A FEW MINUTES WITH … Terri Hammatt

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING --  Terri Hammatt is a world language consultant at the Louisiana Department of Education where she promotes pre-kindergarten through 12th grade world language learning. Before taking her current job, Hammatt was a French teacher in East Baton Rouge Parish elementary schools from 1985 to 2004. On April 25, the French Government awarded Hammatt the rank of Knight of the Order of Academic Palms, for her work. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Terri Hammatt is a world language consultant at the Louisiana Department of Education where she promotes pre-kindergarten through 12th grade world language learning. Before taking her current job, Hammatt was a French teacher in East Baton Rouge Parish elementary schools from 1985 to 2004. On April 25, the French Government awarded Hammatt the rank of Knight of the Order of Academic Palms, for her work.

POSITION: World language consultant at the Louisiana Department of Education.

AGE: 54.

Hammatt works to promote pre-kindergarten through 12th grade world language learning. Before her current job, she was a French teacher in East Baton Rouge Parish elementary schools from 1985 to 2004. On April 25, the French government awarded Hammatt the rank of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, or Knight of the Order of Academic Palms, for her work.

How did you get interested in teaching French to children, and how has thinking progressed about how best to do that?

As a Pennsylvania native who moved to Louisiana in 1984, I was amazed at the unique opportunities for Louisiana children to learn French in elementary schools. I became a French educator because I wanted to become part of this exciting environment, allowing students to begin language learning at an early age and to become proficient through a long sequence of study. Over the last 30 years, additional choices have opened to young language learners, including immersion learning pathways, additional language offerings, and continued support through the Louisiana Department of Education, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, and international government partnerships.

How does the current teaching of French in Louisiana public schools incorporate the linguistic and cultural nuances of the way Cajuns and Creoles communicate in French?

Some of Louisiana’s most precious natural resources include French and Creole language and culture. It is most important that we aim to combat the stigma forced upon Louisiana French speakers after the de-institutionalization of French begun in 1921. In order to support educators in their teaching, our office provides annual professional development on local linguistic and cultural varieties.

What is Louisiana’s education relationship with the French government?

Louisiana enjoys a close relationship with France through long-term agreements that provide a framework for France to allow Louisiana schools to employ civil servant French educators in immersion and French as a second language settings for up to three years when Louisiana teachers are not available. In return, the teachers of the French National Education Ministry become fluent in English and they return home with knowledge that enhances their teaching in France. Our office is seeking to broaden the relationship with France in terms of creating closer ties with Brittany, a French region with cultural characteristics similar to Louisiana. We also plan to expand opportunities for students to earn recognition for their language proficiency through an international diploma, the Diplome d’Etudes de Langue Française, or DELF.

What other foreign languages does your office focus on?

Currently, Spanish, Latin, German, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, Italian, French, and American Sign Language are offered in Louisiana. A group of 24 language educators recently worked with our office in writing content standards for the teaching of world languages. Our internationally recognized immersion learning pathways are offered throughout the state in Spanish, Mandarin and French and they are supported by two grants that we administer. The new Course Choice program will offer many language classes online for students as well.

Why should Louisiana public schools faced with tight budgets and tough requirements to improve test scores focus energy and resources on foreign language instruction?

First of all, let’s clarify that neither Spanish nor French are foreign languages in Louisiana. Both of those languages existed in Louisiana long before English became common. There are other heritage languages in Louisiana as well. The energy and resources districts invest on language instruction will provide a valuable return for communities in terms of student academic achievement and in economic opportunities attracting business, tourism and social offerings. The future is global. We will not be successful if our aim is monolingualism.

Advocate staff writer

Charles Lussier