Legend of ‘Frau Vogt’ earns state recognition

Published: January 17, 2007 | 5318th good news item since 2003

In Room 1108 on the basement floor of Fayette County High School, Mechthild Vogt begins her first class as she has every day for the past 30 years.

“Guten Morgen,” Vogt says.

A muffled response trickles out from the student desks.

“Guten Morgen,” Vogt repeats louder, attempting to arouse her German I students out of their sleepiness of a Friday morning before a long weekend.

“Guten Morgen,” the students awaken and reply in unison.

“Super,” Vogt says, as she proceeds directly into the day’s lesson.

To most of these high school students, “Frau Vogt,” as she is widely known, is simply their foreign language teacher this year. To three decades of Fayette County High School alumni and teachers, however, Vogt is a legend — a teacher who has left an indelible mark on foreign language education in Fayette County.

And this year, she is being honored for that legacy.

Vogt, who plans to retire in May, was named 2007 Teacher of the Year by the Foreign Language Association of Georgia, or FLAG, a statewide organization comprising about 1,000 foreign language teachers in Georgia.

Though Vogt previously has been recognized — in 1987 and 1996 — as teacher of the year by the American Association of Teachers of German, the FLAG award singles her out among all foreign language teachers in the state.

“There are so many deserving foreign language teachers in Georgia that I did not believe that I would be chosen for this award,” Vogt said. “I was very surprised and almost incredulous when I learned I had been selected. The honor means a great deal to me.”

A native of Frankfurt, Vogt taught school in Germany for three years, before coming to the United States in 1972 to begin a master’s program in education at the University of Georgia.

UGA offered her a teaching assistantship, and Vogt proceeded to earn two back-to-back master’s degrees in two years, one in German and one in English.

“Then, I went back to Germany,” she said, “as I was a little afraid of losing my roots.”

But American culture — not to mention a man named Paul Grice — had taken hold of her heart, and she came back to Georgia.

The couple wed in 1976, and the following year, they received job offers to teach at Fayette County High. Grice, who taught horticulture, landscaping and forestry at Fayette High for 17 years, died in 2001.

America comes calling

For Vogt, the county’s oldest high school has been a second home, where she has nurtured an appreciation for German language and culture.

“She is an exemplary teacher,” said Dr. Charles Warr, Fayette High principal, who first came to the school as an auto mechanics teacher 30 years ago. “Her students have been extremely successful. She is very modest, but this recognition is well deserved.”

Over the years, Vogt has taught hundreds of students, though Spanish is presently the most popular choice.

“The interest in German goes in waves,” Vogt said. “For five years, I taught extended days, with six classes. This year, I am teaching three classes, and one connection class at Fayette Middle School.”

More than just talk

Her philosophy, Vogt said, is to incorporate aspects of the culture as much as possible into the curriculum.

“You don’t just learn a foreign language, but you learn about the customs and cultural values — a different way of life, one that’s also good, just different,” she said.

For example, last Thursday, Vogt’s German III class watched “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from Disney’s “Fantasia,” in conjunction with a lesson on the poem “Der Zauberlehrling,” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

In English, the poem is called “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and Vogt wanted students to experience the sights and sounds of the animated film as a preview to the German vocabulary from the poem.

Vogt might easily be considered a teacher’s teacher, in that she relies on ideas from colleagues to liven up her lesson plans, and she is always willing to share her own.

“Teachers get ideas from other teachers and modify those ideas to fit them,” she said. “I don’t think teachers can stand alone.”

James Sheppard, a 20-year German teacher at Screven County High School along the South Carolina border, said Vogt’s willingness to share ideas with other teachers is one of the reasons he nominated her for the FLAG award.

Bridging nations

Vogt also is being recognized for her establishment of a German exchange program, said Brandi Meeks, president of FLAG and Spanish teacher at Starr’s Mill High School.

Every other year since 1980, students studying German at Fayette County High have been eligible to participate in the program, which places them with a German family and in a German school for three weeks during the summer. In return, German students live with local families and attend Fayette County High for three weeks in the spring.

John Dreisbach, a 1984 graduate of Fayette County High, said he is one of dozens of students who were fortunate to participate in both the exchange program and the school’s German Club, which used to have gatherings at his family’s home.

“It’s been 25 years, but she was a wonderful teacher and one of the two teachers that I remember to this day,” Dreisbach said.

While her current students might not be aware of Vogt’s far-reaching influence, her reputation did play somewhat into Jonathan Harper’s decision to take German I this year.

Harper, or “Johann” in class, said he had heard from older students that Vogt was a good teacher.

“She is really nice and never gets upset,” the 10th-grader said, “and I like the stories she tells about when she used to live in Germany.”

Published in Heroes, Teachers
See also: www.ajc.com
Inside Good News Blog