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.
2024 Jessica Miller, French Educator
University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire
What we gain when we learn languages
Growing up in Strasbourg, a European capital in France on the German border, it was not unusual to hear different languages spoken around me. On the radio, English-language songs were so ubiquitous that in 1994, in an effort to support the French music industry, a law was adopted to ensure that at least 40% of the music aired would be in French. In 1985, when most artists programmed by radio stations still sang in English, one song stood out to my 6-year-old self: “Je te donne” by Jean-Jacques Goldman, featuring Michael Jones. The former sang in French and the latter in English. This bilingual partnership intrigued me. I soon joined an after-school English club and never stopped learning languages since. Why did this specific song catch my attention? It showed me that multilingual and multicultural endeavors have the potential to create unparalleled beauty and harmony through cooperation. During my adolescence, I witnessed the birth of the European Union. As a young adult, I saw many more countries join, adding to the linguistic and cultural diversity. When we learn languages and develop cultural competence, we work better together to look beyond our differences and reach greater, common goals.
Collaborating with people who do not share our linguistic and cultural background is challenging. It can be frustrating. But negotiating meaning, clarifying misunderstandings, and choosing the optimal routes toward a common goal are skills worth practicing. They contribute to enriched life experiences. Those exact competencies are developed in world language classes, creating unique and powerful opportunities to become our best selves. Successful language learners acquire knowledge and skills that unlock exponential gains. They learn language structures and cultural competence while making connections to other disciplines. This process does not come easy: patience, commitment, and perseverance are required to progress as growth in those areas takes time and persistence. In a society that increasingly favors instant rewards, demonstrating perseverance sets you apart.
When we persevere, we keep trying despite obstacles and lack of immediate success. Facing repeated challenges and failures is humbling. Humility is another benefit of acquiring language skills and cultural competence. Learning a language puts people in vulnerable positions as they yield some control over the way they project their identity: they cannot fully master all linguistic and cultural codes and are therefore bound to make mistakes or say something that is not interpreted as intended. Cooperation, perseverance, and humility are attributes of success in language learning and cultural competence specifically. More generally, those values are also necessary to live peacefully in a connected world. By learning languages and turning ourselves toward other cultures, we learn that others help us bring out our best selves, that patience leads to solid results, and that mistakes help us grow. Put together, the principles of cooperation, perseverance, and humility remind us that worldviews and practices different from our own have value. That is a priceless life lesson learned through the study of languages.
Jessica Sertling Miller, the 2024 Teacher of the Year, will be representing Wisconsin Association for Language Teachers (WAFLT) at the Central States Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota in March 2024. A prominent figure in the world of language education, Miller’s impressive career has been defined by her dedication, innovative teaching methodologies, and contributions to the field of French linguistics.
Since joining the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2006, Miller has been a steadfast advocate for language proficiency and communicative success. Her commitment to fostering equitable course designs and promoting academic integrity shines through her teaching philosophy. She firmly believes that students’ language skills need not be perfect to be understood, emphasizing communication over grammatical accuracy. Miller’s approach aligns with the modern understanding of language acquisition, valuing errors as valuable learning tools and encouraging risk-taking to facilitate growth.
Miller’s academic achievements are a testament to her expertise. Holding a Ph.D. in French linguistics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she has delved into Swiss French prosody, enriching our understanding of intonational features. Her published research further reflects her commitment to enhancing language education, with topics ranging from diversifying curricula to academic integrity in remote and online classes.
Recognized for her impactful contributions, Miller has received numerous accolades, including the AATF National Exemplary Program with Honors in 2017 and 2020, the OER Master Creator designation by the Language OER Network in 2021, as well as the ACTFL Global Engagement Initiative Award in 2015. Her role as a certified oral proficiency interviewer and rater since 2015 highlights her influence on assessing language competency.
Miller’s legacy extends beyond her classroom as she serves as the Chair of the French section at UW-Eau Claire, she mentors incoming faculty, she organizes events with the French Club, is the French Faculty Adviser, and an advocate for Open Educational Resources. Her profound impact on language education is felt through her dedication to bridging the gap between research and practice, exemplifying the qualities that make her the deserving recipient of the WAFLT’s 2024 Teacher of the Year award.
Milwaukee Area Technical College, Milwaukee, WI
Ellen Russell, French Educator
Lake Mills High School
Lake Mills, WI
Onalaska High School
Greenfield High School
Hortonville High School
Janesville School District
Milwaukee German Immersion School, Milwaukee, WI
West High School
Appleton North High School
Lisa Marie Showers,
Central HS in St. Paul MN/UW-River Falls, River Falls, WI
Mukwonago High School
Monroe High School
Japanese & French Educator
Lincoln High School
Clovis Grove Elementary School
2005 & 2006
Nicolet High School