WAFLT Teacher of the Year

WAFLT Hall of Fame

All the amazing teachers listed here have been recognized as the Wisconsin World Language Teacher of the Year. This recognition is intended to elevate the status of our profession by creating opportunities for recognizing the most accomplished members of our profession in the state.


2023 Ellen Russell, French Educator

Lake Mills High School

Personal Statement:
Value of Language Learning & Cultural Competencies

When students walk into my world language classroom, I want them to be excited to learn about their world. It is for this reason my view of language learning centers on three core beliefs:

  1. Students can and should learn a world language no matter their life path;  language learning is for everyone.
  2. Students should know about the world they are a part of.
  3. Students should see themselves represented throughout the world language curriculum.

Through technology and diverse communities, our world is more connected than ever. Whether someone is working in agriculture, health care, food service, education, or finance, students will have the opportunity to interact with someone who comes from a background different than theirs. In my French 4/5 class, teaching Pérspolis brought this into focus for them. They were able to grow their global competence by studying materials in both English and French, gaining a new perspective on Iran through readings, videos, discussions, social media posts and guest speakers of Iranian heritage.  They saw how their four, five and  six years of language study helped them get to this point of understanding, allowing me to talk about time needed to grow proficiency as well.

In my world language classroom, I talk with the students about their prior knowledge of the language, the culture and where it is spoken in the world, before bringing it back to Wisconsin to contextualize how it applies to their daily life. I want them to see how knowing more than one language connects people. Teaching Pérsepolis allowed me to use French as a catalyst to show them the United States through a new lens and how the events that lead to the Iranian Revolution affected their family’s life in Wisconsin.

While I am contextualizing the language and culture for them, it is also the time that I start to see what grabs them so that I can incorporate those materials into the units they will study for the year. I am intentional in recognizing what each student brings to my classroom and I focus on capitalizing on their strengths and interests to keep them engaged in the learning process long-term. Pérsepolis was chosen for their love of history but also their desire for increased cultural competence. The story, as Marjane Satrapi’s personal narrative, allowed me to give the students a rich background of Iran and the interconnectedness of the United States, Russia and Britain in Iran’s story before reading the novel. As they read the first part, then watched the film, they were able to make comparisons between their lives and Satrapi’s, discussing the issues that affect young adults here and in Iran. It allowed them to see we all have the same experiences no matter where we live and sparked a curiosity to know more.

Language learning is powerful, building cultural competencies in sensitivity, flexibility, understanding, curiosity, and a desire to explore the world and learn from others. It is my hope my students will celebrate this power with others they meet. 

Photo of Deb


Deborah Hoem-Esparza,
Spanish Educator

Milwaukee Area Technical College, Milwaukee, WI


Brian Wopat,
French Educator

Onalaska High School
Onalaska, WI


Anita Alkhas, 
French Educator

Milwaukee, WI


Carley Goodkind,
German Educator

Greenfield High School
Greenfield, WI


Janet Rowe,
Spanish Educator

Hortonville High School
Hortonville, WI


Andrea Behn,
French Educator

Janesville School District
Janesville, WI


Siggi Piwek,
German Educator

Milwaukee German Immersion School, Milwaukee, WI


Deana Zorko,
Spanish Educator

West High School
Madison, WI


Paula Meyer,
Spanish Educator

Appleton North High School
Appleton, WI


Lisa Marie Showers,
French Educator/Methods

Central HS in St. Paul MN/UW-River Falls, River Falls, WI


Meg Graham,
Spanish Educator

Mukwonago High School
Mukwonago, WI


Karen Fowdy,
German Educator

Monroe High School
Monroe, WI


Jaci Collins,
Japanese & French Educator

Lincoln High School
Manitowoc, WI


Lynn Sessler,
Japanese Educator

Clovis Grove Elementary School
Menasha, WI

2005 & 2006

Nina Holmquist,
Spanish Educator

Nicolet High School
Glendale, WI

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