Teacher connects Germany’s language to its culture to engage teens

MERIDIAN — When Cassie Shelton was a teenager she dreamed of handsome Parisian men, the Eiffel Tower and eating croissants in Paris.

So naturally, she enrolled in French class her freshmen year. Before “un, deux, trois” could roll off her lips, the class was canceled and she was forced to take German.

“It changed my life,” Shelton said.

Today, Shelton is an award-winning German teacher with more than 300 students enrolled in the German language program at Mountain View High, a record by Idaho standards.

And for her extraordinary love of the language and culture and her ability to engage students,  Shelton was recently selected the Idaho Foreign Language Teacher of the Year by the Idaho Association of Teachers of Language and Culture.Cassie Shelton

“Cassie is innovated and puts a lot of heart and soul into her work,” said Shaylon Black, a Spanish teacher at Mountain View. “She is out encouraging the German language often.”

Shelton got hooked on German in high school, became a German American foreign exchange student and continued to specialize in the language in college, leading to a 19-year teaching career.

Cassie
Cassie Shelton’s favorite teacher from her high school days is Bob Koepplin, who teaches German at Skyline High School in Idaho Falls.

She’s an avid traveler, in part because she can speak a foreign language, and has been to 33 countries with plans to visit 50 with her husband. Shelton witnessed communism first hand on her first trip to Germany and she saw the Berlin Wall four months before it came down in 1989.

“Seeing the wall and the people opened my eyes up to things I didn’t understand,” Shelton said. “It was a critical piece of history.”

Shelton’s love of the German culture is rooted from her German and Austrian ancestors. Shelton has been to Germany 14 times and brings her experiences into the classroom by playing German music, teaching German games and celebrates 16 culture days — to motivate her students.

“When you learn about peoples language and cultures it helps you understand why they do things,” Shelton said. “Being in a country first-hand changes your perspective on life.”

Students enrolled in Shelton’s German class sign an oath the first day, agreeing to “feel or appear foolish and live with vagueness” as they learn another language.

“It’s about building student confidence,” Shelton said. “Grammar is great, but you have to have a connection to the culture.”

Shelton started the German American Partnership Program (GAPP) at Mountain View because of the experience she had in high school. Every other year she takes a group of students to Germany where they visit castles, cathedrals, monasteries and museums. The students stay with German host families and they develop friendships.

Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 1.32.30 PM
Students from Cassie Shelton’s German class took a trip to Germany.

“I love seeing my students use the language we learn in class in real life situations in Germany,” Shelton said.  “What I enjoy most about teaching German is seeing the change that comes over my students as they gain a global perspective and newfound appreciation for a culture that is not their own.”