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He brought Germany to WHS

By ANDREA FURLONG

dale
Williamsburg High School German teacher Dale Asleson, is retiring at the end of the school year, after teaching 10 years at Williamsburg High School, and 33 total years in his career. Above, Asleson poses with the German flag and mementos given to him over the years as a teacher.

In Dale Asleson’s German class, you do not just speak German. You sing it, dance to it and perform it. In his class, you are as much a musician and actor as much as you are a student studying a foreign language.

Senior Shelbie Day fondly remembers the singing study guides in Asleson’s classes.

“When we study for a quiz, he’ll go and put any German music on. As we study, he’ll either make us dance to it or he’ll sing questions to it and we’ll have to sing the answers back. We kind of have to sing it,” Day laughed.

Ever since he came to Williamsburg 10 years ago, Asleson has brought humor, rhythm, theatre and song into the German program. In his classes, students learn German cheerleading cheers and act out German skits that he helps to personalize for his students.

“We had two exchange students in a class and for one of them, we pretended we were at the Berlin ` and she played a piece on the piano in the band room. Then we did the skit. Then we had a dance after that. At the end, we had another student play at the Philharmonic,” Asleson said.

The plays’ dialogues are strictly in German and come from the book, but the costumes are Asleson’s personal touch.

“We always dress up for our roles,” Day said.

Sometimes Asleson’s students have also performed their skits in German for elementary students, like the children’s fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel.”

“We actually made a gingerbread house out of a refrigerator one time. We used graham crackers and put them all over the outside,” Asleson recalled.

Singing is not limited to the classroom, either. It spills out into the hallways, sometimes on purpose and sometimes not.

“I haven’t seen him teach, but I’ve heard him teach,” said librarian Veronica Heitman, who shares the library hallway with a few classrooms, include Asleson’s.

“He gets very excited and very into his teaching and likes to sing.”

Williamsburg High School will not be quite the same without Asleson. After he and the German program leave Williamsburg High School at the end of the year, there will be no one to lead students in singing Christmas carols in German throughout the hallways each winter. There will be no more musical interludes breaking the dull routine of the day-to-day announcements read over the school intercom.

“If he ever has an announcement for us German students, he usually sings it in German,” Day said.

And there will be no more homemade cheesecakes and German desserts for students and staff to celebrate the completion of a big test or just for the heck of it.

“Everyone loves his cheesecake,” Heitman said.

The German teacher loves baking for others so much he’ll often wake up anywhere from 4 to 6 a.m. in the morning to have a dessert ready in time for school that day.

“Usually I get up in the morning to make desserts. Sometimes I’ll make them in the evening. . .just whenever I feel like it. I didn’t feel like grading any tests last night, so I made dessert,” he laughed.

But while it seems hard to remember what WHS was like before Asleson’s cheesecakes and singsong announcements, the majority of his 33 years of teaching began prior to Williamsburg.

BEFORE WHS

Asleson, 57, was born in Waukon, but moved throughout his childhood to later graduate from River Valley High School in Spring Green, Wis., in 1970. He was a late bloomer when it came to learning a foreign language. Until his sophomore year of college, he had no exposure to German. Asleson attributes his late start in part to his high school’s underdeveloped German program.

“I knew that I wanted to learn it and I didn’t want to get turned off to the language, so I waited,” he said.

Asleson was glad he waited because his first two instructors at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (UW-Whitewater) helped instill a lifelong passion for the language.

“They were native Germans and they had wonderful senses of humor,” he recalled.

At UW-Whitewater, Asleson earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics, German and English.

“I was going to major in biology, but it was way too boring,” said the theatrical Asleson.

In 1977, he began his first teaching job at South Winneshiek High School, Calmar, a town of about 1,000 people in northwest Iowa. Over his 16 years there, Asleson taught math and German. He also spent a year abroad teaching in Germany from 1989 to 1990, as a member of the Fullbright Program.

“That was a very exciting time when the Berlin Wall fell. I got to actually take a sledge hammer and knock some of the wall down,” Asleson said, adding that he still has the piece at home.

In 1993, he left Calmar to teach German at Spencer High School in Spencer. He stayed until 2000, when he decided the six-hour drive home was too long and he wanted to be closer to a university. So, in 2000, he successfully landed a job as the German teacher at Williamsburg High School, which was only a three-hour drive away from what he considers his hometown in Spring Green, Wis.

REACHING EVERY STUDENT

By the time Asleson came to Williamsburg, he had a master’s degree in German from Portland State University, Ore., and a German accent from dozens of times spent abroad. The former Meistersinger and self-taught piano player had been incorporating music into his classes for years and he found his teaching philosophy of using whatever means necessary to appeal to students worked just as well at WHS as it had at previous schools.

 “I strive to reach every student through different methods, whether it be through song, through dance, through skits or going to nursing homes to sing Christmas carols or going uptown to sing for some of the businesses,” he said.

Senior Ryan Schumacher, who plays trumpet in band, but doesn’t identify himself as a singer or dancer, said all though he didn’t always feel in his prime singing or dancing, Asleson’s nontraditional approaches helped him retain what he learned in class.

“It’s kind of a strange way to learn and that’s usually the best way to learn something because it’s out of the ordinary. It’s like, ‘Yeah, I remember that,” Schumacher said.

Although music is a passion of Asleson’s, he said he tries to find songs the students like and encourages them to express themselves in whatever way feels comfortable.

“I don’t really use polkas or waltzes because the students don’t seem to like those. Sometimes I’ll add a dance to a skit with popular (German music). They really like that,” he said.

Added Asleson, “We do the chicken dance, sometimes, and they love it. It’s called the ‘Ententanz,’ the ‘duck dance,’ over there.”

Asleson hopes with through dancing to introduce German culture to the classroom in a fun way. The skits have also been fun, but allowed students a chance to develop their grasp of the language. After performing the skit, Asleson has students watch the videotape in class to identify what they need to improve on, much like athletes watching the game on tape. 

“I’m wanting them to see if they’re using a lot of expression, as good of a pronunciation as they can and use the correct actions that go along with the particular skit,” he said.

Asleson added, “I think it’s important for students to act out a situation. It prepares them for a real life situation when they’re in Europe.”

 

UPDATED May 18, 2010 12:46 PM

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