Turning 50: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Andy Curtis will present the 2016 Presidential Keynote, titled “Reflecting Forward, Reflecting Back: Looking in the Mirror at 50,” at the TESOL 2016 International Convention & English Language Expo, 8 am, Wednesday, 6 April. 

Turning 50 can be tough! Having done it myself in recent years, I know that, in spite of the taglines of advertising agencies claiming that “50 is the new 40,” the truth is still that “50 is 50”! In both British and American English, the phrase “fifty-fifty” relates to percentages, and means “two equal halves.” So, as we celebrate the first half-century of TESOL International Association, in my TESOL 2016 Presidential Plenary, I’ll be looking back, at where we’ve been and how we got here, and looking forward, to where we might be headed and how we might get there.

In the special commemorative publication celebrating 50 years of the TESOL Association, I wrote that part of turning 50 is the realization that:

At that point, we are, officially, closer to the end of Our Journey than we are to its beginning. For some, that can be a depressing and even morbid thought. But for others, myself included, it is a time for celebrating all that has been achieved in that first half-century. It is also a time for reflecting back over the 18,000 days and the 2,600 weeks that make up 50 of our Gregorian years.

Embedded within a recent U.S. celebrity news story titled “From Cindy Crawford to Adam Sandler: 15 celebrities turning 50 in 2016” is a few minutes of an interview with the famous J.K. Rowling, writer of the Harry Potter books. In the excerpt, Rowling was asked about her upcoming 50th birthday (in July) and how she felt about that. She replied by talking about the fact that her mother died at just 45 years of age, which is one reason she believes that: “You’ve got to celebrate every year you’re here, and in good health, and what’s the alternative to aging? … I’m looking forward to it.” Rowling was also asked questions about what frightens her and what she is proud of, which she replied to by talking about giving the commencement address at Harvard University in 2008. Referring to that, in the interview excerpt, she said: “I’m normally proudest of myself when I’ve done something that frightens me. I believe in courage, which I think is the virtue that ensures all the other virtues (as Winston Churchill said).”

The leaders and members, volunteers and staff who have, over the last 50 years, made TESOL International Association the largest, most diverse and most inclusive association of its kind in the world today can also be proud of what we’ve achieved together. It took the courage of many people, some of whom, such as Dr. James Alatis, are sadly no longer with us. Many people have made many sacrifices and served the association with a passion and with professional commitment that has made us who we are today.

It also takes courage to take a long, hard look at ourselves, in the mirror, at the age of 50. As an association, TESOL has been doing this for the last 4 years, starting with the formation of the Governance Review Task Force, back in 2012. The governance restructuring is the largest of its kind undertaken in the history of the association, and it has involved hundreds of people, and thousands of hours of work, over the last 4 years. As a result of all this work, all the feedback given and gathered, we have restructured the organization to be more responsive, more accessible, and ready for the next 50 years.

I hope to see you in Baltimore, in April, at TESOL 2016, where I can thank you personally for all you’ve done for TESOL International Association and for the field of TESOL. In the meantime, please accept my heartfelt thanks here, and I look forward to seeing you soon!

Andy CurtisDr. Andy Curtis is the 50th president of TESOL International Association. He received his MA in applied linguistics and English language teaching, and his PhD in international education, from the University of York in England. From 2007 to 2011, he was the director of the English Language Teaching Unit at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a professor in the Faculty of Education there. Prior to 2007, he was the executive director of the School of English at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, and a professor at the School for International Training in Vermont, USA. Andy has published numerous articles, book chapters, and books, and been invited to work with teachers in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, as well as North, South, and Central America. He is based in Ontario, Canada, from where he works as an independent consultant for language teaching organizations worldwide.

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