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By SHEL SEGAL
REPORTER’S NOTE: I met Judy Graunke in 1985 when I was a 13-year-old freshman. I had heard rumors of a teacher who takes you on field trips to Europe and makes you fluent in a foreign language in four years. Well, I luckily was able to travel with the class twice – in 1987 and in 1989 – and could very well hold my own in the German language by graduation.
Now, 25 years later, while I have studied additionally on my own from time to time I am still rather fluent (remarkable for someone who has never lived in Europe) and I owe that foundation and much of my love of travel and interest in the world to Judy Graunke. She is an incredible teacher who makes a point to be able to touch students’ lives. And I don’t know where I’d be if she didn’t touch mine.
She may have been teaching German for nearly 42 years at Temple City High School, but Judy Graunke is not ready to say “Auf Wiedersehen” to the classroom.
Graunke is quite revered by her students and often has the pleasure of saying “Guten Tag” to one or two who has stopped by for a visit from college or the working world.
But what makes her so unique is that every other year or so since 1985 she accompanies a group of students on a language trip to Germany and Austria.
Graunke said her original intention was to be nowhere near a classroom.
“I didn’t want to teach,” she said. “I wanted to go to law school, but my mother said I had to get a teaching credential so I would have something to fall back on. I thought that was a fair deal. I just didn’t count on falling in love with teaching. I thought someday I’d go to law school. And 42 years later I’m still here.”
She added becoming a good teacher takes several years and does not happen overnight.
“I could have retired years ago, but I just enjoy it,” Graunke said. “And I actually think I’m a far better teacher now than I ever was then. It takes a lot of time to figure things out. It’s a long process. I feel I’m making an impact, which I always said I wanted to do. I didn’t want to make money in the world. I wanted to change some lives.”
As for the students going to Germany, Graunke said students learn best by doing.
“I’ve always felt you have to use the language,” she said. “You can’t do something in the classroom. You learn by doing. That’s always been my philosophy. Nobody speaks German around here, so they got to be over there.”
She added the trips present a challenge for her, but that it’s worth it for the students.
“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “It does get easier. I’ve gotten pretty good at it by now. The only thing that really, really gets to me is the tremendous liability because of the crazy world we live in.”
In addition, Graunke said she still has no plans to pack it up.
“As long as I do have that zip and I still enjoy it,” she said. “I don’t want them to carry me out of here. I don’t want to die on the job. But I don’t know.”
(Shel Segal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed via Twitter @segallanded.)