Along the path to proficiency, we encounter many things in our classroom, in our department, and in the field. In this series, we would like to share some notes from the field from educators who have made an impact and have learned something impactful along their journey. Here they will share their notes from the field with us and how their learning has helped shape them, as well as its impact, as they help their students along the path to proficiency.
As teachers and learners across the land anxiously count down the days, hours and minutes until the end of the academic calendar, I paused and took a moment to count UP…. and I realized that this is my twenty-fifth year as a world language educator. What a tremendous ride it has been!
Even though it has been many years since I taught on a daily basis, I still vividly remember the first day of school as a German teacher at Brookwood High School in Georgia: I was petrified until the day got going. During the second period German II class, I remember thinking, “This is fun.” I loved the energy that I felt from the students. As the last period’s students entered my classroom on that first day, I can still picture one of them walking up the steps to enter the trailer (aka portable learning cottage). Not only would that student end up taking four years of German and going on an exchange trip to Germany during high school, but she also majored in German, became a German teacher and still has contact with her host family more than two decades after they first met. She and I also still communicate with each other to this day. She is but one example of the multitude of the passionate people, both students and educators, that I’ve had the pleasure and fortune to meet during this amazing career. Even though it may seem obvious to us as language educators, it’s all about interpersonal relationships and communication.
My first year of teaching definitely set the tone for everything that was to follow. In January of that first year, I drove to Savannah for the AATG-Georgia annual immersion weekend based on a recommendation and met numerous colleagues who have become lifelong friends. I also came home with a trunk full of materials, posters, and resources for my classroom: invaluable for a new teacher. As a result of that event, I realized that interacting with other German teachers was energizing and that there were so many great ideas to share and learn. Though the scope may have changed over the years, the underlying principle remains constant: teachers need to share and exchange ideas. That first year was a blur in many ways: in addition to trying to tread water to keep up with lessons and grading papers, there was also the State German Convention, German-American Trade Fair at Emory, hosting German students for three weeks, taking my first group of students to Germany, and calculating grades by hand.
Looking back over the past quarter century, I realize that from the onset I have devoted my career to professionalism, even though I had no idea at the time that’s what it was called. That first year in many ways provided the foundation for everything that has happened since. I have devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to professional associations at the local, state, regional and national levels because I believe in the power of bringing people together. Each association and opportunity introduced me to new people and provided connections, contexts and challenges. I learned skills in how to work with all kinds of people. I made mistakes.
Professionalism is essential to being a successful educator for so many reasons. It broadens your perspectives and opens doors. It helps develop critical organizational skills. It reminds you why you wanted to become a teacher and lifts you up on the challenging days because of the support network that naturally emerges.
As my path evolved from teacher to department chair to district coordinator to executive director of SCOLT to my work with Advanced Placement World Languages and Cultures, many things have changed, such as technology. I can still recall our first network computers at school that took five minutes to boot up each morning and I remember having hands covered in ink from overhead pens at the end of the school day. While it is easy to focus on how things have changed, it’s often difficult to pause and remember the things that are the same. In many ways, the constants are the most important things. It’s still about providing a good product in the classroom that will make students want to come back for more. It’s about knowing and supporting your students, even when they’re stomping on your last frazzled nerve. It’s about listening, even if it’s sometimes a message you don’t want to hear. It’s always about trying to improve and figure out why when things didn’t go as planned. It’s about being passionate. It’s about being a professional.
A former German teacher and Foreign Languages Director for the Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia, David Jahner now serves as Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for Advanced Placement World Languages and Cultures at the College Board. He has served as the president of the Foreign Language Association of Georgia (FLAG) and the National Association of District Supervisors of Foreign Languages (NADSFL), and currently serves as the Executive Director of the Southern Conference on Language Teaching.