<bt>A merry St. Nicholas and a scary Krumpus danced into Ann ThorsenÕs classroom at Park View High School. The students looked surprised, but there was a knowing twinkle in ThorsenÕs eyes. St. Nicholas wore the aura of good wishes, while Krumpus carried switches.
The characters spoke only in German as they invited the first-year German students to join in the celebration of Nikolastag.
That is what Thorsen calls her "favorite teachable moment." The creativity adds credence to her recent honor of being named Foreign Language Association of Virginia Outstanding Educator of the Year.
Every Dec. 6, when Germans celebrate a childrenÕs Christmas, Thorsen relies on the characters to teach the students about the holiday. St. Nicholas commends each student for his or her good grades while Krumpus spreads fear to those who do not do their homework. St. Nicholas and Krumpus are fifth-year German students in costumes.
"My students donÕt know they are coming in," Thorsen said. "To see their faces when these two students come in. É The fifth year students get a kick out of it too."
THORSEN HAS BEEN an instructor at Park View during her entire teaching career. During her first year, in the fall of 1977, she taught four levels of German and freshmen English. She now teaches German I, II, III, IV, and V.
Bobby Hidy, a German III student who plans to major in linguistics, describes Thorsen as energetic. "She hardly ever sits down," he said. "SheÕs moving around, talking with her hands, with a book in one hand and her other hand moving."
At a slim 5Õ2" with shoulder length gray hair, Thorsen is surrounded by students who tower above her.
Instructing students to design German advertisements last week, there was no doubt who was in command.
She uses numbers and vocabulary in a "Bingo" game for first-year students, awarding "silly prizes from the dollar store" to the victors.
Thorsen also modifies a "Jeopardy" game to teach the language. She has the students review five concepts, awarding 10 to 50 points for each right answer. The tougher the question, the more points it is worth.
"I like to incorporate games when I can to make it relevant to what we are doing," she said. "I think they like a change of pace. We have 90-minute classes. É And games are fun."
Hidy said the games help him learn German. "She goes out of her way to help us," he said. "She wants to make sure we understand."
He cited another game, in which the students each have a white board. She asks a question and they have to write the answer on the board in German. The first one to show his or her answer wins.
Hidy, who also takes Advanced Placement classes in French and Spanish, said he wanted to learn German but there was a problem with his schedule. Thorsen allowed him to monitor German I during his study hall, and then he signed up for German II and III. He said itÕs an easy language to learn, because it is similar to English.
Thorsen agreed. She said her grammatical instructions in German actually help students perform better in English. "IÕm constantly explaining, ÔThis is a direct object and a dependent clause," she said. "They understand the way sentences come together, because they have to think more about the placement of sentences."
MANY STUDENTS take Spanish, because of the large Hispanic population in the area. "They donÕt think it is necessary to learn a European language," she said. "TheyÕre wrong, of course."
She said the German language gets a bad rap, because of GermanyÕs history. "ItÕs the World War II image and Hitler," she said. "We try to teach what was learned from that experience."
Every other year, Thorsen organizes a field trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. On Feb. 9, 2005, her German IV and IV students will make the trip and look for examples of resistance groups. "I think itÕs important to understand that part of history."
She taught her students this year about the fall of the Berlin Wall 15 years ago. "I did a big wall display. They were one or two years old when it happened."
Thorsen said she has organized exchange programs with German teen-agers so her students can better understand the countryÕs culture and meet people who share common interests. "ItÕs important for students to have the opportunity meet some Germans, young people particularly, to see this as a language spoken, that they arenÕt a lot different from them," she said.
PARK VIEW STUDENTS would spend three-and-a-half summer weeks in Germany, and the German students would spend the same amount of time in the United States during the fall. Thorsen arranged six exchanges prior to Sept. 11, when the School Board stopped all trips abroad. The students were so disappointed that she organized a trip with a tour group. "The tour group assumed the responsibility," she said.
Thorsen said she does not plan to take the students on anymore trips though until she has the boardÕs go ahead. ÔItÕs too much liability for me," she said. A dozen German students and two teachers, however, will be coming to Sterling next year. "ItÕs better than nothing," she said. "At least it gives our students the chance to host and get to know some students, to learn the history and culture."
Anne Brooks, Park View principal, said she nominated Thorsen, because of Ôwhat she does beyond the class." Thorsen has been state coordinator of the Virginia Organization of German Students since 1979 and has hosted the organizationÕs German convention at Park View High School four times.
Brooks said she was on a high school evaluation team a couple of years ago when someone noticed which school the principal represented. "The lady next to me stood up and said, 'Park View High School? ThatÕs where Ann Thorsen teaches. She is one of the brightest lights for foreign language teaching in Virginia.'"
Thorsen said she is devoted to German. "I love working with the kids. ThatÕs why I am a teacher," she said. "I enjoy watching them over the number of years. It is nice to develop their ability and see them conversing in German."