No talk of elitism

12 January 2015

Mareike Hachemer has been nominated for the Global Teacher Prize, an annual one million dollar award from the Varkey Foundation to be given to a super-special teacher. The Gutenberg alumna has already made it into the top 50 and is about to enter the final round. Here the 31-year-old discusses her time at the university, the teaching profession, and her students.

She is happy to come back to her alma mater to talk about her nomination for the Global Teacher Prize but she plans to look at much more than that. "Mainz University and the people here gave me so much," says Gutenberg alumna Mareike Hachemer. "When I first came here, it was a whole new world for me."

On the table in front of her lies a perfectly drawn mind map that would easily fit on a chalkboard. She is a teacher through and through. At the very top stands "School, Friends, Family." That was her time before university. Beneath it is "JGU" in a large circle with many notes on the sides and numerous arrows pointing outwards. "This is what I want to talk about."

Singing ballads

Hachemer began to study at Mainz in 2002. In 2014, her life partner nominated her for the one million dollar Global Teacher Prize, which is to be awarded for the first time this year by the Varkey GEMS Foundation to the world's very best teacher. Both are important events in Hachemer's life. However, she makes it clear that the first was the most important, not to mention all that happened in between the two dates.

Up to 2008, Hachemer studied to become a teacher of German and English at German Secondary Schools. "At university, I was most impressed by the courses by the end of which we had actually developed a product." She recalls the ballad seminar with PD Dr. Sigrid Rieuwerts of the Department of English and Linguistics. The focus was not merely on academic analysis but also on actually singing old ballads, sometimes around a camp fire.

The 31-year-old participated in a lot of extracurricular activities. She got involved in the Kids University at JGU and sang with the Authentic Voices, the choir of the Department of English and Linguistics. Until today she has been a devoted member of the Musical Inc. university group – performing, directing, sitting on its board. The group stages large-scale musical productions year in and year out. Together with colleagues she also coordinates the cultural course program of Campus Mainz e.V.

Stop being a workaholic?

Hachemer also spent time abroad. She worked as a foreign language assistant at the Samuel Whitbread Academy in the UK and after graduation from Mainz University, Rieuwerts helped her find a position in New Zealand through the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). This resulted in her teaching German as a Foreign Language at the University of Dunedin. "There I also had the opportunity to direct and stage a play." Working with 40 actors, she put on the modern German fairy tale "Peter and Anneli's Journey to the Moon." Here she also met her life partner, who has recently nominated her for the Global Teacher Prize.

The list of her activities is as long as her arm. Hachemer is a co-founder of "interjuli," a magazine focusing on international research into children's and youth literature, she has worked as a journalist for newspapers and publishers, and also attended advanced training programs in the performing arts, a subject that plays an important role in her teaching. "Seems I'm a real workaholic," she says assessing it all and then adds with a smile: "Maybe I should try to tone it down a bit."

In 2012, Hachemer started teaching German and English at the vocational schools in Groß-Gerau. She recently discovered the Global Teacher Prize instituted by the Varkey GEMS Foundation, found the idea interesting, and nominated four of her colleagues.

5,000 nominations from 127 countries

The foundation is endowed by the businessman Sunny Varkey, who made his name with his educational company Global Education Management Systems (GEMS). This wide-ranging business manages schools and pre-schools around the world. Philanthropist Sunny Varkey uses the Varkey GEMS Foundation as a charity to support various educational projects.

The newly created international prize is intended to improve the image of the teaching profession. Some 5,000 nominations from 127 countries were submitted. Hachemer has just made it into the top 50. "The top 10 will be named in mid-February," she explains. They will then convene at the Global Skills and Education Forum, an international teaching conference in Dubai, the adopted home of Varkey who was born in India.

With the nomination, the Varkey GEMS Foundation has named Hachemer as one of the teaching elite of the world. "What does that actually mean – teaching elite?," the Gutenberg alumna asks herself during the interview at JGU. "It is a concept that I would never use." She finds it more important that the general public is made aware of the achievements of the so often denigrated teaching profession. "What we need to do at the moment is present the profession and the teaching staff in a more positive light." One of the ways she helps to do this is by publishing short related anecdotes online.

Good teaching

Of course, there is the question that just begs to be asked: What exactly is it that makes Hachemer such a good teacher and possibly the world's best? She has already made it clear that she does not see herself this way. "After all, we may all make mistakes and so many of us are truly dedicated." What does the foundation see in her? The 31-year-old hesitantly tries to find an answer. Her international outlook might be one of the factors. "I'm always keen on sharing views and information with many colleagues from other countries."

It is when she starts to talk about teaching itself that all uncertainty vanishes. Her nomination is forgotten as she begins to discuss her students. "Teaching should take a holistic approach; students need to be able to see relevance in it. So you have to find a way of connecting them with whatever is important at their time of life. If possible, projects should be used to motivate students."

In order to make the transition from school to university easier for her students, Hachemer and a colleague last year started a training program on academic research and writing for their students at the vocational schools in Groß-Gerau. Compulsory reading included Kurt Vonnegut's satirical novel "Slaughterhouse-Five."

From school to University

As the result of a school staff training on self-organized learning, Hachemer developed a concept that encourages students to approach literature on their own and in groups, and then to discuss and analyze it and present their results all together. Finally, the students are to hand in a literary essay on their reading.

"My students first said that this would be much too hard and way too much work. But in the end, they all wrote way more than the required minimum number of pages. And what they presented was of such a high quality that it could easily have been part of an undergraduate course at university."

Hachemer also tells that after her nomination for the Global Teacher Prize became public, former students of her classes, now university students themselves, contacted her to thank her again for the excellent preparation in the fields of English and academic research and writing and to wish her all the best for being nominated in the top 10 and being invited to the Global Skills and Education Forum in Dubai. Now we have to wait for the next decision. Of course, we will all keep our fingers crossed!