Richard Emch, Ohio Foreign Language Association President
French Teacher, North Royalton High School
Planning a conference, particularly one the size and quality of the Ohio Foreign Language Association’s Annual Conference, is always quite an undertaking. As you can imagine, it has been especially challenging during a pandemic. As the current President of the Ohio Foreign Language Association, I’d like to thank you for your flexibility, patience, and understanding as we navigate the continued disruptions in holding our conference. I am going to take this opportunity to share how we made the recent decision to postpone the 60th Annual Ohio Foreign Language Association Conference.
First, we took a survey to see if the OFLA members were ready for an in-person conference or wanted to remain virtual. Then, we took a survey to see when the best time of the year would be for the majority of our members. We have traditionally had a spring conference, and that was the time the majority of the survey respondents said they wanted for 2022. Being a member of the OFLA Board since 2006, I am aware of the recurring suggestions to the board to hold the conference during other times in the year. The reasoning usually includes conflicts with spring break, conflicts with state testing, a feeling of a fall conference helping teachers get ready for the new school year, and a feeling of not being able to implement ideas from the conference during the last quarter of the school year with its plethora of activities. Moreover, as conference planners, we are always keeping our fingers crossed for good weather in March or April. Despite these disadvantages, the membership indicated in the survey that they wanted to move forward with an in-person, spring conference.
However, in early January, after the December 31 deadline to submit proposals for presenting a workshop or conference session, we discovered we had a much lower number of session and workshop proposals than usual. In speaking to other directors or presidents of professional organizations, this seems to be the norm for 2022. Most organizations are reporting about a 50% reduction in the number of proposal submissions.
The OFLA Board met in early January to discuss our options moving forward. Of greatest concern was the projection of half the number of typical conference attendees based on the reduced number of submitted session proposals; survey responses that teachers are unlikely to attend the conference if it falls during their spring break; the potential for inclement weather during the last week of March; and the current substitute teacher shortage which would prevent members from being able to attend. Factoring in all of these variables, the board decided the risk of a financial catastrophe was too great to hold the conference in March. It was a very heartbreaking decision and the board did not make it lightly.
Faced with a high likelihood of lower than average conference attendance, the board was concerned the overhead in putting on the conference would lead to the financial ruin of the organization. Many conference participants are unaware of the hidden costs of doing business in a hotel environment. For example, the going rate of coffee provided at the exhibit coffee breaks is $50 a gallon. Typically, the organization makes certain financial commitments to the hotel including guaranteeing a minimum number of guests sleeping rooms and guaranteeing a minimum amount spent on food and beverages, in addition to the cost of the meeting space and amenities such as WiFi.
So, in our best attempt to put on a traditional conference, we have postponed the conference until July 25-27, 2022. We understand that some people will have scheduling conflicts, but we hope the majority of our members will be able to reconnect with colleagues and friends in person, reinvigorate their world language teaching, and relax without having to prepare for substitutes and prepare for the start of the 2022-2023 school year. I look forward to seeing you all in July.