Brooke Kreitinger, Visiting Assistant Professor of German, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Enlarge image Brooke Kreitinger, Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor of German, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (© Brooke Kreitinger) As a teacher-scholar, Dr. Brooke Kreitinger allows her enthusiasm for research to inform her teaching in the tradition of German universities where research and teaching are closely intertwined. Whether it’s via film evenings, weekly Kaffeestunde gatherings, undergraduate research events, or larger initiatives such as hosting one-day conferences, she is constantly letting her passion for German and teaching shine through. Called “a truly gifted educator” and “an effective ambassador for German in our region,” Dr. Kreitinger constantly strives to enrich the intellectual lives of her students and achieve her ultimate goal of “opening up new worlds to my students by empowering them to develop the language and cultural skills needed and the motivation to go abroad and experience Germany firsthand.”
What/who inspired you to want to teach German?
I grew up listening to my grandfather tell stories about his parents who emigrated from Germany and how as a child they never spoke German with him because they wanted him to be “fully American.” He regretted never learning German and loved to say the few German phrases he remembered his parents commonly using in his childhood (or which he had picked up from watching Hogan’s Heroes). This sparked a fascination in me and when I was finally able to take a foreign language in my small-town high school in southeastern Minnesota, naturally I took German. Fun, rewarding experiences in German classes taught by enthusiastic, caring, and worldly teachers and professors brought the language, literature and culture of Germany to life and stoked my desire to learn more and travel abroad. At some point while linguistically stumbling my way through German-speaking countries, the pleasure and value of being able to conduct my life and connect with others in another language became apparent to me. Because my own language learning has been so integral to my life, my teaching is driven by a deep purpose to empower my students to become competent language users and critical thinkers, so that they can communicate effectively in a variety of intellectual, professional and personal contexts and come to more deeply understand themselves and the interconnected world in which we live.
Where do you see the most effective use of new media/technology in the classroom?
The effective use of technology and new media can provide great opportunities to “bring Germany into the classroom” (e.g. via the Web) and allows for fun interactive activities and alternate ways for students to express their own voice while simultaneously developing technological skills. While I often use web tools to foster collaboration and assess for comprehension (such as Kahoot, an interactive quiz game played in teams using a cell phone or laptop), I also use technology in more extensive, skill-based ways. For instance, in my upper-level German film course, I worked with my students to learn video-making technologies so that they could create film trailers focusing on the representation of Germany and Germanness depicted in a German film of their choice. In small groups, they wrote multiple drafts of their scripts, staged, performed, and filmed relevant scenes, added voice-overs, credit reels, and music in the editing process, and ultimately developed impressive skills in working with video-making tools and software. Furthermore, this project required students to communicate as a group and organize a large project with many steps, which led to a unique bonding experience and I found them more excited and able to interact with each other in German both in and out of the classroom. Plus, the trailers they made were worthy of a Goldener Bär at the Berlinale! Lastly, through guided use of the German-language Web, I aim to empower my students to effectively vet and appropriately use the vast amounts of information of German-speaking virtual worlds, which are of course skills that are essential in any language.
How do you distinguish/promote your program? What attracts students to take your German classes?
I believe that the best ways to distinguish my program and to attract students to my German classes are to combine stimulating courses with meaningful student experiences, develop close mentoring relationships with students, and strive for excellence by collaborating with colleagues on scholarly, curricular, and co-curricular initiatives. I take my students seriously as learners of German, which for me means I communicate openly with them to make sure I take into consideration and address their diverse individual backgrounds, needs, and goals when designing my courses and teaching. Moreover, I come to class each day enthusiastic about teaching and do my best to make learning German fun and purposeful. Whether through film evenings, weekly Kaffeestunde gatherings, undergraduate research events, or larger initiatives such as hosting one-day conferences, my colleagues and I work with our students to cultivate a culture of engagement that makes for a vibrant and inclusive academic community and enables fun, motivating co-curricular events to complement our courses. For instance, I recently organized with my colleagues a one-day symposium in conjunction with the German Information Center’s “Germany Meets the U.S.” Campus Weeks (thanks GIC!), which allowed us to bring alumni of our German program and scholars from near and far to UNCG to explore the transatlantic relationship through questions related to diversity and historical transfers of knowledge. Involving our students in the planning and preparations as well as providing them with an opportunity to showcase their work makes for memorable language and learning experiences and helps to create a wonderful sense of community. Some of our students even presented speeches on the topic of “Meine Verbindung zu Deutschland.” Although they were initially terrified at the thought of giving a speech in German in such a public forum, they felt empowered and a real sense of accomplishment because they recognized that their German-language skills are indeed valuable beyond the German classroom! Collaboration is vital to success and I am grateful to be in a region with a strong network of amazing German instructors who diligently work together to promote German and support teachers of German at all levels!
How would you define, in short, your teaching philosophy? What does “learner-centered, communication-based” instruction mean to you?
My teaching approach is based on the idea that language is the production and negotiation of meaning based on real-world cultural contexts and practices of communication. Therefore, I design my courses and teaching around topics, texts, and tasks with the aim that students comprehend how language “gets things done,” in other words, how through certain types of social practices, whether written or spoken, meaning is made, tasks are achieved, and knowledge is constructed. My classroom is “learner-centered” and “communication-based” in the sense that my students spend as much time as possible in class working on hands-on, often collaborative activities that help them to develop particular skills to function effectively in a German-speaking context. In my lower level courses, this often means we prepare and perform role plays and skits to learn practical, transactional skills such as ordering in a restaurant, booking a trip in a travel agency, resolving a conflict with a roommate, or going to the doctor. However, to make things interesting, we always throw a wrench in such situations – for instance, “Oh nein, there’s a fly in the soup I ordered!” or “Hoppla! I forgot to validate my bus ticket and now I’ve got to talk my way out of a ticket for “schwarzfahren!” In my upper level courses, I often ask my students to represent the perspective of a character from a text or film in a talk show style discussion with the hope that they truly reflect on the character’s experiences and in turn become more adept as seeing the world from multiple perspectives. Such communicative activities are always based on texts we read or watch, which then also serve as the examples for the type of language the students should use in both spoken and written assignments.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as a teacher of German?
It is my greatest accomplishment as a teacher of German when I can open up new worlds to my students by empowering them to develop the language and cultural skills needed and the motivation to go abroad and experience Germany firsthand. Many of the students I teach have not traveled much beyond their home state, so when they return from studying abroad with stories of new friends from other cultures and memorable, fun, and challenging experiences from living in Germany, as well as a stronger sense of purpose in their study of German, I feel such great joy for them because I remember exactly how enriching and life-changing my study of German and my first study abroad experience were for me!