Cathy Gamble, La Cueva High School, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Enlarge image Cathy Gamble, Teacher of German, La Cueva High School Albuquerque, New Mexico (© Cathy Gamble) Cathy Gamble’s inspiration to teach German derives from her desire to instill a sense of interconnectedness. Her “off-the-charts enthusiasm” (in the words of one parent) combined with a “just say yes” philosophy towards forging intercultural connections—leading to exchange programs, an assistant teacher from Germany, and much more—fosters in her students a unique sense of connection with modern Germany. Her multi-media, multi-cultural, collaborative classroom, along with a rich palette of extracurricular engagement opportunities, has transformed her German program into a true juggernaut: Over the past two and a half years, enrollment doubled from fewer than 60 students to 120 today!
What/who inspired you to want to teach German?
Many people buy into the idea that the US is linguistically isolated because the US is such a large country and is bordered to the north by another English (and French) -speaking country. Because they see themselves as being isolated, they don't see a reason to learn a second language, and this furthers the sense of isolation. I am inspired to teach German because the idea that we are isolated or insulated is a dangerous one. Students have to know that we are all interconnected, and if they experience this through the relationships they make as a result of this class, then they are one step closer to understanding their place in the world.
How do you distinguish/promote your program? What attracts students to take your German classes?
Even at the German I level, courses are taught almost exclusively in German, which makes the goal of attaining fluency not only attainable but also desirable. As a part of ensuring that students are immersed in comprehensible input, I use visuals, videos, pantomime, and congnates in a highly interactive, highly engaging class. Students know that they will be expected to sing, dance, and speak (in addition to reading and writing), and that attracts active learners and students who want to be different.
How do you forge intercultural connections?
Forging intercultural connections is one of my favorite aspects of teaching German, and it's much easier that I could have ever imagined. I've learned that one of the most important things I can do is simly say yes! A teacher from Frankfurt had been looking for an exchange partner school in Albuqueruqe, so I said yes, and now we've got a vibrant exchange that brings students from both sides of the ocean together. Julia Ibold of the Zentralstelle für das Auslandsschulwesen (ZfA) told me about the "Teaching German in US Schools" program, and now I have a wonderful assistant teacher from Germany in the classroom for the entire school year. These connections help the students to see possibilities for forging their own independent intercultural relationships, and that has the possibility to change their lives.
How would you define, in short, your teaching philosophy? What does “learner-centered, communication-based” instruction mean to you?
Students learn faster if they see their learning as being relevant, so I try to give them as many authentic opportunities for speaking German as I can. I design the instruction so that students will immediately use what they have learned to talk to their classmates. I also invite guest speakers to the class, not to "present" but to interact with the students. For example, last week, a couple from Germany came in and talked to the students about St. Martin's Day in Germany, and the students needed to draw cultural comparisons and share their thoughts with our guests (in German). Students learn to "go for it" and to make themselves understood.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as a teacher of German?
When I started teaching German at this high school, there were fewer than 60 students enrolled, and now there are 120, so the program has been gaining in popularity and relevance over the past two and a half years. While I consider that noteworthy, it's really the change in thinking that I see every day that makes me feel like I'm doing important work. Through language, students see that there are other ways of thinking, and this shift in perception--the realization that ideas they view as fundamental are actually mutable--helps them to understand that there are other, valuable ways of living.
Students who haven't previously seen themselves as part of the global community come to realize that they have more international possibilities by learning German, and their lives are better off for it. One of my students meet an ice hockey coach from the Czech Republic. The coach didn't speak much English, but he spoke German, so the student was able to forge an international connection, which may result in his playing ice hockey for Germany!