Kimberly Nickel, St. Francis High School, Minnesota

Kimberly Nickel, German Teacher, St. Francis High School, St. Francis, MN Enlarge image Kimberly Nickel, German Teacher, St. Francis High School, St. Francis, MN (© Kimberly Nickel) A palpable new energy has been injected into the German program at St. Francis High School north of Minneapolis over the past year, thanks to the arrival of Kimberly Nickel.

A combination of contagious enthusiasm for the German language, which she cultivated over more than two years living in Berlin; high expectations and caring support for her students; and the creation and expansion of extracurricular activities, such as the German Club and an exchange program with Hans Carossa Gymnasium in Berlin-Spandau, have enabled ‘Frau’ Nickel not only to inspire high-achieving students, but to create a flagship language program with a reputation extending far beyond St. Francis.

Isolde Mueller, professor of German and Minnesota AATG president, cites Nickel’s dynamic and engaging teaching style as motivating students to speak German.  “In her interactions with her students, she skillfully balances her leadership role as the teacher [with] being a role model for her students,” she says. Inspired by Nickel’s example and stimulated by her innovative pedagogy, students speak German at least 90 percent of the time in her highly interactive classroom, according to Mueller.

Nickel employs a variety of cutting-edge technologies in her communication-based instruction, from iPads and a SMART Board, to applications such as Flipgrid and Adobe Voice. These apps allow Nickel to “really capture my students’ abilities,” she says. “They are able to record themselves in German and I can really assess where they are. The availability of resources using native speakers is helpful to students—YouTube and Audiolingua are great.”

Interaction with native speakers is essential for developing proficiency in a foreign language, and Nickel actively seeks out opportunities for her students to engage with ‘real’ German. In addition to the Hans Carossa Gymnasium exchange, Nickel has furthered association with the German-American Partnership Program (GAPP) to strengthen learning opportunities in German language and culture. Students and parents recognize these opportunities as contributing to the whole ‘package’ of German at St. Francis, making it an attractive course of study.

Nickel is always devising new ways of inspiring her students to go far in German. Fellow German teacher Kristine Barnes, who mentored Nickel when she was a student teacher, says she was likewise inspired by Nickel’s advice to “create one new activity every day to keep yourself fresh.” Such determination and drive is a key ingredient of her success.

The roots of Nickel’s enthusiastic ambition as a teacher of German are found in her own experience with learning and living the language, including two years in Berlin-Wilmersdorf—a city she says is “in my blood.” She loves its rich history and “how every Bezirk has a completely unique and different feel.” 

“There have been so many doors that opened in my life because I could speak German,” she says. “So many friends that I have made because of my language abilities. Learning German has been a tool to help me look at the world in a different way.”

Now, as a teacher, she wants to give back, to help her students “look beyond the American perspective and start to understand different perspectives and people and learn to better fulfill their role as global citizens.”

This, she believes, will be her greatest contribution as a world language teacher.

“My greatest accomplishments are my students, and seeing their success, and adding to their lives, perspectives, and who they'll be.”