The objective of our initiative ‘Where are they now?’ is to create a forum or a bridge for German alumni to share their career stories with current students, and for students to ask alumni questions about careers. We kicked off the project in June 2017, by emailing German alumni, asking them if they would be willing to share their career stories with current students of German studies. Response was very positive, with over 15 alumni from a wide variety of careers, inside and outside of academia, indicating their interest in participating.
This project was led by Joan Andersen, as part of her volunteer position as Alumni Ambassador and Executive in Residence. Joan is a German alumna of the University of Toronto, and moved into a career outside of German studies after graduating with a Master’s Degree. Joan conducted a telephone or email interview with each participant with the objective or drafting a 5-8 minute long article profiling his/her career.
We will publish one or two ‘Career Profile’ articles every month which we hope our readers will find informative and maybe even inspirational. We welcome your feedback on this initiative by sending Joan an email at email@example.com
Our fourth article profiles the career of Alf Scharlach.
Welcome to this edition of ‘Where are they now’? In this article, we profile Alf Scharlach – UofT 1995. I hope you find this article interesting and maybe even inspirational.
Alf graduated from Trinity College, University of Toronto, in 1995 with a double major in German and Urban Studies. After graduating, he went to Germany for a year and taught English. He then returned to Canada and enrolled in Teachers’ College (OISE) with the goal of teaching German in a secondary school. He graduated in 1996-1997 and ended up becoming qualified to teach Social Sciences because there were no German teacher training positions available. He then received a one-year contract with the Toronto District School Board to teach English and English as a second language. He went to night school to upgrade his BA to the honours’ level. He then did a one-year Masters of Arts degree, majoring in German, at the University of Toronto. He was also a Teaching Assistant for that year and taught German 100 to students many of whom were also studying music because much of it was composed in German. His first contract teaching position with the TDSB was teaching at Group Homes and he completed his Honors Specialist in German in September 2000. He has been teaching as a full-time teacher at Leaside High School in Toronto since 2002. The school boasts a robust Language Department, and Alf was able to teach German for a few years. However, the course died due to lack of enrollment and competing language courses, and he is now teaching Math and Geography. He decided to get his credentials in teaching Math as this is a compulsory course, and not subject to declining enrollment or eventual cancellation.
We caught up with Alf at home on summer break from teaching.
1. What made you decide to pursue German studies at the U of T?
My parents came to Canada in 1967 from Germany. We spoke German at home so my comfort and familiarity with the language were very high. I attended German school and obtained my High School credits. At the end of my first year at the university, I had to declare a major so it became German. I really liked the language but re-learning the grammar was quite a task.
2. Describe your current position and job responsibilities. What career path lead you to your current job?
I am a High School teacher. I had thought about being a translator because there were so many multinational companies in Canada and Toronto doing business in German but I ended up teaching.
3. How did you come to select this position as your career?
I had thought about becoming an Engineer like my father but when I talked to a High School teacher about teaching careers because I was considering this career, I decided that this was what I wanted to do.
4. What does a typical day at work for you look like?
I teach 3 75-minute classroom periods from Monday to Friday. I generally teach classes of 25-30 students. I also coach the rugby and the ski teams and I’ve taken rugby teams oversees to the UK and Bermuda.
5. What do you like most about your job?
I love teaching students who are ‘motivated’ or want to learn. I also love coaching rugby. I love teaching mathematics. I am pragmatic in my approach and I think it is important and relevant because it trains students’ brains to not be reliant on technology.
6. What are some of the challenges that you face on a day-to-day basis?
My main challenges are working with the School Board, administrators and colleagues. There is lots of bureaucracy to deal with.
7. What skills do you possess that make you a good fit for your current job?
I have good organizational skills and can work well with people at all levels and in all roles.
8. How have your German studies equipped you with the skills you need to do your job?
I suppose it has helped in an indirect way because I would never have been able to get into Teachers’ College without my German Honours’ specialist designation. I must say though that teaching German was sometimes frustrating because it was so hard for my students to grasp and learn.
It is a sad reality that German is being taught in fewer schools than ever before and that German Saturday school classes are being consolidated across many regions due to low enrolment.
9. What are your ultimate career goals?
I love being a teacher. My family is my most important focus. I can retire in 10 years. My goal is to do the best job I can in both teaching and coaching. I am very proud of the contribution that I am making in my sports coaching.
10. What do you do in your spare time?
I have a rich family life. I do volunteer work before and after school hours, and I coach my daughters’ soccer team. We go on trips throughout Canada and Europe. I also play guitar.
11. What advice do you have for German students who are pursuing their studies with the goal of securing meaningful employment post-graduation?
Part of your studies should involve going to live and study in Germany to learn the language and culture first hand. Germany is a very impressive country in terms of government policy and initiatives in areas such as alternate energy sources such as wind, getting off of the nuclear grid and creating breakthroughs in health sciences and leading a ‘healthy’ life. If you are interested in European economics, studying German is a great asset because Germany is an economic powerhouse in Europe and German is an international business language.
Link up with German companies and spend time with groups or people who speak German. They will enable you to maintain your German proficiency and may act as your network for job hunting.
12. For those readers who want to learn more, how can they contact you?
By email at: firstname.lastname@example.org