By Jillian Lykens
“There’s German … in Kentucky?!”
Why yes, and there’s quite a bit of it. With many Kentucky cities claiming German immigrants among their first settlers, German heritage has remained strong in our state, as can be seen from the Hauptstrasse Village in Newport to the German American Club Gesangverein in Louisville.
German language learners can relate to their familial heritage while preparing themselves to interact with one of more than 60 facilities located in Kentucky with German ownership, facilities that boast almost 10,000 jobs. German is a thriving language across the state, with middle and high school programs dotting the landscape in all regions of Kentucky. McCreary County even offers it in its elementary school.
And, as every German teacher knows, there’s more to teaching the language than Oktoberfest and pretzels. That’s where AATG of Kentucky steps in.
The American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) has been connecting and assisting German teachers across the nation since its inception in 1926. As the Kentucky chapter, we strive to offer specialized services to the students and teachers of our Commonwealth, providing a variety of resources and services throughout the year.
AATG of Kentucky works alongside the Kentucky World Language Association (KWLA) – the state’s largest organization geared toward supporting world language educators – to provide opportunities for German teachers to stay abreast of world language trends occurring nationally and at the state level, and to bring teachers together to share ideas and collaborate with colleagues.
AATG of Kentucky works to provide German-specific sessions at the KWLA annual conference, with previous sessions focusing upon the changing school system model in Germany, migration and immigration in Berlin, and how to make the best of your exchange with Germany. AATG also sponsors a German immersion dinner for educators at all levels, during which the participants have the opportunity to practice their language skills while connecting with teachers, instructors, lecturers and professors across the state. Conversations at such dinners range from planning a trip of visiting choirs from Germany to discussions of what can be done to better prepare high school students for the German classes they will encounter at the university level.
Professional development for teachers is continued throughout the year. AATG of Kentucky offers a professional learning session in the spring to its members. The focus this year is on the use of authentic materials in all levels of instruction and will be facilitated by Anka Fehling, the German language consultant for the Central Agency for Schools Abroad, an agency sponsored by the German government to assist teachers of German around the world. Participants range from middle school teachers through university professors and represent 10 different school districts, universities and organizations.
Beyond the services offered to teachers, AATG of Kentucky also provides an array of opportunities for students of German. Each year, the group organizes and facilitates an immersion weekend for students, drawing mostly from high schools with assistance from university students. Gathering at Camp Crescendo, a Lion’s Club camp in Lebanon Junction, the students this year spent the weekend conversing solely in German as they focused upon the topic of Kunst (art). The students used the language to accomplish such tasks as getting to know their fellow campmates, writing and performing plays, perfecting their dance moves to German music, and exploring the wilderness around the camp while creating and photographing found art. Students of all levels are welcome to participate in this annual event.
Not only does AATG of Kentucky assist students in learning and practicing their language, it also provides them the forum in which to put their skills to the test. The chapter encourages schools across the state to participate in the National German Exam, a test for Levels 1 through 4 to judge how well students perform with their language in the areas of interpretive listening and reading. Students in Levels 2 through 4 performing at or above the 90th percentile in their exam are offered the opportunity to apply for a summer study trip to Germany. AATG of Kentucky organizes this process for the state, collecting the applications, performing interviews in German and recommending the student best suited for the trip. Teachers with high-performing students are also recognized by the chapter.
Membership in AATG offers instructors not only these benefits, but also a wide variety of opportunities and resources at the national level. The national AATG website hosts a wide array of materials about a variety of topics, from STEM and art, to everyday life and professions and careers. There are also forums where instructors can pose questions, offer advice and stay current with what other German teachers around the country are doing.
The national AATG organization also offers summer study trips for teachers and for students. The student trips provide a three-week homestay for the students to immerse themselves in the German language and culture. Teachers are invited to participate in summer seminars that allow them to hone their language skills while learning about a new facet of the culture of German-speaking countries. Seminars this summer include such topics as STEM and the culture of Austria. Financial support is available for some of these programs.
Jillian Lykens is a German teacher at Beaumont Middle School (Fayette County). She serves as vice president of the Kentucky chapter of the American Association of Teachers of German and is an AATG NextGen Leader. Lykens also serves as regional representative for the Kentucky World Language Association.