This year’s NECTFL Nominee for ACTFL Teacher of the Year is Katrina Griffin. Katrina is the lead German teacher and World and Classical Languages Department Chair at North County High School in Glen Burnie, Maryland. She has held leadership positions in the Maryland Foreign Language Association (MFLA) and her local chapter of AATG. Her list of involvements in the field of language teaching and in German policy is extensive, and includes consulting for the College Board and working closely with the German Embassy during their annual open house.
This is the final of five posts featuring the regional nominees for ACTFL Teacher of the Year. The purpose of the posts is strictly informative, to serve as an introduction to each of these outstanding educators! To celebrate Katrina, please leave a comment on the post with a word of encouragement, a connection that you share, or something that stood out to you while reading her responses to my 10 getting-to-know-you questions!
Why did you decide to become a language teacher?
I never really wanted to be a teacher. I went to school for International Politics and mistakenly thought that I needed a minor. I knew that I could finish the minor through a study abroad to Germany, so I did just that. I never expected to fall in love with someone who did not speak English and actually have to learn the German language. Of course love makes you do crazy things, so I returned to Germany on a Fulbright after college. When I came back to the states I decided to teach until I could figure out which graduate program for Peace and Conflict Resolution studies to apply for. I never did get around to applying…
What is your favorite memory as a language learner?
Leaving class? Ha ha ha! I cringe remembering time spent in the classroom, because I was always one of the worst students cowering in the corner, praying that I would not get called on. There were times when I thought I had read the wrong book or completed the wrong assignment. What did I care? I KNEW I was never going to use German, so I just skated by and kept going. I even had two teachers pull me aside in college to tell me that I had the worst German in the class. I stayed, because my friends were in class, I liked learning about culture and we got to eat food! The lure of student exchanges and travel abroad was enough to keep me in it for the long haul. So I guess you could say that my favorite memories were the cultural experiences that I had in German speaking countries!
What is your favorite word in your target language?
I like the words that are fun to say, like Quatsch, which means nonsense and Dingsbums, which is a whatchamacallit.
What do you love about teaching?
I love the students. I love that they are fun, fresh, interesting, and always surprising. I work in an underserved community where the students have many challenges and needs. There are not many teachers or administrators who stay at my school longer than five years due to the high stress environment. I love the challenge of working in this setting and it means a great deal to me when I see the students succeed. It is fulfilling to know that the work we do in the classroom makes a positive impact on their lives now and in the future.
Describe the best professional development that you have experienced.
The best PD I experience was a 2-year course on being an instructional leader. The first year was spent learning, re-learning and clarifying what good teaching is. During the second year, we worked on observing teachers, giving feedback and having sometimes difficult discussions to improve classroom instruction. The skills and information I learned transcend language specific instruction and looking at my classroom practices from a new perspective helped propel me forward. Getting better at teaching my colleagues and having ample opportunity to do so, has positively impacted both my classroom instruction and theirs. Our students are much more proficient than they were in years past and we are retaining many more students in our upper level courses.
Share one of your favorite memories from class.
One of my favorite memories is when my students did a Socratic Seminar for the first time. I waited for what seemed like 10 minutes until any of them spoke, but once they got going they did an awesome job! I had some tears in my eyes. This has quickly turned into one of their favorite activities, as well as mine, since students do all the work and create meaning without my input. I am glad that I maintained a CAN DO attitude about having students speak in class!
Who has made a great impact on your teaching?
There are many people who have impacted my teaching over the years. I learned what makes a good teacher from my many students over the years. Their feedback to me has been invaluable.
I would also like to give a shout out to Mr. Juan Carlos (JC) Morales, who has probably had the biggest positive impact on both the quality of my instruction and my professional career. I gave my first presentation at ACTFL with his prompting and guidance. He has opened my eyes to a world of possibilities, opportunities and is a font of knowledge. I certainly would not have the professional success I have had without his unwavering support, belief in me and tough-love. I absolutely can’t thank him enough for all he has done for me and for continually pushing me out of my comfort zone.
What is an area of teaching in which you would like to grow or improve?
I want to improve the quality and the quantity of the authentic listening passages I give to students. It is very time consuming to find appropriate resources and to develop them for classroom use. I feel like I am always looking for something better and more comprehensible than what I have.
Why should your language teaching colleagues in the US consider joining ACTFL?
There seem to be a variety of reasons why one would join ACTFL. First and foremost, it is our national professional organization and as a professional, something that I want to be a part of. I love the Smart-Briefs and keeping abreast of what is happening with languages at the national level. ACTFL also provides a wealth of resources for all language teachers at all levels of instruction both online and in person. There is as much or as little as you want and so many supports for teachers!
I also must say that for me personally, my participation in ACTFL programs was strengthened through my personal interactions with other members. Those who started as colleagues and acquaintances are now friends who I look forward to seeing at every conference. It is just wonderful to leave school for a few days and attend the ACTFL conference, where I am surrounded by people who “get it!”
And finally…since this will be shared at The Comprehensible Classroom, what is one strategy that you use to provide comprehensible input to your students?
One of the things I ask my students to do is to make their thinking visible. I use many of the strategies from Harvard Project Zero- Visible Thinking, so that I can tell how well my students are processing information. It can be as quick and easy as having them answer the question, “What makes you say that?” or as intricate as creating a kind of visual representation of what they read or viewed. I love that visible thinking routines teach my students how to think and process and that they give me feedback on whether I am giving my students appropriate input.