Retooling for 2023 and Beyond

Mark W. Himmelein, OFLA President 2022-2023
Professor of German, University of Mount Union

With the holidays and an all too short break behind us, like many of you, I too, am already several weeks into a new semester and doing my best to cope with the new realities of teaching in the post-pandemic classroom.  Perhaps you, too, have been asking yourself the same types of questions about what makes for effective student learning, classroom management, creating meaningful assignments, and motivating students as we deal with the consequences of the virtual instruction that was thrust upon us. Oh, and let’s not forget the most significant question of all – How do I cope with all of these changes?  Of course, any competent language educator adjusts and modifies instructions routinely, but now it seems as if many of our old ‘tricks’ are just not as effective as they used to be. In talking with colleagues from across several disciplines at my university, virtually all agreed that the way my students learn today has changed dramatically from what was the case in the very recent past.  At the post-secondary level, we are seeing the first full wave of students whose high school education was largely online or at least very significantly altered by the pandemic’s restrictions.  I am confident that similar observations are just as true at the pre-collegiate level as well.  

A comment from one of my first year students drove this point home for me.  In talking with him about how he is dealing with the return to in-person instruction and some of the classroom frustrations my colleagues and I have experienced this year, the student stated that having had considerable experience with online instruction throughout high school, he prefers that learning format because it gives him greater flexibility to learn the material on his own time rather than conforming to regular classroom hours and in-class activities.  His response surprised me and caused me to think about the disconnect many of us are feeling between how we teach and how our students learn.  During the 2020-21 school year I looked longingly to the day when teaching would return to ‘normal’ – like it was before March 2020.  Fall semester 2021 was going to be ideal because most restrictions had been lifted, and those that remained were not terribly intrusive. Well, that academic year brought some changes, but the academic year 2022-23 has only magnified how effective teaching has changed.  

Getting students to participate and to engage with live subjects in real time is far more challenging than I had anticipated.  Indeed, there has been no simple return to normal, but rather a shift to what will likely be the new normal for some time to come.  So how can we as language educators best retool?  I would argue that while OFLA does not have all the answers, it remains an indispensable tool for Ohio language educators!  Let’s look at just a sampling of what we as members of OFLA have access to.

As an organization, OFLA offers many opportunities for professional development and for interaction with colleagues – something that is often the envy of our colleagues in other disciplines.  First off, if you have not done so already, renewing your membership in OFLA gives you continued access to all of our professional development activities. I encourage you to complete the membership renewal process online by visiting the following website: https://ofla-online.org/welcome/2nd-child-page/ 

This March, we will return to our in-person conference held jointly with the Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.  Please join us from March 9-11, 2023 at the downtown Hilton in Columbus where we will gather with colleagues not only from Ohio but also from across the midwest.  On-line registration closes on February 15, but onsite registration will be available.  Full details and a tentative schedule can be found on the conference webpage at https://www.csctfl.org/home.   This year’s joint conference promises to be especially beneficial with over 160 sessions, 12 workshops, 50 exhibitors, a keynote address, and several special events – all in person and comfortably housed in the expanded Hilton Hotel on High Street.  

Beyond the annual conference, OFLA offers many opportunities for professional development.  In addition to the numerous sessions sponsored by OFLA’s own professional development committee, OFLA collaborates closely with our ODE World Language Consultants, Ryan Wertz and Kathy Shelton, to make certain our membership stays abreast of the latest information on standards, advocacy, curricula, and so much more. Please make certain to sign up for the OFLA listserve at https://ofla-online.org/ofla-listserv/ and for the ODE world language updates at https://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Learning-in-Ohio/Foreign-Language for the latest opportunities.  

Lastly, please consider sharing your time and expertise with your OFLA colleagues.  OFLA relies on the participation of its membership to provide the best possible professional development opportunities.  With the technologies available to us, serving on the OFLA board, on a OFLA committee, or offering a workshop no longer means long drives on a Saturday morning to Columbus or traveling across the state to meet with fellow committee members. Most of our business is conducted virtually and at mutually convenient times whenever possible.  This flexibility enables more of us to participate in our governance and programming.  I hope that you will consider joining us as we plan for the future.  Remember, you do not need to wait to be asked – volunteers are always welcome and greatly appreciated.

Let me conclude by offering you best wishes for the remainder of the academic year.  I hope that I will see many of you in Columbus at our joint convention this March. If you are there, plan to stop by the hospitality desk and introduce yourself.  Additionally, OFLA will again have a basket raffle for our scholarship fund, so come and buy a few tickets to support this great cause. And, as part of the annual business meeting on March 11, the results of the 2023 election (to be held in late February) will be announced.

Alles Gute!  All the best!
Mark Himmelein