I first met O. Dean in January 1964. I had just returned from two years in Nigeria as a member of the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers sent there. Teachers College had been awarded a contract to train Peace Corps Volunteers for Nigeria, and I had been invited to be part of the team from Teachers College responsible for the training. O.Dean was a key member of the team having been doing doctoral work in the Department as well as having extensive experience with non-native speakers of English.
My role was to share my experiences during my two years in Nigeria. And though I had done a great deal of reading in ESOL directed by the British Council Representative in the Eastern Part of Nigeria, John Rogers, I was a neophyte in ESOL and Applied Linguistics, to put it mildly.
The Peace Corps trainees were keen to hear about my experiences, both in teaching and living in Nigeria. They were less keen to hear about or read about ideas that would deepen their understandings of the issues involved in language teaching. Or deepen their understandings of ways to understand totally different ways of life. And though all volunteers would be faced with the dilemmas of developing English, whether they were going to teach English or other subjects, they wanted to hear about my experiences more than read or discuss ideas.
O. Dean’s role was to introduce ideas that would enrich each volunteer’s experience. It was a difficult role because the trainees were keener to hear from a “veteran” than from a person who knew a great deal about the important ideas in the field of teaching in general and in ESOL and applied linguistics in particular.
I vividly remember one of the first classes O. Dean had with the
trainees in January 1964. He shared with the trainees a number of key figures in the history of English language teaching and the ideas each person had. The trainees were not all that interested! They said they wanted to know what life and teaching would be like in Nigeria.
As I listened to O. Dean, I realized the value of the ideas he was sharing and how much richer my experience would have been had I read some of the people he discussed. As a result, in my sessions with the trainees, I tried to show that the ideas O.Dean was introducing while not immediately practical were in fact crucial for enriching their teaching as well as their experiences in Nigeria.
More importantly, the reading that I had started with the support of John Rogers, the British Council Representative in Eastern Nigeria, made more and more sense as I listened to O. Dean discuss major figures through the ages who wrote about language teaching and learning and cultural values.
Though O.Dean had read extensively and was able to share many insights, his patience, his ability to listen and his nonchalance about the trainees’ requests for practical suggestions showed that he had confidence in the value of the ideas he was sharing in spite of the fact that at the time the trainees were less keen on ideas than comments from a “veteran”—me. But as I listened to O.Dean, I saw ways the ideas he was sharing could enrich the experiences of the trainees when they would get to Nigeria and tried to tell them so. In short, over time, we became a team. I saw the value of the ideas he shared, and I tried to relate them to my experiences and to show how experiences separated from ideas would be less enriching.
Junior participants like me in Peace Corps Training Programs at Teachers College were paid through tuition exemption more than in salary. As a consequence, I had the opportunity to take at least 3 courses each term that I was involved with the TC Peace Corps Training Team.
In the beginning, I took courses just because they were part of the remuneration. And I enjoyed them. I had no intention to work for my Ph.D. But after a couple of terms of working together, O. Dean suggested I start a Ph.D. in TESOL. I can see in my mind the day he took me to 309 Main Hall to get an application for the doctoral program from Betty Dickson, the departmental secretary at the time. I completed the application. I was admitted. During my doctoral study, I taught in the TESOL Program as a part time instructor. After I was awarded my Ph.D., I was invited to join the department as a full time assistant professor. I stayed on, became the Director of the TESOL Program and subsequently started an M.A. in TESOL in Tokyo, which in 2003 has just admitted the 17th group.
There are special moments in life. O. Dean’s suggestion that I start my Ph.D. transformed my life. Though we were very different temperamentally—he was more low key than I and more scholarly, for example. Still, he took it upon himself to encourage me to continue my studies.
Had it not been for O.Dean, I would not have continued as a student at TC and for sure not been invited to join the faculty and become the Director of the TESOL Program and been able to become Professor Emeritus. Time with a person dedicated to other people’s growth, time with a person with interest in others above interest in self, these were two key characteristics of O.Dean.
I have the advantage of remembering O.Dean from the sixties when we were excited about all the possibilities. But as I became more involved in TESOL rather than Applied Linguistics, I lost touch with O.Dean, to my regret. But the opportunity to reflect on his profound influence on my professional life has been uplifting.
Low key, unassuming, knowledgeable, intensely interested in other cultures, curious about all aspects of language teaching and learning and a person keen to support others. What a treasure! I am a Professor Emeritus from Teachers College because of O.Dean’s intervention in my life for which I am eternally gratefull.
President of International Pacific College, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Professor Emeritus, Teachers College, Columbia University
2003 ESL MiniConference Online