copyright © 2008 Eric Dwyer Eric S. Dwyer, Ph.D. Associate Professor and Program Leader Modern Language Education and TESOL. Florida International University, Miami, Florida. and Mark Algren English as a Foreign Language [EFL] International Spot
We have been on message that the goal is to work for the students. For the K-12ers, this is a matter of kids and their families. We take this stance very seriously. We may even jump on people if they even slightly blow us off. And it’s because we actually know children and families who contribute to our society by their being in our classrooms. So, why shouldn’t we be a little pissed off when others seemingly don’t care about such or forget about such. I’m right there with you.
And in spite of my first paragraph, I don’t want to do it. I need to light my fire.
Sometimes when I can’t light my own fire, I can turn to the words of Elliot Judd, the 2006 TESOL president, who gave a plenary address in Tampa that spring on whether TESOL is a job or a profession. He reminds us that in order to be there for our students, we do need to attend to our professionalism. The plight of our students and our professionalism are tethered. Without our attention to professionalism, we cannot attend to the students in the ways we prioritize.
Elliot’s plenary was for the profession of TESOL, but I think his words apply to foreign language education in general. Hence, where you see “TESOL,” you might insert your own “foreign language education” alphabetization.
Elliot didn’t publish his speech, but Mark Algren–the TESOL president next year–took these notes. Together we’ve edited them. Be sure, though, that in the paraphrasing, we give full credit to Elliot for these thoughts. I turn to them often:
Elliot Judd, Associate Professor. University of Illinois at Chicago
The call! I get a weekly call from someone who wants to get into teaching ESL with no training or experience: “Can you give me a short article about TESOL? I just got a job and need to know what to do. Give me a 10 page article and then I can go out and practice.”
Asking the same question of other professions is ludicrous. Here are ten traits of a profession, and how TESOL relates to these.
10 traits of a profession
1. A profession has a professional body of knowledge.
The canon of the profession is a collection of professional beliefs; the latest view of beliefs and practices of a profession; our research body. Novice studies the canon through classroom or practice experience or both. You should also keep up with new developments and trends to stay up to date. TESOL has this. Research does matter even if you’re not engaged, you need to know it; otherwise you’re practicing intellectual alchemy.
2. A profession has a prescribed regimen and licensing of members.
Institutions are staffed by qualified professionals know the canon. Neophytes study the canon and then the professional institution awards a degree, licensing them and welcoming them to the profession. There is some state licensing. This assures quality and maintains standards in the profession. Others say this stifles, crushes competition. But the profession itself controls who enters. It assumes those who are in the profession respect the canon and hire only those who are trained. In many professions, you must have a license and not having one is a crime. TESOL has a mixed record. With the rise of teacher training institutions, many are quality programs. TESOL has policies against hiring unqualified professionals. But the practice continues.
3. A professions has a code of ethics and standards
A code of ethics protects the public from those who deviate. Those who violate the code and prescribed standards are censured and barred from the profession. For example, doctors can censure other doctors and remove their license. TESOL has started to create a set of standards for ESL instruction. So far, most have focused on a North American context. There is need to create more in the future that are sound but sensitive to local situations throughout the world.
4. A profession is respected for their authority and expertise.
Why? Because professions train and empower professionals. They remove those who are not qualified. The profession is seen as the supreme source of knowledge in the profession, and it is respected as the source both inside and outside the profession. The TESOL record indicates that more outsiders recognize us as a source of professional knowledge. But many outside the profession who don’t know we exist and do not seek our expertise. Within our institutions, many do not consult us on our area of expertise regarding language-learning issues. We must continue to educate others on who we are and what we do, especially those in policy making positions.
The year 2006 was a big start in that direction when the INS came to TESOL because they are designing a new English language test and they wanted 12 qualified professionals to design this. We need to reach out, so we are known to those outside our profession, so they know to come to us. We need to educate fellow teachers to talk to the local professionals in the building when you are teaching English to someone who is a non-native speaker.
5. A profession is autonomous.
The profession creates its own licensing, code of ethics, and so forth.
Independence is recognized by both outsiders and insiders. You can talk to others but come back to the professional. Autonomy is a professional right.
TESOL has endeavored to create autonomy. Other professions in education and lay people are beginning to acknowledge our autonomy. Others, however, deny us professional respect. We must educate on a personal level. We need to convince teachers that they have non- and limited-English speakers in the classroom and should talk with the ESOL professional about what is the best policy for that student. NCLB talks about need for qualified teachers, categories are listed – social studies, science, math, all of which are valid and autonomous. What is missing is a category called ESOL.
We need to keep pushing for professional autonomy. If we are not on the list of acceptable, qualified teachers, the clear message is we are not in the same league and do not have to be consulted. Listing us gives the same autonomy as others.
6. A profession has the power to influence.
There is internal power to train and certify and external power to influence others. For example, when establishing policy for doctors, then doctors are included in the discussions. Ultimately, doctors must accept the decision and will be required to implement it. It is a monopoly, there is no one else to turn to, for good or bad.
TESOL is lacking in power. TESOL does not have internal power to censure those who are unqualified. Anyone can open a language school with no qualifications, in many parts of the world and in the U.S. Anyone can be an English teacher. I have nothing against volunteers. But if I need brain Surgery, I don’t go to a volunteer. Many in my own profession hire unqualified teachers. We have no power to censure or disbar. No TESOL malpractice! We need the power to influence those outside the profession in ministries of education, and so forth. They make decisions that affect our daily lives and we have no power to stop it. A key future goal for us is to increase power.
7. A profession has status and prestige.
Professions have material status through salary. They also have non-material status in the form of respect based upon knowledge and expertise. For example, we may not like lawyers but they have economic power and status, and we have nowhere else to go.
TESOL? We don’t have the material status. We DO HAVE great status and love from our students and this keeps us in the profession. We get things back in non-material ways.
8. A profession is altruistic and serves the public
There exists an unwritten covenant between the profession and the public. We need public trust. If we are untrustworthy, then we are no longer a profession. We can no longer do the BEST possible for our client.
With respect to TESOL, we score highest in this area. No one questions the altruism of TESOL. We are trusted by our clients, our students. The rewards we get back from our students far surpass what we give our students; we are important in their lives. We are not selfish but a giving group of people – good, caring, giving. We care about our students and their world.
9. A profession is a full-time lifelong commitment.
Because of the training, rigor, we expect to practice it for our entire professional careers. Imagine a doctor who really has no office, works part time in 6 hospitals, and keeps tools in trunk of my car. I wouldn’t trust someone who says they are dabbling in medicine. I want a dedicated, full-time committed professional.
TESOL! We have a problem, Houston! A tragedy of TESOL! We are losing qualified professionals because they cannot get fulltime work in the field. If colleagues must leave TESOL for these reasons, no one can blame them, but it hurts the profession. It hurts all of us because members of our profession cannot secure work. This practice allows ill-trained or untrained people to enter the profession. I don’t have to hire qualified people when there is a pool of unqualified people waiting and when I do there is nothing you can do about it. We must advocate for the under- or partially employed for full time work and that they have the same rights and benefits of others.
10. A profession forms professional associations
Forming professional associations serve and protect professional autonomy, a face to the public. Through collective unity, we are stronger. We become visible. The association becomes our collective voice and advocate. TESOL is our professional association.
Still we have far to go and much to be done. but we have much to celebrate. We come here every year to gain sustenance.
1. TESOL must be in the forefront of presenting research findings. Our serial publications must present he latest research and informed classroom practices based on the latest research.
2. TESOL must issue professional standards that are both sensitive to local English language teaching situations and that reflect current research findings.
3. TESOL must be engaged in advocacy work to educate policy makers and other associations.
4. TESOL must insist that only well-trained, highly qualified individuals teach in English language teaching classrooms.
5. TESOL must lead the right that all ELT professional receive fulltime
employment and all the benefits that they are entitled to.
6. TESOL must speak out against those who hire unqualified personnel who should not be in ELT.
7. TESOL must be the voice in defending the rights of all ELT leaders.
8. Must endeavor to make all ELT professionals a member of the association.
My hope that TESOL will be generic that someday it means all ELT professionals.
Well, Elliot’s not doing so well. Some of you may know this. He’s been public about his illness. And Elliot has been a dear friend to us, and a tremendous leader his entire career, particularly these last few years. So, his words are very much on my mind as I try to grind through this work we’ve got this week.
And I will remember and cherish the contributions of Elliot Judd forever.