The TESOL President’s Blog
In 1988, I saw an Eddie Murphy movie called “Coming to America.” At that time, I had not yet made my first trip to the United States, so I was intrigued by how people from other countries would experience America their first time there. Over the last 20 years, I’ve made many trips all over the United States, but as someone who has been based in Canada, in different parts of Asia, in the United Kingdom, and elsewhere for most of my life, I was excited about attending, for the first time, this year’s TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit, which took place in Washington, DC, on 21–23 June. Approximately 90 TESOL educators attended the summit, which is a reflection of how this event has grown over the years; there were also a few participants from outside the United States, including me.
The summit included talks and activities related to language education legislation and advocacy in the United States, and culminated in a day of visits to Congressional offices on Capitol Hill, where summit participants and U.S.-based TESOL members visited the offices of more than 100 representatives and senators. For me, one of the highlights of the summit was the keynote presentation by Dr. Libby Gil, who is the assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition at the U.S. Department of Education. It’s important to note that she describes herself as a nonnative speaker of English, for whom English is a third language, so she has a lifetime of personal experience that informs her professional roles and responsibilities.
Another highlight for me was the workshop by Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner, who presented details from her book Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators (2014), which has a foreword by John Segota, TESOL’s associate executive director for public policy & professional relations. Each summit attendee received a copy of the book, which is copublished by Corwin Press and TESOL Press. There were also presentations by representatives from the Office for Civil Rights and the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the Student and Exchange Visitor Program at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
It says on TESOL’s website: “Affiliates have been part of the organizational structure of TESOL since 1969, when nine associations applied for and were granted affiliate status.” That page also explains that we now have more than 100 affiliates, with a total membership of more than 47,000 TESOL professionals. Of those 100-plus affiliates, most are outside the United States, but around 40 are in the United States, from Alabama, Alaska, and Arizona to Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. So, for me, another major highlight was the fact that most of the US affiliates—around 30 of the 40—were represented not only by TESOL members, but members who are on the boards of those U.S. affiliates, many of whom I got to meet, and who shared with me some of their concerns about TESOL: the field and the association. These kinds of conversations, though they may be brief and in passing, are a unique source of insights and input that I value greatly and for which I am very grateful.
Coming from Canada, I expected to learn a lot about the U.S. education system, and especially where and how language education fits within that, which I did. As part of that learning, I realized how different the U.S. education system is, even from Canada, which is geographically, culturally, linguistically, and in many other ways more like the United States than any other country. However, in spite of those differences, I realized that many other countries, including Canada, could learn much from the way advocacy for—and in some cases by—language learners and teachers is carried out in the United States. For example, in many countries, meeting senior politicians face-to-face, one-to-one, and “in the flesh” in the nation’s capital, would be unheard of. But in America, this kind of access to lawmakers is such an expectation that the fact that these kinds of meetings can happen at all may even be taken for granted by some.
Here is a 2-minute video clip we recorded during the summit:
In it, I emphasize the point that TESOL International Association is committed to advocating for English language teachers and learners worldwide. That is an incredibly ambitious goal—some would say, far too ambitious—given the fact that every country has its own unique educational history, policy, and practices. But having met and listened to some of our few but growing number of non-U.S. summit attendees this year, from Greece, Saudi Arabia, and France, I can see how the association may be able to help with—as well as learn from—advocacy efforts by and for language teachers and learners elsewhere in the world.