by Joe Dobson
[This article was first printed in the Summer 2017 issue of TEAL News.]
Q: Ten years is a long time to serve in any volunteer capacity. How and why did you become involved with BC TEAL?
I moved to Vancouver in November 2005 and joined BC TEAL soon after. Having been a member of TESL Ontario since the early 1990s, and because of some truly fantastic professionals who mentored me about the value and importance of professional development, I had developed a firm commitment to lifelong professional development.
It was actually at a TESL Canada Conference in Ottawa, a year or so before I came to BC, where I met Sarah Ter Keurs, then president of BC TEAL. We spoke of my impending move to BC and I sought her advice. After moving here, it was only natural that I join BC TEAL, and in 2006 I became a BC TEAL Board Member.
Sarah soon stepped down, having twins on the way, and Liet Hellwig and Catherine Evashuk stepped in as Co-Presidents to fill the gap year. I was serving as Membership Chair and I still recall receiving the call from Jennifer Pearson Terrel, asking if I’d step in as President at the following AGM. I was, to coin a favorite phrase of Brian Wilson’s (our BC TEAL Honorary Member, not the Beach Boy), gobsmacked. I accepted the challenge though, and never looked back.
Q: Who were some of your greatest inspirations with regard to your roles with BC TEAL?
Absolutely my greatest mentor and role model is Jennifer Pearson Terell. She is truly one of the most special people I have had the privilege to serve with and I am honoured to be considered her friend. Through her work with BC TEAL, Jennifer has continued to serve the broader community and has been an inspiration to so many of us. She does all of it with such a wonderful smile and with such dignity. She is truly a remarkable woman and truly a woman of extraordinary distinction.
There are many others who have inspired my admiration as well. Shawna Williams for carrying the torch after my term and taking BC TEAL to even greater heights. She accomplished a lot in those four years! Nick Collins, who has been a long-time supporter of BC TEAL. To listen to his stories of how the association started and grew through thick and thin, makes me feel like I have been a part of something very special.
BC TEAL has had its ups and downs, and its share of drama (or so it seems), but I think every family goes through that and in the end, we find our way back to our common ground, as they should when good people are united in good deeds. The TEAL Charitable Foundation is probably the best example of that. When I step back and think of the goodness that comes out of the TCF, the first of its kind in the world (according to N. Collins), I feel so fortunate to have been able to add my name to its ranks.
There are so many people to mention here though so let it suffice to say that I am inspired by the collective goodness that is comprised of the thousands of members who have been a part of this very special professional association.
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as BC TEAL President?
There were a number, but now they seem not so significant. To name a few, raising the membership numbers, increasing the value-proposition of the conferences, and bringing in the public and private institutions and companies to support our efforts, and also maintaining and expanding our role as a professional association.
I was a Settlement ESL/LINC teacher in Toronto, worked for the University of Toronto in a special program for international pharmacists, and did a fair bit of private consultant work, so I have worn a number of hats in our field. However, as president of BC TEAL, I had to keep my biases off the table and consider what was best for our association and our members.
There is a constant tension between management and unions in EAL schools and organizations, and this could have become an issue for BC TEAL. Even today I hear grumblings that BC TEAL is pro-union, but that seems to just be political posturing. We have had good relations with the local unions and allowed them to have a voice, but we have always striven to ensure that BC TEAL did not promote labour related issues. Those issues are why unions exist but not part of the purpose of a professional association. We made an effort not to alienate those who feel threatened by the union presence and reached out to the private sector. Lately I see that coming to fruition and I am very glad for it. The private sector is starting to come around and it seems to me that this sector is developing in very positive ways. The EAL sector goes through changes, like most industries, and it is important to go with these, rather than try to hang on to old ways. I can easily imagine the private sector leading the way for the profession in the coming years.
On a separate note, I would also call attention to the academic EAL sector, particularly the research areas. One challenge that I do not feel we have made much progress is in getting our professors to engage in sharing local PD. There are some, like Dr. Li-Shih Huang, who engage regularly and help raise the bar to higher levels, but I’d like to see more of the local academics take an interest in the professional development of our BC professionals.
Q: What did you enjoy the most about working with BC TEAL?
I enjoyed it all really. The monthly board meetings, overcoming the challenges we faced, bringing people together at conferences and other events, seeing so many people engaged in an effort to improve their knowledge and skills in order to serve others… this is what moved me most.
Q: What advice do you give to those new to the profession?
Stick with it and don’t be discouraged about the current job market or if you find yourself in a position you are unhappy with. The market changes and positions open up all the time, but you can’t wait for the positions to find you. You need to network and keep yourself in the game. Continue to develop your teaching skills and NEVER become complacent or think you can’t learn something new. There is a reason we say that we practice a profession. Simply put, it is because it is not something you ever master. Even seasoned pros need to refresh their ways and learn new strategies and techniques. Plus, our learners and their needs are always changing and so is technology. Twenty-five years ago, technology was minimally used. Now it is ubiquitous, and I can’t imagine anyone not using it to some degree.
Teaching is a great profession to be in, and EAL is a unique specialization that is often misunderstood and underestimated. The only way to remedy that is to continue developing ourselves and the profession we work in.
Q: What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments as President of BC TEAL?
I think the best thing I was able to do for BC TEAL was to breathe some life into it at a time when it seemed to be slowing down a bit. As I said above, the EAL sector goes through phases, and so too does BC TEAL. I stepped in a bit as an outsider and with few biases, alliances, or local influences. I also applied more of a business approach because I was no longer in the classroom, but was a Manager of an EAL program at BCIT.
Q: What do you see as some of the biggest misunderstandings and challenges facing the EAL profession?
I think the greatest misunderstanding is still the old arrogance that because someone can speak English, they are able to teach it. Of course those of us who teach or have taught EAL, have a much deeper understanding of the many complexities involved, but the average person lacks the experience of bringing a class of non-native speakers together and providing learning experiences that allow them to de-construct a new language code and develop the skills to read, write, listen, and speak with that new code. It is no easy feat to acquire a new language and to plan, structure, and teach lessons that facilitate language acquisition is equally challenging. Kudos to all our BC TEAL Members who do so and who continue to hone their skills to improve their methods and make the experience better and better year after year.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself, your career, or your work with BC TEAL?
My 25 year career in education has taken a few twists and turns, and currently I am working more in international education. However, I still have peripheral involvement with EAL issues at my organization. I am glad for this on-going connection because EAL will always be the career I chose and came to love. I have enjoyed every part of my career, and there were a few ups and downs, but I feel that the work we do in EAL is good work. We truly help people and like the ripples in a pond, we never know where our good work will land. Our students don’t generally come to us to learn English just for the sake of it. The acquisition of this language is usually to achieve a more primary purpose, like finding a job, attending school, etc. Learning English is an absolutely necessity for our students and by assisting them the way we do, we give them an invaluable gift.
I hope everyone who reads this understands the value and significance of BC TEAL. While we professionals may function well in our individual classrooms, without the association to bring us together to share and learn from one another, we would have no “profession”, just a lot of people doing their own thing. I would encourage everyone who reads this message to help spread the word on why BC TEAL is of such importance and why all EAL professionals should join and maintain membership. I found a professional home in BC TEAL, and I hope you all do too.
From the Summer 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter: At the time of this article, Joe Dobson was the president of BC TEAL. He is a senior lecturer at Thompson Rivers University. His research interests include educational technology, teacher education, and intercultural communication.
This article is licensed under a
Original reference information:
Dobson, J. (2017, Summer). A conversation with Michael Galli. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/TEAL-News-Summer-2017.pdf