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A top teacher in any language
German teacher Karen Fowdy works with students Elizabeth Eiseman, left, Matt Peterson and Tim Sanft in Advanced German Friday at Monroe High School. Fowdy was named World Language Teacher of the Year by the Wisconsin Association for Language Teachers.
MONROE - When it comes to teaching a foreign language, there's none more passionate than Karen Fowdy.

That passion and dedication has earned Fowdy numerous awards and accolades over the years. And now, she has earned another top honor: Fowdy recently was named the World Language Teacher of the Year by the Wisconsin Association for Language Teachers.

Fowdy, who's been teaching German in Monroe schools since 1987, learned she was nominated last summer. As the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, Fowdy represented the state in the regional competition, which includes 19 states. The winner of that level advances to the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages' National Teacher of the Year Award.

Fowdy said her passion for teaching German grew from her family's roots. A native of Colorado, Fowdy had a grandfather from Switzerland and great-grandparents who were Bavarian and Swiss immigrants.

"I've always been interested in my heritage. I always wanted to grow up to be Heidi," she laughed.

Fowdy fulfilled her dream to study in Germany by spending her junior year of college in Vienna, Austria. After graduation, she earned a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Berlin for two years. She spent an additional year there before returning to America, where she earned a master's degree in German Literature and her teaching certification.

"I had one foot in Germany and one in the United States," she said. Ultimately, she knew she wanted to return to America. "After three years, I realized I'm truly an American."

But she always remembers how her experiences abroad enriched her life.

"As I've been teaching, I've seen the opportunities and the doors that traveling to other countries has opened for students," she said. "As the world gets smaller, it only becomes more and more important.

Being a German teacher has allowed Fowdy to continue to travel. She leads the German exchange for Monroe High School students every other year. She's spent a month in Leipzig and this summer will be leading a study group of teachers and professors to develop materials on diverse populations in Germany.

"It's given me the best of both worlds," she said of being a foreign language teacher.

Being the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year required a tremendous amount of homework on the teacher's part: Fowdy spent the last half of 2008 completing a portfolio of work to be eligible for the national competition.

It took a lot to put it together, she said. "It was a lot of work, a lot of time."

Included in it are letters of recommendation, samples of work from her students, video of Fowdy teaching and an array of other documents highlighting her achievements.

She said she felt a responsibility to do her best as she represented all the other foreign language teachers in Wisconsin.

"There's lot of other incredible teachers in this state," she said. "Wisconsin is really a pioneering state (in world language education.) I felt a real responsibility to do the best I can do."

Fowdy also feels a responsibility as an educator to stay abreast of research into how students learn a foreign language. She has given numerous presentations to colleagues, developed curriculums, served as a consultant and has been active in numerous task forces and groups for foreign language teachers.

That drive to continually improve - not just her subject, but also education in general - is what makes Fowdy an outstanding teacher, MHS Principal Mark Burandt said.

"There's no such thing as good enough for her," he said. "She's never satisfied with the status quo.

"And she cares so deeply about the kids," he said.

Fowdy found out earlier this week she just missed being named the regional winner. It was bittersweet - while she's a little disappointed, Fowdy said, she's satisfied she gave it her best.

She also is mindful of what really matters.

Her advanced German class, for example, had agreed to be filmed for one of the projects for her portfolio, so they were aware of the competition. Fowdy said she was very pleased with how well they did on camera.

"They're great anyway," she said. "They did their very best. Whoever saw that had to be impressed with students at Monroe High School."

Fowdy told the class earlier this week she was not selected.

"They were disappointed, but so supportive," she said.

"That's been worth all the work."