Frau Jennifer Melgar Returns to Westwood

Frau Jennifer Melgar does scent training with her dog Bucky in order for him to pass his ORT (Odor Recognition Test). One of Frau Melgar’s hobbies is to train her dogs to sniff out certain scents. “So every weekend, every single Saturday I’m at the training center, working with [my dog’s] trainer and the other dogs just kind of practicing [and sniffing for scents].” (Courtesy of Frau Melgar)

Driving her orange Houston Astros-inspired car to school every morning, baseball and dog enthusiast Frau Jennifer Melgar is excited to be back in the German classroom after taking a year-long break from teaching.

“I would say one of the reasons that I came back to teaching German was because I feel like it’s a part of my identity,” Frau Melgar said. “It’s a part of who I am in teaching German in making sure that we do well at competitions, that the students have a good time with the German club, and that they learn different perspectives. I think that’s one of the great things about teaching languages is that it’s not just about learning the language and it’s not just about culture, it’s about learning perspective as well.”

Last school year, Frau Melgar worked at a higher position in Austin Independent School District (AISD) as a language specialist, but eventually, she realized that her heart was still set on being a German teacher at Westwood. While working at AISD last year, she had extra time for things that she normally wouldn’t have been able to do. During her hiatus, she developed fresh plans and ideas which offered her a new perspective on her teaching.

“I had more time to be able to go and read some of the books that I had been meaning to read about language acquisition,” Frau Melgar said. “There are things that I will implement this year because of just the things that I have learned. I was able to go and meet new people who were also [working] in the area of language acquisition, which allowed me to learn more from them as well.”

While Frau Melgar is not a native German speaker, she had the opportunity to take it when she was a 16-year-old junior in high school. A few years later during college, she was able to study abroad in Germany. In middle school and early high school, she took Spanish and French, but those languages did not capture her interest as much as German did.

“I’ve always been interested in German, I’m not even sure where that passion came from,” Frau Melgar said. “I had some really awesome German teachers and an awesome German professor in college. That really cultivated a love for the language and also for teaching in hindsight, because at first, [teaching] wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, but it was, it just kind of came to be.”

Frau Melgar wants every student to have the option to take German, especially since other schools across the state are shutting down their German programs due to a lack of teachers.

“I should say that I am a product of public education when it comes to languages. I am not [someone] who went through a bilingual education program. I didn’t go through a dual language education program,” Frau Melgar said. “I feel very strongly that we [should] allow for those choices of languages for our students. We want [students] to be in a language that they’re happy with.”

Being the only German teacher at Westwood can prove to be a difficult job. In addition to teaching all five levels of German herself, she has many tasks to juggle such as organizing multiple lesson plans, mitigating issues with schedules to allow every German student a class, and managing mixed-level classes with IB and AP students. One way Frau Melgar manages the stresses of school is partaking in her hobbies that keep her grounded and help her with work-life balance.

“The biggest thing is that I spent a lot of time with my dogs, and my husband of course. But a lot of times one of my dogs trains for nosework or scentwork. And so we do trials and [my dog] sniffs scents and he learns similar to what a canine drug-sniffing dog or bomb-sniffing dog would do,” Frau Melgar said. “That’s kind of my peace, to take my mind away from school.”

Frau Melgar loves seeing students grow and their language skills develop and feels very lucky to be back in the classroom teaching German.