A day in the life
Brigid Garvey, senior instructor
It's hard to learn only in German. But without that challenge, how will you progress?
Once upon a time in a classroom...
“I love teaching grammar—it’s my dirty secret!” confesses Brigid Garvey with a smile. “I try to show students how to discover patterns—that grammar can be like solving a puzzle. It’s very satisfying when I find ways so it makes sense to everyone.”
Art was Ms. Garvey’s first love, and she once planned on going to art school. But after finishing the Foundation Year Program (FYP) at King’s College, she decided to major in German at Dalhousie—and stayed to get her MA in German as well.
About to graduate, Ms. Garvey was asked to fill in for a professor on sick leave. On top of her teaching responsibilities, she also coordinated the first-year language classes: “Many 1000-level classes are taught by grad students, who need a bit of guidance. I was happy to jump into that role,” she says.
She continues that role today, alongside teaching and academic advising. She’s still a dedicated instructor, always looking for ways to improve both her language and literature classes. “I’ve found that activities that get students moving around and talking can be both highly motivating and rewarding.”
Ms. Garvey also uses humour to engage her students. “German uses a lot of compound nouns, and it’s fun to break them down. For example, vacuum is ‘Staubsauger,’ or ‘dust sucker’ and gloves, ‘Handschuh,’ or ‘shoes for hands’.”
One of the four classes Ms. Garvey currently teaches is about German fairy tales. “It’s interesting to see the names of German towns come up in Norse myths. But we also look at how the ideas have been transported from one culture and place to another.”
In that same class, she notes, “I’m seeing better writing than ever before. The students are really getting something out it.”
Ms. Garvey’s teaching methods may have lot to do with it. She builds “how to write” exercises into presenting the course material, with group work that allows students to articulate what they’re learning through reading, writing, and speaking activities.
“Sometimes in language classes, there’s a lot of switching back and forth from German to English,” Ms. Garvey says. “But many classes here are taught only in German—which is one of the strengths of the program.”
She also loves German poetry, but resists picking a favourite. “I can’t pick just one! Of course I like Goethe and Rilke… and Celan is hard, but fantastic.”