A few years ago, I wrote a post called “Can TESOL Save the World?” It was based on my naive belief that what we do should have some positive impact on the world. It was also based on a somewhat cynical viewpoint that while we may be training scientists, innovators, and world leaders, we might not be (or we might be training future Hitlers).
After moving from an EFL to and ESL environment and working in higher education, I am more confident in stating that, in many ways, TESOL can save the world. Or, at least change the world. And not only The World, but Worlds.
As a teacher in an EFL context, I was teaching homogeneous groups of (Korean) English majors at a Korean university. A wonderful job, with wonderful students, but I didn’t feel I had made any major ripples in the pond of fate to the effect that they would change the world. Now, as I teach a mix of international students working hard to enter undergraduate, masters degree, and PhD programs, I feel like I am, in fact, making ripples – and sometimes waves – in that very same pool.
Yes, I’m (mostly) teaching language, not content, but I am equipping these students with the skills necessary to become researchers, scientists, innovators and activists. This is certainly one domino towards making a difference. Beyond this, I am also changing students’ worlds in that I am helping them get the chance to study and live in a foreign environment that many of them feel is freer and safer than their home countries. Case in point, our department has a new influx of Iraqi graduate students. Iraq, by no measure, is a safe country, especially with a growing ISIS presence. If I can help these students enter university and fulfill their dreams, and they and their families get to live longer because of it, it’s clear I have made a definite, positive change.
Why do I feel the need to self-aggrandize, or pat myself on the back. I don’t. I’m not trying to brag. I’m just trying to paint one example of what I am sure are many of the good work we do. We need some positivity in our field, especially when many people believe ELT is going down the drain.