to connect to the world of German language and culture.

Her students have excelled. Students in German 2 have taken the National German Exam of the AATG, participated in the Internationale Deutscholympiade of the Goethe-Institut, and applied for the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange. Sixty students took part in the Oklahoma-wide Deutschfest competition, taking home trophies in seven categories and raising the stature of German in the foreign language landscape.

In launching a successful German program, Johnson was motivated by her own experiences with inspirational teachers, who helped her to see herself as an educator.

“My first German teacher, Fred Hirschbach advised me to major in the language, and my second teacher, Gerlinde Thompson, helped to secure a scholarship so I could study abroad and pursue a Master’s degree,” she says.

“I admired them and appreciated their assistance. If they had not taken the initiative to encourage and assist me, I would likely have pursued other goals.”