By B.C. Manion
One minute she’s roving among rows of desks, posing questions and using facial expressions and gestures to clue students in to what she’s asking about.
A few minutes later, she’s at a whiteboard at the back of the room jotting down responses from students as she runs through some grammar drills.
Next, she’s at the front of the classroom, crouching behind a bookcase while acting out a scene from “The Seven Ravens,” a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm.
If you pictured German class as stiff or boring, you haven’t visited Annemarie Schunemann’s classroom at Land O’ Lakes High.
She combines high expectations with fun in a quest to not only teach the German language, but to familiarize them with the country’s culture too.
Apparently, her methods are working.
The wall behind her desk is loaded with accolades. Most recently, the Florida Association of German Teachers named her the 2010 Florida German Teacher of the Year during the Florida Foreign Language Association’s conference in Clearwater.
The recognition was both gratifying and unexpected, Schunemann said.
“It felt like, ‘Wow, I won the lifetime achievement award,’ ” she said.
The teacher never had any doubt about what she wanted to do with her life.
She knew it in first grade.
She wanted to be like her teacher, Frau Hanna Schwinning.
“She made learning so interesting and fun,” said Schunemann, who grew up in Grosslittgen, three hours from Cologne.
“She had, really, a gift to inspire kids,” Schunemann said.
Schunemann’s students say she shares her mentor’s gift.
“She’s the best teacher I’ve ever had,” said Timo Russell, 17. “She always makes sure that we know all of the material.”
Ben Olson, a four-year student, signed up at his mother’s insistence during his freshman year. “My family is from Germany,” he explained.
Now, he’s glad his mother made him do it. The class has made a tangible difference in his life.
“I can speak to my grandparents now,” Olson said. There’s another benefit too: “I truly fell in love with the language,” he said.
The teenager has visited Germany and said that speaking the language has given him access to better understand the country’s culture.
While recognizing the upside of taking German, that doesn’t mean it has been easy, Olson said. “There’s a lot of homework.”
However, he hastened to add, Schunemann helps students learn.
“She’s really great at what she does,” Olson said.
Britt DeBartolo, 16, said Schunemann “is so invested in actually teaching the language. She teaches it really, really well.”
“It’s definitely not an easy class,” DeBartolo added, but she has developed a real appreciation of German. “I think it’s beautiful, despite the harsh sound of it,” she said.
Schunemann began her Pasco County teaching career at Pasco High School in 1983 and remained there until 1991, taking a year off when she had a baby. She came to Land O’ Lakes High in 1992 and has been there ever since.
Schunemann said she often goes to conferences and seminars to help her stay inspired and to pick up teaching ideas.
She tries to tie her lessons to current events and to stay in tune with learning techniques that keep up with the times.
“I like to look for new material,” she said. She also likes her lessons to resonate with students. “You have to adapt to what they (students) like.”
For one recent assignment, completed around Halloween, she assigned students to make tombstones of famous Germans, detailing their contributions to society.
In another assignment, students wrote poems in German about themselves.
During a recent class, she paired students and assigned them to reassemble “The Seven Ravens,” which she had typed up and cut into pieces.
Once they put the story together, the pairs practiced reading it because the class might perform the fairy tale for a play. The students also had to answer questions based on the story, which forced them to demonstrate their knowledge of German grammar.
Besides challenging her students, Schunemann views herself as a teacher who wants to know her students well enough that she can respond when they need help.
Schunemann said being an immigrant and learning English as a second language gives her insight into the challenges of learning a foreign language, which in turn, gives her empathy for her students.
“I walk in their shoes,” she said.
But that doesn’t mean she considers herself a pushover — in any way, shape or form.
“I think I’m kind of tough. It’s not a popularity contest,” Schunemann said.
She has some basic rules for her students: “Be on time. Do your work.”
“I don’t like to waste time. If they sign up for my class, it means business,” Schunemann said.
Schunemann is clearly prepared for her classes — jamming instruction into every available minute.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“They want to learn; I want to teach.
“In December, I’m starting my 27th year,” Schunemann said. “I think I could not have picked a career that suited me better. I could not think of anything I would rather do.”