Laura Buder, Vestavia Hills High School, Alabama

Laura Buder, German 1 and German 4 AP/ 5 Honors Teacher, Vestavia Hills High School, AL Enlarge image Laura Buder, German 1 and German 4 AP/ 5 Honors Teacher, Vestavia Hills High School, AL (© Laura Buder) No one in Laura Buder’s German classroom is “just not a language person.” Core to her teaching philosophy is the belief that when teachers refuse to give up on students, students try harder—and learn. In her four years at Vestavia Hills High School, she has rewritten the beginning German curriculum, using learning targets to more actively engage students in their own learning process. Her energetic, fun-filled teaching style, combined with exposure to “real world” German media, has made her classroom a model of learner-centered, communication-based language instruction.

What/who inspired you to want to teach German?

While studying German at Auburn University and studying abroad in Germany, I became very passionate about learning new languages and cultures. My perspective on the world was broadened beyond the bubble I had lived in before and I developed understanding and empathy for others who lived and thought differently from me. I felt so empowered by the ability to communicate and function in a new culture. I think it is extremely important for students to understand that the rest of the world is not just like them and, rather than being fearful, to feel equipped to communicate with people and function in situations different from their idea of normal. I decided to teach German so that I could help my students along this path.

Where do you see the most effective use of new media/technology in the classroom?

I think the most effective use of new media and technology in the classroom is in providing students access to a variety of authentic materials. I have my students do all kinds of research on German websites, from current events, science, tourism, and history, to following famous personalities on social media, comparing real estate, and browsing online clothing stores. Students are always excited as they learn to navigate media made by and for native speakers. They begin to see their learning as a practical skill for life, empowering them to expand their knowledge in new ways and do real life tasks, such as travelling or studying abroad. They also gain a more realistic perspective of life in another culture, gradually moving past the stereotypes and clichés instilled by limited prior knowledge.

How do you distinguish/promote your program? What attracts students to take your German classes?

I try every day to make my class interactive and fun, and I promote my classes as accessible to all students, regardless of their learning history. When I plan a lesson, I try to make sure that the students interact with the content in a variety of manners, move around frequently, and get to know their classmates well. We sing, dance, draw, compete for Gummibärchen, interview and survey one another, and enjoy getting to learn about the world in a new way. I would always rather be known as the crazy teacher who tripped over a box while attempting a karate kick in class than the teacher who put her students to sleep. I also meet with students frequently before and after school, during lunch, and in study halls to give them specialized support as they move to the next level in their learning.

How would you define, in short, your teaching philosophy? What does “learner-centered, communication-based” instruction mean to you?

When I think of learner-centered, communication-based instruction, I think about meeting students where they are in their learning, engaging them in their own metacognitive learning process, and making their learning meaningful and practical to them. One of the ways I have tried to engage students in their own learning is by having them do learning target self-assessments, post-assessment reflections, and reassessments, when they are struggling to grasp a concept. Students should know from the first day that I respect their ideas and motivation when it comes to their own learning, and that the responsibility for lasting learning ultimately lies with them. I have also written new curricula to focus on developing practical skills in all of the modes of language proficiency, so that students know what they can actually do with the language. When I grade a communicative performance, I try to give descriptive rather than punitive feedback by ranking it on the proficiency scale and providing suggestions for further development, so that students can also be descriptive about their language skills.

Do you have an attachment to any particular place in Germany, or favorite aspect of the country, and why?

My favorite aspect of Germany is “Kaffee und Kuchen” in the afternoon. When I first visited Germany as a teenager, I learned that Kaffee und Kuchen meant time to slow down, enjoy a delicious treat, take the focus off of stress and work, and spend some quality time in conversation with family and friends. It is a moment built into the day to stop and cherish what is important above all: relationships. And coffee and dessert, because they certainly come in at a close 2nd.

German Embassy Teacher of Excellence Award

2016 German Embassy Teacher of Excellence Award recipients

In cooperation with the Goethe-Institut and the AATG, the German Embassy Washington has since 2008 presented the Teacher of Excellence Award, highlighting the accomplishments of top-notch, up-and-coming German teachers in the United States, who help lay the foundation for future German-American relations.