The TESOL President’s Blog
For the first time in its nearly 50-year history, the TESOL International Association held its first ever event in India on 24 and 25 April. It was a TESOL Academy, and its theme was “Changing Classrooms, Supporting Teachers.” The event was held in partnership with the US Department of State’s Regional English Language Office, New Delhi, and the Regional Institute of English, Chandigarh. According to a BBC News report a few years ago, “India now claims to be the world’s second-largest English-speaking country. The most reliable estimate is around 10% of its population or 125 million people, second only to the US and expected to quadruple in the next decade” (BBC News Magazine, 27 November 2012).
Since 2012, when Zareer Masani filed that report, that number has grown, and is now thought to be as high as 17%. Although that means that more than 80% of Indians may not use English, 17% of 1.25 billion is still well over 200 million people using English in India today. Given the scale and scope of the teaching and learning of English here, it was decided that it was time for TESOL International Association to go to India. Part of that decision was the fact that the association now has, also for the first time in its nearly 50-year history, its first President of Indian origin.
Realizing that many of the ELT professionals in the world cannot attend annual conventions and conferences in person, the association has committed to an international scope. Therefore, through its face-to-face, on-site academies, symposia, and regional conferences all over the world, as well as its online courses and programs, the association is taking TESOL to the world.
The India Academy, which had 180 participants, was based on six 10-hour workshops. With an average of 30 teachers in each workshop, the leaders were able to cover the material in depth, in ways that are not possible in the regular conference format, in which, for example, an individual might attend 10 different sessions, given by 10 different presenters, in 10 hours. The TESOL academies are designed to create opportunities for a deep and thorough exploration of a particular topic.
I have listed the titles of each of the 10-hour workshops below, together with the names of the presenters and their institutional affiliations, to show the diversity not only in terms of the areas covered, but also the diversity of the presenters. There was also great diversity among the participants, as the 180 or so attendees were from all over India, as well as a number of neighboring SAARC countries (the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), including participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka – one attendee even came all the way from Brazil!
• “Tech Solutions for Low-Tech Situations,” Karen Price, Lecturer, School of Education, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
• “Formative Assessment in South Asian Contexts: Some Practical Possibilities,” Geetha Durairajan, Department of Materials Development and Evaluation, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India
• “Strategies for Student-Centered, Rule-Based Activities and Spontaneous, Incidental Learning,” Stephen DeGiulio, Senior English Language Fellow, The Regional Institute of English, Chandigarh, India
• “Creative Ways of Improving Language Skills,” Rajni Badlani, Teacher Trainer, New Delhi, India
• “The Five Ps of Effective Leadership and Professional Development,” Neil J. Anderson, Professor, Department of English Language Teaching & Learning and English as an International Language, Brigham Young University, Hawaii, USA
• “Taking ELT Materials to Task: A Template Process for Effective Materials Development,” Jayme Adelson-Goldstein, Educational Consultant, Lighthearted Learning, LLC, Northridge, California, USA
In the opening keynote address that I was asked to give, I predicted that the 10 hours would be, for many participants, “a transformative teacher professional development experience.” I was fortunate in being able to spend some time in each of the six sessions, and at the end of the academy, during the closing ceremony, I was able to stand by my claim of transformative TPD.
This academy was an important milestone, a watershed event, and a ground-breaking innovation, not only for TESOL International Association, but also for its partners, the RELO in Delhi and the RIE in Chandigarh. In addition to the professional and institutional significance, for me, as the association’s first Indian president, it was also a profoundly personal experience. In the welcome message I was asked to create for the program book, I wrote, “Although I was born and grew up in England, and my parents and grandparents were from Guyana, my family before that was in India, probably taken from Patna, Bihar, by the British Empire, and made to work on the sugar cane plantations of what was then British Guiana. In spite of this enforced generational separation, for me, coming to India has always felt like coming home.”
It is always good to come home, but travelling so far, across so much time and space, to a place you’ve never been to before—this was my first time in Chandigarh and in the north of India—to then feel so familiar and so at home is a unique experience, and one for which I will always be tremendously grateful.