When Justine (Schramke) Otte stands in front of her classroom, she looks into the bright young eyes of students from around the world and listens to them switch from Korean to German to English in three sentences to three different classmates.
“As someone who lived in the States most of my life, I look at the children and am amazed by them,” said Otte, a fourth- and fifth-grade homeroom teacher at Frankfurt International School in Germany. “All of them are bilingual, and many speak three to four languages.”
Otte, who graduated in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and in 2003 with an MBA in marketing management, loves creating new experiments and projects for her students.
“Teaching at an international private school is different than teaching in the U.S.,” Otte said. “Our curriculum is inquiry-based, which means we have to find ways for students to discover
the information themselves rather than telling them. It means that the classroom is your masterpiece.”
Otte found her way to Germany through her now-husband, Moritz, a German native. She met him through her first love — field hockey — when they played in the Chicago Field Hockey
Club. Field hockey is also what led her to teaching, and, before that, to Missouri State — she was a member of the MSU field hockey team.
“When I graduated, I was gung-ho about going into the business world,” Otte said. “I worked for a small start-up in the sports world and then for a TV network in Chicago, doing corporate America in a high-rise building, climbing the corporate ladder. But I reached a point and realized it wasn’t for me; I was sacrificing some of my personal values for the job."
Otte realized she was happiest when she was playing and coaching field hockey, and that a lot of what she loved about coaching she could find through teaching.
“Coaching field hockey and teaching are similar; they both require creativity and helping people.”
She was accepted into the inaugural class of the Chicago Teaching Fellows, a competitive, alternative certification program for people changing careers. It places graduates into high-needs schools. Otte went through an intensive six-week boot camp, then was placed into an inner-city seventh-grade classroom.
“It was a sink-or-swim experience. It opened my eyes to a whole other part of the country. I didn’t realize what it was like to be poor in America until I was in a classroom pouring my heart out to 32 kids, trying to save their lives.”
Otte said that as odd as it may seem to have a business education and become a teacher, her experiences in the College of Business at Missouri State helped her succeed in the classroom.
“Through the process of learning, studying and understanding business, you realize that almost everything you do is a business,” Otte said. “Running a classroom is a managerial project — you plan it, you design it.”
Otte spent much of her time on campus immersed in the world of student athletes. This led her into an internship and, later, a graduate assistantship in the athletics development office. One of the main ways she stays connected to MSU today is through contact with former colleagues in athletics development.
“Justine has the qualities that I knew would make her successful when she left Missouri State, and she has proven that,” said Brent Dunn, vice president for University advancement and former director of athletics development.
Today, Otte spends less time on the hockey field and more time caring for her 2-year-old daughter, Juliet, and 7-month-old son, Jasper. She’s currently on maternity leave, but looks forward to returning to teach fourth grade.
“It’s the children that make you want to get up and go to work,” Otte said. “It’s those excited, bright-eyed little people that greet you every morning and have these huge expectations for you.”