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Sixty Years of TFLA History

Information Taken from the Texas Foreign Language Association from 1953-1965 and Fall 1985

(Compiled by MayDell Jenks) 

It is hard to believe that The Texas Foreign Language Association has been in existence for 60 Years.  The 2013 fall conference in Frisco/Dallas at the Embassy Suites was a special event as TFLA honored the past Teachers of the Year, Honorary Members and Executive Board Members since the inception of this organization.

The Texas Foreign Language Association was officially organized in Dallas on November 27, 1953, with Mabel Turman as President and Dr. T. Earle Hamilton as editor of the Newsletter.  While the organization was still part of the Texas State Teachers Association, the group was called the Texas Foreign Language Association. 

During the thirty months before the organization of TFLA, Dr. T. Earle Hamilton had a vision, formulated first as the Texas Plan, to revive and maintain interest in the study of foreign languages.  To accomplish this goal, he planned and developed procedures for the organization, enlisted the aid of outstanding persons and organizations and started the TFLA Bulletin to unite teachers of foreign languages and to serve as a forum to improve the teaching of languages.  Additionally, Dr. Hamilton published articles in bulletins and Journals, presented papers at regional and national meetings, which gave the Texas Plan national recognition. He guided the movement to its culmination in the founding of the association for which he selected the name. Although he considered the name, “The Foreign Language Association of Texas,” he rejected it “because the acronym ‘FLAT’ was less than flattering.”

Between 1947 and 1951, enrollment in foreign languages throughout the nation declined steadily and rapidly, beginning in the secondary schools and then extending to colleges and universities.  During 1951 foreign language enrollment had decreased by 20% at the university level and about 10% of the public schools withdrew their offerings in at least one foreign language.  The reduced interest of foreign languages at the high school level adversely affected colleges and universities: many departments dropped the requirements of foreign languages for a degree and many institutions no longer required a foreign language as an entrance requirement.  Due to the economic difficulties and enrollment declines, many superintendents used these reasons to eliminate languages. Teachers became discouraged by this wave, which reflected lowered attendance at professional meeting.

In order to re-instate languages, Dr. Hamilton deemed it necessary to educate community members and have them exert pressure on the board members and administrators. He further sought advice of outstanding teachers and professors known for their creative ideas and good judgment.

Dr. Hamilton developed a practical course of action that he called “The Texas Plan to Encourage the Study of Foreign Languages.” This plan primarily called for a concerted effort on the part of teachers of French, German and Spanish at all levels of instruction to obtain overwhelming public support to bring about the reinstatement of languages in many schools that had discontinued them and to encourage additional offering in those schools that had retained them.  It was further proposed that teachers of languages would seek out a key member in organizations, such as the Lions’ Club, Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, the VFW, the PTA, women’s study groups and church groups to educate them fully for the need of increased study of foreign languages.  The press and the radio would also be utilized fully to arouse public interest, and favorable letters were solicited from influential citizens.

Dr. Hamilton realized that his original intent of presenting this plan to every town and city of Texas could not be done at once, so Dr. Hamilton started this task by presenting the Texas Plan to the Llano Estacado Chapter of the AATSP in May of 1951 and to the Alamo Chapter of the AATSP in 1952. In 1951, Dr. Hamilton presented the Texas Plan to the Foreign Language Section of the TSTA at the annual meeting in Houston, which was enthusiastically adopted by the membership. In June of 1952, it was announced in the PMLA that the Rockefeller Foundation, recognizing the dangers inherent in the condition of foreign language study at this time, authorized a large grant to the MLA to improve that condition.   In September, Dr. C. Grant Loomis, associate secretary of the MLA, wrote Dr. Hamilton that the MLA was “initiating a three-year program to re-educate the public to the national needs for at least dual language efficiently.”  Dr. Loomis stated that the Texas Plan, would be duplicated in every state and that MLA would do everything to make his efforts know.  This Texas Plan set a precedent across the nation since a grant was awarded to the MLA to improve the study of foreign languages and increase the language offerings across the state of Texas. Foreign languages were again coming to the forefront and teachers were excited and inspired to attend regional and state meetings to enhance their knowledge in the teaching of languages.

During his presidency, Malcolm D. McLean in 1964 -65, compiled a history of TFLA for the years 1953-65.  TFLA continued as a section of the TSTA, hosting a luncheon meeting during the annual convention.  From that section of the TSTA in 1953, TFLA had now grown to a full-blown organization with its own annual conference to rival the long-established ones, such as the Southern Conference on Language Teaching and the Northeast Conference.  TFLA would still hold a regular meeting during the TSTA convention. 

Clara F. Gregory became the president in 1962-63 and her vision was to develop continuity in the organization.  At that time it was suggested to hold a second meeting independent of TSTA.  Dr. Joseph Michel, from the University of Texas at Austin, moved that the spring conference be held in Austin with UT as host.  Diamantina Suárz and Dr. Michel were the primary planners for this conference.  They were aided by George M. Blanco, Foreign Language Consultant at the Texas Education Agency.  Because invitations placed on TEA letterhead were sent to all schools, Houston ISD gave Clara Gregory off and paid her six cents per mile for travel! The meeting was held in February in Batts Hall on the UT campus.

Since 1964 the TFLA has held two meetings a year.  Its own conference continued in the spring, usually on a college campus, until the TSTA changed its meeting date in 1969.  Since that time TFLA held a separate conference in the fall.  In 1979 the TSTA held no meeting during the calendar year, but TFLA continued to conduct two meetings that year; the spring meeting held at Southwestern University, Georgetown, and the fall at Temple Junior College, Temple.  Since that time, there has been a fall conference every year since then, expanding from a one-day meeting to at least two full days, with an executive meeting the evening before and workshops during and/or after the regular conference.

Clara Gregory’s words to the leaders who were in change then and those that would be in the future were:  “Hold on to that which we have built, continue to grow, and instill in your students the concepts of world understanding through the study of other languages and cultures.”

Since its beginning in 1953 until 1985, the programs for TFLA meetings had been expanded from several addresses and/or a panel by Texas foreign language specialists to three or four workshops, thirty or more special interest sessions, and several renowned national speakers.  The program trends each year changed based on the national and state topics that were of great interest to foreign language teachers.    The topics ranged from the Forgotten Student; AV Use in the Classroom, The Language Laboratory: an Integral Part of F.L. Teaching; Aims of Language and Foreign Language Teaching;  Language and Culture; Preserving Our Language Heritage: A Dimension of Democracy; Designing Curricula for Career Oriented FL Programs; The Role of the Teacher in the Student-Centered Classroom;  Post Audo-Lingualism: Relevance and Motivation; Learning Centers, Learning a Language Through Actions: TPR; Proficiency-Another Straw or Raw Gold; Increasing Student Talk-Building Oral Proficiency. What foreign leaders and teachers were striving to accomplish in the teaching arena in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s is still true today in foreign language education. 

The highlights of thirty years (1953-1983) are as follows:
1953 - First official organization; first bulletin published, T. Earle Hamilton, Texas Tech, editor.
1964 - First conference independent of TSTA, Diamantina Suárez, president.
1971 - Election of first Executive Secretary/Treasurer, Eugenia Simons, Spring Branch ISD. She has served as recording secretary and treasurer, respectively, since 1964.
1972 - TFLA became a constituent of ACTFL.  Sherrill Fisk represented TFLA.
1978 - Joint conference with SCOLT, October 19, 20, 21, San Antonio, Barbara González, president
1980 - Texas Association for Language Supervision (TALS) organized; meet at fall conference with TFLA
1981 - First Teacher of the Year Awards; first chairman of selection committee, Jacqueline Hastay.
1986 - Texas Classical Association became a part of TFLA.

Since the inception of TFLA in l953, there have been significant accomplishments in the foreign language arena. As Maria Fierro Treviño stated in the Spring 2008 TFLA Journal, it has now been almost fifteen years ago since committees comprised of LOTE teachers and supervisors met in Austin to develop the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which replaced the old Essential Elements.  These new TEKS were written to emphasize what “all students should know and be able to do with languages.” Project ExCELL (Excellence and Challenge: Expectations for Language Learners) was coordinated by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) under the direction of Bobby LaBouve, the former director for LOTE at TEA.  The purpose of Project ExCELL, overseen by Inés García and Assistant Director, Carl Johnson, was to promote systemic change in LOTE with student standards, prospective teacher standards, and guidelines for teacher professional development.  It is exciting to know that these TEKS are now being rewritten by teacher/supervisor committees to reflect standards-based instruction as well as proficiency-based assessment. 

Over the years, SEDL continued to play a major role in developing resources and documents for LOTE supervisors and teachers across the state.  It eventually became the Center for Educator Development for Languages Other Than English (LOTE CED).  There were two directors, Lilian King followed by Elaine Phillips who worked closely with TEA and Texas LOTE educators to produce the following documents:

  1. A Texas Framework for Languages Other Than English-intended to assist districts and teachers with the TEKS implementation.
  2. Preparing Language Teachers to Implement the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Languages Other Than English-a set of pre-service standards that guide higher education institutions in preparing LOTE teachers to teach the TEKS for LOTE.
  3. Professional Development for Language Teachers-permitted teachers to learn about the TEKS for LOTE and learn how to refine their instruction in order to effectively implement the TEKS.

Additionally, LOTE CED produced the following training modules for TEKS implementation:  Developing curriculum, Addressing Assessment, Developing Rubrics for Performance-Based Assessment, Peer Coaching, and Español para el Hispanohablante.  It was the intent to train a cadre of facilitators to train teachers in the 1200 school districts since not all districts had LOTE supervisors or lead teachers. 

The Texas Association of Language Supervisors (TALS), established in 1980 and the Texas Foreign Language Association have played integral roles in providing professional development, focusing on a balance of teaching the 5 Cs of Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons and Communities in the classroom with an emphasis of teachers speaking in the target language 90% of the class time. 

To conclude, the pendulum has swung back and forth, and since the inception of the Texas Foreign Language Association in 1953, trends in teaching languages have resurfaced; LOTE enrollments have decreased as well as increased over periods of time; less commonly taught languages, such as Japanese, Vietnamese, Arabic, Korean and Chinese have come to the forefront in many school districts across the state.  With the support and encouragement of LOTE directors and supervisors, Texas now offers certification for the less commonly taught languages.  Currently, there is a push to develop thematic units of instruction for LOTE in order to make learning a meaningful experience as students use communication skills to learn about other cultures, make connections to other subject areas, compare their own language and culture to the language and culture studied, and use the language in the community and for lifelong learning.  The trend is to provide students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they know using performance-based assessments.   Further, technology has played an integral part in the LOTE classroom.  In the 60s and 70s, the Wollensak reel- to- reel tape recorder was the greatest technology for the foreign language classroom and now students have the opportunity to access information on Net books, I Pads and hand held devices. 

I want to express a “big thank you” to the founders of the Texas Foreign Language Association. Through their continued efforts and support over the many years, TFLA has become a strong organization with its primary function to provide quality professional development to all LOTE teachers in the state, to provide scholarships to teachers and student to enhance their education, to support regional and national organizations and to inform educators of national and state reform.

​MayDell Jenks

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