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Teacher Spotlight: A Talk with Susan German

German is president of the Science Teachers of Missouri with 19 years of experience. After 2,000 students, she knows a thing or two about what works.


This post is in partnership with University of Phoenix

Susan German is the president of the Science Teachers of Missouri and has been teaching in the tiny town of Hallsville for 19 years. She was recently given the Distinguished Teaching Award by the National Science Teaching Association. German prides herself on engaging her students by challenging them to reach their potential, by any means necessary. To watch the extended interview with German, click above for an exclusive video.

GOOD: How long have you been teaching and what type of students do you serve?

Susan German: This is year 19 and I teach eighth grade math and science. I serve students in Hallsville, Missouri, which is a rural community, so we don’t get a lot of diversity of students.

GOOD: How do you motivate students, especially those who might not have been successful in the past?

German: I motivate my students by asking them questions that make them curious. One of the neatest things that I start the year with is I ask students which finger affects their shoe tying time the most. The kids are immediately engaged.

GOOD: You do a great job motivating your students, so how do you make sure the parents and community are involved too?

German: I live in the community that I teach in and it’s a very small community. In fact, most of my parents can see me walking after school around town, so it’s not a big deal for them to stop me and ask me questions.

GOOD: What types of technology do you use in your classroom?

German: I’m an eMINTS (Enhancing Missouri's Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies) teacher, which allows me to have a SMART Board, a data projector, a computer plus a laptop, and I have 12 other computers. I run a two-to-one student-to-computer ratio in my classroom. I also have computer-based probes and various other little gadgets that students can use.

GOOD: How do you manage to teach outside-of-the-box and be creative, while also readying students for student tests?

German: The tests and the standards are very important, but the thing that I think that has gotten lost is that the standards don’t tell you how to teach. You can still be creative in your classroom as long as you just make certain what you’re doing is highly focused on the standards. It has a purpose and you’re trying to get the most bang for your buck, because class time is very precious.

GOOD: What's the the biggest misconception about teachers?

German: Several. One is that we only work only from nine to three. My workdays are usually 12 to 15 hours. The time that I spend working on getting materials together, designing materials, and making sure my students have something that is relevant to them takes a great deal of time.

Another misconception is that it’s an easy job. We get a lot of second career changers coming through and one of the first things they always say is, 'Wow, I didn’t realize how hard this is.' So, it’s a great job and it’s a rewarding job, but you got to know what you’re getting into when you decide to do it.

GOOD: You’ve had a lot of achievements over the past 19 years. What has been your biggest challenge and biggest success?

German: My largest challenge as a teacher has been trying to figure out how to balance family with my profession. I have two children and they’re both in high school now, but it hasn’t always been easy figuring out the timing thing. Just like any other woman, you want to do well at your profession, but you always want to do well as a mother.

My biggest success as a teacher would be the 2,000 students that have been through my classroom and I haven’t heard a complaint yet about the job done. I get lots and lots and lots of compliments. It’s a really rewarding career and I’m glad I’ve done it.

GOOD: You’ve been so successful over the years, what advice can you give new teachers?

German: The advice I would give is to make certain that the students understand that you are the leader of your classroom. If you say something, you mean it, and that you need to learn to laugh with your kids. If you don’t laugh with your kids you’ll never it make it as long as I have.

Also, when you have the attitude of we’re all in this together and that you don’t expect more out of the students than you expect from yourself, you’d be amazed at what happens. Even the so-called toughest kids will do whatever you ask.

Read more from the GOOD Guide to Great Teaching here.

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