Summaries of TESOL Surveys on Professional Development Needs

TESOL International Association conducted surveys of TESOL members and nonmembers in January and February 2012 to learn more about the professional development needs of specific groups within the English language teaching field.  The surveys included both quantitative and qualitative questions.  To access summaries of the surveys click on the links below:

TESOL’s Professional Development Committee encourages you to share your experiences with your peers.  What are your most important professional development needs, successes, and/or challenges?  Please make sure to mention the specific context in which you teach, and also share any specific effective practices in professional development you recommend for your colleagues.

About ssahr

Sarah Sahr works at TESOL and is currently pursuing her doctorate in education administration and policy at the George Washington University. Her professional career has taken her all over the world, most notably as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia and as a traveling school teacher/administrator with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. Sarah is also a certified ashtanga yoga instructor and has managed an eco-lodge in Chugchilan, Ecuador.
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10 Responses to Summaries of TESOL Surveys on Professional Development Needs

  1. The findings of these summaries interested me, especially the K-12 and Higher Education reports. For the past 15 years I have focused on understanding what professional development opportunities resonate with mainstream teachers and teacher educators. I have come to a place in my career and research to know better now what works and doesn’t work. I am certain that our myopic focus on language as a field is not furthering our cause. If we want to be taken seriously, we have to be about learning. Every teacher and teacher educator cares about learning. The fact that we are ourselves so uncomfortable advocating and working with mainstream teachers and in content-areas (as shown in the survey results) tells me that we in higher education need to reconsider what we do in the name of ESL teacher preparation. Is it possible that K-12 teachers do not have confidence in these areas because their teacher educators are equally unprepared to do such work? Is it possible that we have placed too much focus on getting others to “care about language” that we have missed more fruitful opportunities to change the conditions for learning in classrooms that would benefit our ELLs? We can learn so much from the field of Special Education about what hasn’t worked around notions of co-teaching. Everywhere I look I find ESL teachers who are either voluntarily or involuntarily on the periphery of their schools or K-12 education. As a field, it is clear that our dialogue, focus, advocacy, and emphasis needs an overhaul. We shouldn’t be content to keep doing the same things around the same content with the same people with the same results. ESL professionals need to be in the center of school improvement, school administration, and instructional leadership. Positioning ourselves in the heart of public education, for example, cannot happen if we continue to talk too narrowly or solely about language. We need to become expert in learning and advance notions of pedagogy that make us relevant and in demand by every teacher we encounter. That is what I have learned over the last 15 years. The more I pay attention to teacher pedagogy and student learning in my professional development, the more mainstream teachers and teacher educators I attract to our cause. At IUPUI we are taking baby steps in that direction with some positive results, but there is so much more to figure out. I got into ESL because I loved language and culture. I have accepted that other people simply do not care. That is alright. I have stopped waiting for them to see the light. I have changed the message: A focus on learning is getting me a lot more traction than I ever got with language issues alone. I find that when I focus on learning, language gets pulled into the dialogue in ways that are meaningful to teachers and teacher educators. .

    Annela Teemant, Associate Professor of Second Language Education
    Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

  2. Mira Malupa-Kim says:

    The survey summary gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own professional development. I am grateful to my professors in graduate school for emphasizing the importance of professional development in the TESOL field. Attending a conference, preparing for a proposal, and (if accepted), presenting at conferences (at the local level, at least) were all part of the curriculum. There were “conference” scholarships awarded to first-time attendees and/or presenters. It was a good eye-opener to those new in the TESOL field, and to those, like me, who had been around but did not quite know where and how to begin! We also had mini-conferences at the end of the semester to present our work campus-wide. What I enjoyed most was the networking and the feedback: the questions, comments and overall audience reception. These “baby steps” helped me define my stand on professional development. Its importance to the field needs to be introduced and emphasized from the very beginning. As for my teacher-trainees, some needed more convincing than others. It was not always about having no funds, but it was also having no time.

  3. Elena Andrei says:

    While reading the responses so far, I was trying to remember when I figured out that professional development is an important part of my professional life as a teacher. I think it came naturally. After one year of EFL teaching, I decided to pursue a Master’s degree. I had a wonderful professor in that program who was an English Language Fellow and who encouraged us to participate at local or national EFL conferences. Going to those conferences and learning a lot from them helped me solidify the idea that once I leave grad school I can continue my professional development by going to conferences. I still believe conferences and workshops are a great way to continue to learn and refresh some of the ideas and concepts. I also think that conferences are places where you meet people with similar interests. For example, you may be the only EFL or ESL teacher in a school and may feel isolated. Once you go to a conference, you meet other EFL or ESL teachers who may have the same questions, concerns and challenges like you. This made me realize I am not alone and it was a very comforting feeling for me.

  4. Aiden Yeh says:

    I teach undergraduate students in Taiwan, and as a ‘contract full-time teacher’, I can relate to some of the findings discussed in the summary of higher education survey. I teach 17 hours a week and I am also required to do a 4-hour service assignment at the Language Center. In addition, I have to attend department meetings, attend (or present in) local or international conferences, and publish academic papers (to be considered for promotion). I enjoy both writing and teaching, and so despite the workload, I feel that I am lucky to be doing something that gives me great joy. It’s true that the financial remuneration isn’t as good compared to what people receive in the medical or legal professions, but it isn’t that bad, either.

    I believe that professional development is necessary for teachers not only to keep us updated with the latest instructional technology or pedagogy but to allow us to grow and to motivate us to do better with our jobs. Lack of funding for teacher professional development (TPD) was mentioned in the summary as a major reason for not participating in (paid) TPD activities. I have regularly attended TESOL conventions using my own funds. I’d be lucky if I get minimum funding! This year, however, I was unable to go to the TESOL conference in Philadelphia due to financial reasons; I could barely squeeze anything from my salary :’( I felt so bad not only because I had to cancel my presentation but it also meant I would not see my old colleagues and friends. It is always not easy to attend TESOL or other international conferences as I have to schedule my trip in advance; I have to plan for make-up classes, and I have to file a leave-of-absence weeks or months ahead. I totally understand why many of my local colleagues would rather attend local or in-school TPDs; international conferences can be extremely costly.

    Online TPDs provide teachers alternative ways to keep up with their learning. Some of the online webinars I’ve attended were well attended, but for some the number is quite dismal (and these are free webinars). I’m sure there are valid reasons for the low number of attendance, but this tells us that shortage in funding isn’t the only hurdle. In my case, time difference is a major factor; I don’t see myself actively participating in a webinar at 3 AM in the morning! This is where I find asynchronous TPDs or archives of recorded webinars really helpful. Knowing that they are available for me to peruse at a time and place convenient is quite comforting. And this is also where I find my membership with professional organizations such as TESOL and IATEFL truly worth it.

    For other online TPD opportunities, Classroom 2.0 and The Literacy Information and Communication System offer loads of resources, see and

    • Radmila Popovic says:

      Hi Aiden,

      Your post reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from “Alice in the Wonderland”: “It takes all the running you can do to keep it in the same place. If you want to get to somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that”. It seems that many teachers have to doube the effort in order to pursue professional development. It’s not easy, but when there’s a will, there’s always a way, and you’ve shown us how to find a way.

      Thanks for the links, I explored them with great interest.
      I’d also like to mention wonderful TPD opportunities organized every year by the TESOL CALL Interest Section – the Electronic Village – EVO (Aiden is a team member)
      I learned a lot from it – thanks!


  5. Jan Dormer says:

    I read the EFL K-12 survey responses with great interest, due to my many years spent in teacher training in Indonesia. Better teacher training is truly the key, and this would even mitigate some faulty assumptions I think. One of these is that a grammar-based national exam prevents teachers from taking a communicative approach in the classroom. I don’t think this need be the case, but teachers need better training in order to see how these two goals can mesh.
    I also found it interesting that one respondent complained about having only four hours a week in the EFL class. To be sure more would be better, but four hours a week over the course of several years can result in quite high language development. The bigger issue here, I think, is the curriculum and methodology. Four hours a week, when three are spent giving grammar explanations, will indeed not result in much fluency!
    At the heart of both of these issues is teacher training. Teachers need a better skill development in teaching methodologies, and more knowledge about language development. They often need to be able to make a case to their superiors for changes, and need to be equipped with appropriate information to do so.

  6. Linda New Levine says:

    I left the K-12 classroom about 10 years ago to do consulting fulltime. The survey results indicate to me, however, that many of the problems I faced while an ESL teacher in the public school system still exist today.

    One overriding concern that many survey respondents complained about was the lack of understanding among mainstream colleagues about second language acquisition. This problem is becoming more acute as we see fewer ESL teachers working with students. Instead, many ESL teachers work in a consulting capacity in a school, conduct standardized teasting, keep records, etc. They attempt to consult with teachers who have language learners in their classrooms but they have little time to teach these students themselves. As a result, many students are being taught by teachers who have little professional development in ESL.
    The content curriculum is demanding and often takes precedence over language development concerns. In a time of budget restrictions and limited staff, it is frustrating that our students may not be receiving language instruction from the people best trained to work with them.

  7. Christina Quartararo says:

    I read the summary of the Higher Ed survey with great interest, not just as a member of TESOL’s Professional Development Committee, but also as someone who has spent most of her career as an instructor and/or administrator in higher ed.

    I have always believed in the value of professional development, and often had to fund my own professional development activities. A lack of funding was mentioned repeatedly as a challenge for people seeking professional development in higher ed. This is something I struggle with as an administrator now. My faculty (primarily part-time) do not feel they have the financial means to participate in professional development–including, but not limited to attendance of the TESOL annual convention. We as a program do not have the budget to provide this kind of benefit. I share many professional development opportunities with them, both online and in-person, free and paid, but have found a lack of engagement which leads me to believe that there is more at work than just a lack of funding.

    Another issue that is raised in the survey summary is the workload of both teachers and administrators in higher ed, and I believe this is a huge factor affecting participation in professional development for instructorsand administrators in many higher ed settings. As was mentioned in the survey, there are many adjunct and part-time faculty, and many faculty doing “double-duty” as administrators in higher ed. From experience, I know that being part-time in one place likely means you are part-time in many places, and the time spent traveling from school to school and prepping 3, 4, or 5 classes takes its toll. The feeling that there is no time for professional development is a powerful deterrent. If you can “find the time” to attend the annual convention, it often involves arranging substitutes, losing pay, or, for administrators, mountains of work upon returning to the office.

    The results of the survey have reminded me that as an administrator, I have the important task of helping my faculty recognize that professional development is not only essential, but also available and accessible, and to make it even more so by finding ways to provide them with opportunities to participate in professional development.

  8. Ayanna Cooper Ayanna Cooper says:

    On Friday May 4th I attended the MATSOL 40th Anniversary Conference hosted by the Massachusetts TESOL affiliate. It was wonderful be to with colleagues in the field and beyond with the common interest of improving public education for K-12 English learners. Ten educators from my district were able to attend (11 including me). Besides teachers, two administrators and a guidance counselor were there. My question is…what kinds of professional development opportunities are afforded to educators from outside of English language teaching about English language teaching? Besides annual conferences and graduate course work, professional development in all shapes, sizes and contexts are needed. I’m looking forward to next year already! How do you keep the momentum going in regards to meeting the need of English learners in between conferences?

  9. Elena Andrei Elena Andrei says:

    Reading the EFL Primary and Secondary survey summary resonated with some of my previous work experience as an EFL teacher in my native Romania. I believe I went through a strong teaching licensure program in English and Romanian languages and literatures. However, as a secondary EFL teacher, I always thought that I could benefit from additional professional development and training. My first concerns were not of teaching the curriculum, classroom management and the instruction (I thought I had a strong background in those areas). I was most concerned about my own language skills, more specifically about my knowledge of vocabulary and idioms. I thought I should be a language role model for my students and I was worried I was not advanced enough in my language skills.

    I also had mixed-ability classes. In the same group, I had students who had studied English for two to three years to students who were just starting to learn the language. I must admit mixed-ability classes were challenging for a beginning teacher.

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