Fauquier High School French teacher Nicole Goepper
No matter how long it’s been since you were in school, it’s likely that you have a memorable teacher who made a considerable impact on your life. Did someone just come to mind? That’s the impact a great teacher can have on a student. This might be someone you still catch up with on a regular basis, or maybe they’re still one of your cheerleaders from afar. Either way, it’s no secret that teachers have a huge impact on communities, and the future of those communities.
Fauquier High School is blessed to have one of “those” educators. Madame Nicole Goepper has been making an impact on students in Fauquier County since 1998. Goepper has taught at Fauquier High, Warrenton Middle, Taylor Middle, and Marshall Middle. She’s currently Head of the World Language Department at Fauquier High, the same school she graduated from years ago.
Teaching wasn’t always at the forefront of her mind, though. First and foremost, it was always French. “I enjoyed international politics and was interested in the State Department side of things,” Goepper said. “My original goal was to be a diplomat for a French speaking country in Africa.”
Goepper’s journey, and love of all things French, started at Fauquier High School. “I loved my French teacher at Fauquier,” Goepper said. “Her name is Chris Dorsey, and she still teaches French at Liberty High School today. Her class is where I found my love of French and why I decided to major in French in college.”
After Fauquier, Goepper went on to attend James Madison University to major in International Affairs and French. During her time at JMU, she studied abroad in Martinique. “That’s where I really learned most of my French,” Goepper said. “I’ve always said to my kids, we can do all of these activities and you’ll feel comfortable speaking French, but won’t really be able to use it until you actually go to France and immerse yourself in the language.”
Goepper’s first job was teaching middle school in Montgomery County, MD. Eventually, she accepted a position at Fauquier High School, but stayed home for a few years after having her first child. She returned to teaching part-time at Warrenton, Taylor, and Marshall Middle Schools. Her focus at that time was building up the French program at Warrenton Middle School.
“When I came back to teaching, I ended up taking middle schoolers to Quebec over spring break,” Goepper said. “We started seeing stuff about all of the winter activities like snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and dog sledding. I looked into trying to convince our superintendent that it was a wise decision to take 60 middle schoolers to Quebec in January.”
The trip was a hit. There were between 60 and 70 kids on two charter buses, with plenty of parents in tow. “Kids starting signing up for French just to go on this trip,” Goepper said. “It’s become a tradition now. Jennifer Piercy took over the position at the school and has continued to carry on the tradition that is unique to Warrenton Middle School.”
These days, you can find Goepper in Room 601 at Fauquier High, but the Fauquier HIgh Schol community might know her better as the woman always dancing in the courtyard. “I want the kids to have fun in French class because I want them to be passionate about French and be excited to come to class and to learn,” Goepper said. “Some of the dances we do are from French pop culture, but they’re all for educational purposes.”
The dancing doesn’t come easy to everyone, though. “Some kids come in and are kind of apprehensive about getting out there and doing crazy dances in the middle of the courtyard,” Goepper said. “The younger ones are usually the ones that have the hardest time, but I love it when I hear things like ‘When we first started dancing, I felt so awkward and now it’s my favorite thing to do and my favorite part of the day.’”
The recurring theme, though, is that Madame Goepper most enjoys taking the kids on trips to immerse them in the culture and language. Her husband, Chris Goepper, has become an enthusiastic sidekick and popular chaperone who accompanies her on most of her trips. “I came to high school and knew I wanted to take the kids to France,” Goepper said. “A few years in I took one class on a trip to Paris and to Southern France. It was a touristy trip. This coming spring, I’m taking a group of kids to Toulouse, which is where our sister school is. The kids will stay with exchange families for 5 days.”
While trips across the pond are extremely educational and exciting for everyone involved, Goepper is also making waves right here at Fauquier. She recently launched a new course that’s currently running as a pilot class — Advanced Literature and Conversation. The course originally came out of a need. “With block scheduling, the last French class the kids could take was AP French the spring semester of their sophomore year. This left a gap of two years before they were able to take French again in college, a real disadvantage for kids who really love French.”
Advanced Literature and Conversation was the solution. “ There’s a curriculum, but it’s based on increasing speaking confidence, being able to read more complex literature and being able to analyze it,” Goepper said. “The curriculum is flexible. Last year, it came out the kids were really into Disney movies, so we did a whole unit on all of the chateaus in France. We read ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in French, and we watched the movie and had discussions about it.”
Other topics the class has centered around were things like the World Cup when there were a group of soccer players in the class, and another semester was centered around Les Miserables. “It really is a passion-oriented class,” Goepper said. “We’re just also hitting pillars of conversation, having discussions, covering interpersonal speaking, and including reading and writing.”
Goepper’s ultimate goal? “I want to get kids to love French here at Fauquier and hope that one day they’ll do a study abroad program,” Goepper said. “That makes me feel like I have achieved my goals for them.” Thank you for all you do, Madame Goepper!