- Part-Time Teaching Award (2010)
Julia Lawson's long and distinguished career as an educator of German language and literature is ending where it began 42 years ago, at the Indiana University Bloomington campus. This year, she's retiring -- for the second time.
As a 23-year-old IU graduate student in 1968, Lawson says she drew inspiration from several teachers, including Frank Banta, now a professor emeritus of Germanic studies, "who was -- and now in his nineties still is -- tireless in his aim to find just the right way to make a complex point of language as interesting to the rest of us as it was to him."
"My first experience in front of the classroom came as a graduate teaching assistant here at Indiana," recalls Lawson. "It was a first-semester German class for which I felt quite well prepared. The methods class we were required to take in the department was rigorous, and we were carefully mentored. Still, no one had told me that it would be fun. I came away from that first class excited, and challenged to make sure that the second and the third and the fourth day would be as satisfying as the first."
Later that year, Lawson completed work on a master of arts degree. After continuing her studies in Germany and other activities, she returned to IU and earned a doctorate in German in 1980. She remained at Bloomington for another four years and taught German courses as a visiting assistant professor.
For the next two decades, Lawson balanced a teaching career in the Washington, D.C., area with family and other activities abroad. She taught at Northern Virginia Community College from 1985 until her retirement in 2002. She also taught in Georgetown University's continuing education program from 1994 to 2002 and was a program director at Languages Incorporated, a private school in Falls Church, Virginia, from 1991 to 1999.
In the summer of 2004, she answered the call again from IU. "Our department was very short on staff," explains Kari Ellen Gade, professor and chair of the Department of Germanic Studies. "I decided to contact Julia and ask her whether she would be willing to help us out. That is a decision I have never regretted."
"Not only was she a gift when she returned to Bloomington and agreed to teach for us, but she has been a marvelous gift to the students she has taught," adds William Rasch, professor of Germanic studies and chair of the department from 2003 to 2009.
Since the fall of 2004, Lawson has taught 15 courses in German language and literature and received among the highest teaching evaluations given by her students. To help maintain her language fluency, a couple of years ago, Lawson began coaching German diction for the Jacobs School of Music's Opera Theater.
"I am seeing the language from a new perspective, and am using new approaches, and that means that I can bring new ears to my regular German classes," Lawson says of her opera experience. "But at the same time, because my background is academic, I can help the singers not just pronounce, but for an even better effect also better appreciate the meaning of the words they sing.
"Witnessing the beautiful combination of words with music has challenged me to renew and refresh my own spoken German," she adds. "My teaching career has never been dull . . . We can never know exactly what it is that we do that might ignite that spark of enlightenment which all good teachers hope to create."
This spring, after Lawson again retires from teaching, she will continue to remain in touch with her former students as the editor of the department's alumni newsletter.