The Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas, was a perfect setting for this year’s 39th Annual International TESOL Convention, March 29th through April 2nd. The legendary “Riverwalk” runs along one side of the Center, with cafes, bars and restaurants from which to contemplate the timeless “Paseo del Rio.” Down behind the Convention Center is a park that dates back to the 1968 HemisFair, surrounded by sculptures, steps and pools hewn in rock with dozens of waterfalls splashing down, generating a soothing din that reaches even the balconies off the top floor where TESOL meetings were held. Between sessions, my favorite spot was a bench in the shade just in front of one of these massive water flows, which worked like therapy for my eardrums and drew me quite willingly into deeply meditative states which, though only seconds and minutes long, seemed nearly eternal.
Every year the TESOL Convention has a distinct quality that defines that time and place, setting the event apart from all the ones that came before or are yet to come. It may be hard to perceive or “grok” the TESOL experience as a whole if you have a particular agenda that defines your mindset for the conference. For example, there was the mother of four with whom I was speaking on Friday morning over continental breakfast. She recently completed the master’s degree in TESOL and was dedicating her week to a search for overseas employment, partially from a desire to provide a better educational environment for her children.
I could relate because I remembered my own job search at the 1988 Chicago TESOL Convention, and the implications that various job prospects held for my young family at that time. My decision not to go be a bilingual teacher in the Los Angeles school system and not to go train Spanish-speaking teachers of English in Nicaragua, but instead to start what turned out to be nearly five years in Japan with a teaching job at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale’s new branch campus project in Nakajo, deeply influenced the lives of everyone who depended on me at that time.
End of the Branch Campus Era in Japan
When I attended the SIU-C reunion at the Cactus Flower Café, in the Marriott Riverbank Hotel, on Thursday afternoon, I learned that this year will be the last for the Nakajo campus. There were 500 students there for the 1988-89 school year, learning English from 15 or 20 American instructors in temporary classroom units that were put up ahead of the beautiful campus that started operations the following year. For the 2004-2005 school year at SIU-C’s Nakajo campus there were only 50 students, prompting the decision in late March this year to close this branch. In the heyday of American branch campuses, at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, there were more than 50 different American universities and colleges with projects in Japan; according to what I heard at the SIU-C reunion in San Antonio, the only one left now is Temple University in Tokyo.
This coming year marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of TESOL by James Alatis and his colleagues. Charles Amorosino, who took over as executive director when James Alatis retired, was greeting affiliate leaders as we arrived for a pre-conference luncheon hosted by incoming president Elliott Judd on Tuesday. I had met Charles Amorosino at the first TESOL Peace Forum at American University in Washington, D.C., in October of 2003. When I said hello to him on my way in to this year’s leadership luncheon, he handed me a commemorative 40th anniversary pen, half-joking that it would soon be “a collector’s item.”
Remembering Maryln McAdam
I sat at a table that included Judy O’Loughlin, formerly of NJTESOL/NJBE and, since several years ago, now a much sought after consultant working from her new home in California. I had met Judy at NJTESOL/NJBE events I reported on for the ESL MiniConference Online newsletter in 2002. In the summer of that year, I attended an NCLB institute hosted by Judy and NJTESOL/NJBE where the main attraction was a keynote session headed by Maryln McAdam, a very important TESOL lobbyist based in Washington, D.C. At this year’s leadership luncheon, Judy O’Loughlin informed me that Dr. McAdam had passed away on January 27th, 2004, following a sudden illness. That was a huge loss for the entire TESOL organization, because so many of us depended on the clear, precise data that she provided in explaining the intricacies of complex legislation and making the implications easy to understand. [See related note on Letters page]
Amnesty International Founder Passes Away
News of the passing of another friend to causes advocated by hundreds and thousands of TESOL teachers and students over the past four decades came at the third TESOL Peace Forum, Thursday evening, where at the opening ceremony Valerie Jakar, of David Yellin College, Talpiot, Jerusalem, Israel, one of five keynote speakers, eulogized Peter Benenson, who founded Amnesty International in 1961. Benenson died at the age of 83 on February 25, 2005.
This year’s peace forum included keynote addresses from: Kip A. Cates (Tottori University, Tottori, Japan), Meteab Al-Jamhoor (Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pennsylvania, USA), Valerie S. Jakar (David Yellin College, Talpiot, Jerusalem, Israel), Tom Schroeder (Utah State University, Logan, Utah, USA) and Armeda Reitzel (Humboldt State University, Arcata, California, USA). The program stated that the event would provide “an opportunity to reflect, discuss, and envision how language teaching and learning can cultivate essential intercultural and peace-building skills in the classroom and the greater community.” And the evening delivered.
Creating a Stronger Global Community
Armeda Reitzel reminded an estimated 200 participants that that day, Thursday, March 31, also marked an official state holiday in California, the “Cesar Chavez Day of Service and Learning.” In her remarks, she praised Chavez for promoting non-violence, tolerance, and a celebration of community. “A single person can make a difference,” said Reitzel. “Si se puede!” She used her keynote to explain how she teaches students in her communication studies classes to form learning communities through interaction with Native American Indians living in and near Arcata.
Valerie Jakar described a number of creative and inspiring cross-cultural alliances for peace, including: the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), the Israel Middle East Model United Nations (TIMEMUN), the Wye River People-to-People projects, the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME), Bitter Lemons Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire (BitterLemons.org), Mideast Web (MEW), the Israeli/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), and Seeds of Peace.
Valerie Jakar quoted from the Torah (Ethics of the Fathers 2:5):
Hillel said, do not separate yourself from the community, do not trust yourself till the day you die, do not judge your fellow until you reach his place, do not make a statement that cannot be understood, [intending] that ultimately it will be understood. And do not say, "When I am free, then I will learn," for perhaps you will never be free.
She also described her own program, combining content-based language instruction with folklore, children’s rights, music, arts, literature for peace, and aiming towards mutual understanding. The inspiration for this program is a book, “Seedfolks,” by Paul Fleischman, about the creating of a community garden. In Valerie Jakar’s program, “seedfolks” becomes “peacefolks,” with students interviewing members of the community and writing from each interviewee’s perspective. Jakar also gave away one or two “Peace Please” bumper stickers which are available for free (or for a voluntary donation) at www.infomagic.net/~uncledon or by writing to: “Peace Please,” P.O. Box 128, Flagstaff, Arizona 86002.
After the opening session, participants separated into three different workshops: “Creating Cultures of Peace in the K-12 Classroom” (Rachel Grant, Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA , and Shelley Wong, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, USA); “Confronting Prejudice Using Film, Television, and Print Media” (Elise Klein, Teachers Against Prejudice, New Canaan, Connecticut, USA); and “Creating a Safe Environment for the Discussion of Challenging Topics” (Alison Milofsky, U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington, D.C., USA).
Fostering Cultures of Peace in K-12
I attended Rachel Grant and Shelley Wong’s session, along with about 35 other participants. Grant and Wong started by explaining their theoretical framework for viewing issues of peace and justice today. This framework includes: feminist/womanist post-structural perspectives; critical-race theory; post-colonial criticism; and the principles of anti-oppressive education. Shelley Wong quoted Yuri Kochiyama, a civil-rights activist whose advocacy for social justice dates back to her experiences during World War II, when her father was unjustly imprisoned and the rest of the family was placed in an interment camp in the hysteria and racism that prevailed in the United States following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. “It is more important what you teach a child to love than what you teach a child to know,” wrote Kochiyama in Passing it On: A Memoir (2004, UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press). The person sitting next to me at this session also suggested several children’s books, Harvesting Hope (a picture book about Cesar Chavez) and another book about Navajo Wind-talkers.
After this introduction, participants were divided into six groups (we counted off, using Cantonese numbers we had just learned from Shelley Wong—I was in the “mhn,” or “5” group). My partners—Sharon from New Hampshire, Lindsey from Texas Christian University, and Kathy from Houston public schools—and I analyzed “The Peace Book,” by Todd Parr, a picture book that shows the sounds, actions, and feelings associated with “living peace.” We and each of the other groups identified a grade/age level for the book, as well as key themes or concepts. Then, we came up with lesson activities using the book. Each group looked at a different book, and for closure we reported our findings to the session as a whole. Rachel Grant and Shelley Wong ran an excellent workshop, and I enjoyed the conversations with my partners and other participants that these activities sparked.
As one of the invited presenters at the first ever TESOL Peace Forum, in October of 2003 at American University in Washington, D.C., I feel a bond to those who continue to develop this ongoing series of meetings. As this year’s program stated, “Amid a climate of natural disasters, war, terrorism, and insecurity worldwide, how can English language educators promote a culture of peace, global understanding, and social responsibility in the ESOL classroom?”
A Resurgent TESOL International Appears
The post-9/11 period has been challenging to say the least for TESOL professionals and for the TESOL organization. In the heyday of TESOL conventions, during the 1980s and 1990s, there were sometimes 10,000 or more participants at the annual meetings, and literally hundreds of publishers in the exhibition halls. In 2002 and 2003, in the aftermath of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, and an atmosphere of worldwide fear regarding travel to the United States, as well as harsh measures to control U.S. ports and borders, attendance at the annual TESOL convention plummeted.
This year, however, a resurgent spirit of international and cross-cultural exchange seemed evident in San Antonio. Perhaps as many as 7,500 teachers from across the U.S. and around the world made the trip to southern Texas, almost as a statement that neither terrorism nor the “war on terrorism” will deter us from working together to rebuild a global community of peace, founded on openness, communication, and tolerance for human differences.
The publishers’ displays in the exhibit hall reminded me of the festive and innovative atmosphere one saw at Internet Expos in the late 1990s, for example, at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.
Harcourt Achieve had a “barker” attracting the attention of passersby and bringing them into a large booth with four different areas devoted to four of their key product lines. Pro Lingua’s booth had birthday balloons to mark the 25th anniversary of this very cool, down to earth printing house based in Brattleboro, Vermont. “We got a good location this year,” said Pro Lingua co-founder and TESOL guru Ray Clark. “But it’s getting tougher each time,” he explained, due to the powerful influence of large publishers with massive budgets who insist on being at the center of any foot traffic. I have friends at one of those huge publishers, Pearson, and their layout at TESOL 2005 was indeed impressive, with an “old west” theme, complete with schoolhouse front and, of course, the general store for making purchases right there on site.
Throughout the week, one of the most popular spots for anyone without a laptop equipped to use designated wireless hot zones was the “Cyber Café,” near one end of the exhibition hall. The line to get onto one of these 12 Internet stations was usually 25-30 people long. I enjoyed my own wait in this line, meeting a teacher who entered the TESOL profession mid-career from her computer-programming job and is now working for ITESM in Hermosillo, Mexico; and a teacher-educator from the Universidad Centroamericana in Managua, Nicaragua, with whom I shared recollections of the Sandinista Revolution--he from a Nicaraguan and me from a U.S. perspective.
Rediscovering Master Teacher/Researcher Virginia LoCastro
There are certain names which resonate in the experience of anyone who has been involved in TESOL since the early 1980s: Wilga Rivers, Stephen Krashen, Christopher Candlin, H. Douglas Brown, David Nunan, Joy Reid, Betty Azar, Marianne Celce-Murcia, and so many others. As I was preparing my daily itinerary for TESOL 2005, I was struck by one name that stands out for me from a chapter in a book I read or an article I was exposed to during my training for the M.A. in TESL at the University of Kansas, 1982-84. Virginia LoCastro had a background in French language and literature before becoming active in TESOL in the late 1970s.
Her scholarly career has taken her to Japan as well as Latin America, and she has served in leadership positions at some of the most distinguished institutions in the world. Her most recent book is “An Introduction to Pragmatics: Social Action for Language Teachers” (University of Michigan Press, 2003).
At TESOL 2005, Virginia LoCastro presented a session titled “Teachers’ Expectations and Learners’ Efforts,” on Thursday afternoon. While her handout included a warning that this research was part of a publication in process and could not be referred to without consulting LoCastro herself (email@example.com), there is a lot of information available online at her home page (www.clas.ufl.edu/users/locastro/index.html) at the University of Florida, where she directs the intensive English program and teaches linguistics. Virginia LoCastro’s style is understated and she presents her research design and results clearly and straightforwardly without making the sorts of strong claims and conclusions so prevalent today in TESOL and in educational marketing.
I also like the quote on her UFL home page: “Experience is not what happens to you. It's what you do with what happens to you” (Aldous Huxley).
The Virginia French Allen Award for Scholarship and Service
As the leader of the Kansas TESOL affiliate, www.katesol.org , I attended several Affiliate Leaders functions and led a pre-conference workshop, “Building and Becoming Local Networks of TESOL Professionals.” At the Affiliate Council Meeting, starting at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, representatives from more than 50 of the 100+ worldwide TESOL affiliates conducted business and heard news.
One big moment was when Penny Alatis announced the recipient of this year’s Virginia French Allen Award for Scholarship and Service—Mary Goebel Noguchi, a member of Japan’s TESOL affiliate, the Japanese Association for Language Teaching—and presented the award to JALT affiliate delegate Steven Nishida, who accepted and read a few words of gratitude in Mary Goebel Noguchi’s behalf. This annual award is given to a member of a TESOL affiliate who is not yet a member of TESOL itself. The award brings with it a three-year TESOL membership plus a three-year subscription to the TESOL Quarterly. Virginia French Allen taught linguistics at Teachers College, Columbia University, among many other activities and accomplishments during a life dedicated to the TESOL profession.
Seeing Penny Alatis reminded me of when she came to Salina, Kansas, in the spring of
1984, as an invited keynote speaker at the 2nd Annual KATESOL Conference. That was also
the event where I made my first ever presentation—on my masters research in conversational
logic and conversation flowcharts—and I remember Penny Alatis responding to my nervousness
by saying, "Don't worry, it gets easier with more experience...well, not really."
Local and regional affiliate meetings are still at heart of the global TESOL
network today. At our Affiliate Leaders and Affiliate Council gatherings in
San Antonio, graciously and impeccably organized by Laura Bryant, TESOL Coordinator
of Membership Services, in concert with Aysegul Daloglu and Mabel Gallo of the Affiliate Coordinating
Committee, I learned from colleagues around the world of a number
of upcoming events.
The 26th Annual Thailand TESOL International Conference
"Teaching, Learning, Researching: Three Pillars of TESOL"
January 19-21, 2006, in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Contact: Steve Tait, Program Chair (firstname.lastname@example.org)
TESOL-Italy 30th National Convention
"A Fresh Start: Encouraging Innovation and Evaluating Change, Taking First Steps in Language Learning and Teaching, Promoting Learning Through Assessment, Connecting English Language to Content"
September 23-24, 2005, Universita "La Sapienza," Rome, Italy
Contact: TESOL-ITALY (email@example.com)
JALT 2005: The 31st Annual International Conference on Language Teaching and Learning & Educational Materials Exposition
"Sharing Our Stories"
October 7-10, 2005, in Shizuoka, Japan
Contact: JALT Web site (http://conferences.jalt.org/2005)
The 32nd National Convention of MEXTESOL: 1st International MexTESOL Convention
"Crossing Boundaries in TEFL"
October 20-23, 2005, in Zacatecas, Mexico
Contact: Alejandra Enriquez Gonzalez (firstname.lastname@example.org)
40th Birthday Bash Set for Tampa in 2006
The big buzz at this year’s meeting in San Antonio was all about TESOL’s 40th birthday celebration, scheduled to culminate with TESOL 2006 in Tampa Bay, Florida. Everywhere you could see “pirates” decked out in beads and pirate hats, promoting what may well turn out to be a threshold event—March 15-19, 2006—for a newly revitalized TESOL organization. One thing that is different this year is that the deadline for submitting session proposals for TESOL 2006 is June 1st, 2005, where previously this deadline had always been May 1st. In addition, there is going to be a “Best of” category in which each affiliate can submit a session that was evaluated as the best at their affiliate conference. There is a special set of deadlines for these “Best of” sessions, starting with a June 1st commitment date but giving affiliates until October 15th to submit session title and abstract, in order to allow each affiliate to go through its particular vetting process by that time. TESOL 2006 Conference Chair Christine Coombe stated that every affiliate “Best of” proposal (one per affiliate) will be accepted, and she is hoping for at least 15 if not more this first time such sessions have been offered. For more information, contact her at: Christine.Coombe@hct.ac.ae.
Current Challenges, Future Opportunities Abound
TESOL is not the same organization it was prior to 9/11, and this TESOL Convention was not exactly like those that defined an era starting in the mid 1960s and ending in 2001. Some of the lightheartedness is not completely back yet. TESOL members are deeply involved in advocacy and political fights that were not at the top of the agenda just a few years ago when human rights and democratic ideals were not under such constant attack as they are today—largely from rightwing forces within the U.S. The face of TESOL is wiser, more sober now, because much has been lost and much more is at stake.
One of the big concerns is the continual decline in international student enrollments at American universities. At the Affiliate Council, it was suggested that TESOL collaborate with NAFSA-Association of International Educators in their efforts to lobby for more reasonable and fairer visa procedures for incoming students and scholars from abroad [See related note on Letters page]. Another concern, voiced at Thursday evening’s TESOL Peace Forum, is the ongoing and wasteful U.S. military action in Iraq. Tom Schroeder, a Vietnam Veteran who spoke at the forum, said that he and many of his fellow veterans do not understand why the U.S. went to Iraq and why the American people have not yet forced our government to stop the war that is needlessly killing our country’s soldiers.
The secure future of TESOL, however, is perhaps best reflected in these comments from several teachers who attended the San Antonio meeting and came away with new ideas and new friends. An administrator from a large intensive English program in North Carolina e-mailed me: “I went to several sessions that should definitely help with some of the projects we are working on.” A recently ESOL-endorsed high school science teacher from Kansas wrote, “What a great conference! I came back so inspired and had a great time….What a great crowd!”
Tampa Bay, here we come! And we'll bring our stories to tell. Si, se puede.
Article by Robb Scott
2005 ESL MiniConference Online