OMLTA Helen B. James Award

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This article first appeared in the OMLTA newsletter “Communications”, Spring/Summer 2014, p. 9.

On Saturday, March 30, 2014, I received the Helen B. St. John Award from the OMLTA (Ontario Modern Language Teachers’ Association) in “Recognition of Outstanding Classroom Teaching and Leadership in the Profession”. I am humbled and honoured to be named the recipient of this prestigious award. 

Minutes before the awards ceremony, I was greeted by Karla Torrente-Lepage (past president of the OMLTA) who asked me if I wanted to speak. 

I hate public speaking but I felt that it would be ungracious to decline the invitation, so after Karla left me, I sat there, panic-stricken, trying to think of something intelligent to say. My husband whispered encouragement to me as I felt my nerves starting to fray.

My name was called and up I went. I managed to blurt out a few garbled sentences, accepted my award and sat down. 

Afterwards, I obsessed about all of the things I should have said. So now, in the stress-free comfort of my home, I am collecting my thoughts and am composing what I hope will be a proper expression of my thoughts and appreciation of receiving the award.

“Thank you to the teachers who nominated me: May Rauda, Pauline Fice-Galea, Diane Ankenman and Renée Villeneuve. Your letters of support mean more to me than you will ever know. A very special thank you to May, for introducing me today in such an eloquent manner. Thank you to my husband, Steve, and daughters Alana and Lauren for providing constant encouragement for the things I do, and for putting up with the numerous hours I spend in front of the computer creating the French resources that I love to share.

Thank you to Crescent School and to all of my students for being simply awesome and for inspiring me every day with their enthusiasm for learning French.

Thank you to the OMLTA nominations committee for forwarding my name to the Board of Directors, and finally, thank you to the Board for choosing me. It is an honour that I will treasure for many years to come.

Coincidentally, I attended my very first OMLTA conference in 1984, exactly 30 years ago today. Those were prosperous days for publishing companies and I remember the epic parties at the Captain John’s Restaurant on the boat next to the Harbour Castle Hotel.

I remember also being extremely inspired by all of the presenters at the conference, in particular, by Gail Phillips. I am so glad to see her in the audience today. Her sessions were always jam-packed to overflowing, and her famous handouts were like gold. These were the days before the internet, and there was no easy way to get the handouts: you had to be at the session to get one. When she passed them out at the end there was often a stampede, not unlike a chaotic Black Friday sales day at Walmart. What is amazing is that the content of her handouts are still relevant today: creative, engaging, and fun for students, using communicative vocabulary over and beyond the regimented government guidelines.

But Gail was just one of many OMLTA presenters that had a profound impact on me professionally. Wendy Maxwell, the creator of AIM (Aim Language Learning) was another. I adopted her program in 2001 shortly after seeing her present at an OMLTA conference, and I have been using it ever since. Matt Maxwell and Jacquot are two artists I met at conferences in the 1980’s, and whose music I continue to use in class today. The list of OMLTA presenters who have had an influence on me is substantial. And I continue to be inspired by presenters every year. The high quality of the workshops never ceases to amaze me.

In addition, the publishing tables have always provided me with great resources that I would have never found if it were not for the conference. But more significantly, the connections with other teachers is what really makes the conference a not-to-be-missed event. To be surrounded with hundreds of like-minded educators with a passion for teaching languages can only be experienced first-hand and in person.

The OMLTA conference is also dear to me because presenting at it several times helped me overcome my paralytic fear of public speaking. I eventually became an AIM facilitator and a Technology Integration Teacher Trainer and I can now start a presentation without feeling like I am about to faint (on most days). I’m sure that there are many presenters who can relate to this, who may have overcome their fears of presenting and have become leaders in their schools, school boards and communities, thanks to the opportunities provided at the conference.

Finally, I would like to extend un gros merci to the OMLTA conference committee and board members for the countless hours they have spent volunteering to make this event as successful as it is. Because of their dedication and effort, teachers like me who attend the conference can continue to bring new ideas into our classrooms, and in turn, inspire our students to become life-long learners and advocates of second language education.

With endless gratitude and appreciation,

Sylvia Duckworth."


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