414 Heroes: What It’s Like to Teach in Milwaukee During the Health Crisis

“It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed right now.”


WHO: EILEEN GIRMSCHEID, 30, 4TH GRADE TEACHER, MILWAUKEE GERMAN IMMERSION SCHOOL


I’ve been teaching at German Immersion for seven years now. I’m only 25 percent German, and no one in my family has spoken German in the past three generations. I studied German because I wanted to connect with my ancestry. I was fortunate to have wonderful German teachers in high school (at Manitowoc Lutheran High School) and college (at Wisconsin Lutheran College) German.

MGIS is one of the higher-ranking elementary schools in the state because of our overall curriculum. The students here are from all ethnic groups. Their parents are drawn to us for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they know it gives their kids a little extra oomph to be bilingual.

Since the shutdown began March 13, teaching has changed a lot. Because a lot of our curriculum — math, science, social studies — is taught in German, we rely heavily on textbooks from Germany. At the end of the school day that Friday, we didn’t take our teaching resources with us because we thought the school would be closed for only two weeks. Over time, our principal, Frank Lammers, has been getting things from our classrooms and meeting us at the door with them. Fortunately, all of our fourth and fifth grade students had already been given Chromebook tablets for use at home.

It has been a challenge to move everything online. We’ve been buying Kindle versions of instructional materials, screen sharing through Kindle Cloud Reader, scanning materials in and sometimes even typing them in, to make materials available to our students in a digital format. I’ve been teaching through a webcam, typically an hour a day in the full classroom, then throughout the day in small group sessions, such as for reading. The full classroom sessions have 16 to 18 students. Only one of the 22 students in my classroom doesn’t have internet capability at home, and our school social worker, Lisa Dietrich, is trying to secure it for this student. MPS is offering some hotspots, but the priority is high school students.

I’m using all sorts of technology: Zoom for full-class instruction and small groups, Google Classroom for students to post assignments and get feedback on them, Class Dojo for staying connected with students and parents, Remind for two-way messaging with students and parents. I basically feel on call 24/7 for student and parent questions. Staff meetings have moved to Zoom so we can share with each other what’s working and what isn’t. 

As luck would have it, I just finished  my master’s last summer (at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota) with an emphasis on world language instruction, so I’m really confident using the technology. And I’m happy to help other staff get up to speed.

Even so, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed right now. Luckily, we’re fortunate to have good educational resources and a great community. We’re blessed to be the oldest of Milwaukee Public Schools’ four dual-language schools — we celebrated our 40th anniversary in 2017.

– As told to Carolyn Kott Washburne


Amazing Teachers!  [email to MGIS principal Frank Lammers]

Hello Herr Lammers,

 

We are writing to express our sincere gratitude for the hard work and creativity of Frau Girmscheid and Frau Baughn. Because of them, Ben and Eli have been able to continue on with 4th grade and K4 in meaningful ways in these difficult times. Today Ben was on his call doing a science experiment about sound being led by Frau Girmscheid in German. It was so, so good to see. These outstanding teachers have helped bring certainty and routine to Ben and Eli and have shown them that their school community is supporting them and making sure they are learning. We are very, very grateful for their dedication.

 

– Suzi and Dan Loosen, Wauwatosa


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