Straddling to Strength

Multiple fields.

April 19, 2016

Over the past year, I have had my professional legs straddling two different fields, ESL and Summer Sessions. It has been stressful at times, but I have also discovered that code switching between the two is not so difficult.  I attended both the North American Association of Summer Sessions (NAASS) conference and the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) conference this year.

At the NAASS conference, I was surprised every time someone referred to me as a “summer” person.  In my mind, I thought, No, I am an ESL person.  I joined the international roundtable discussions, and found that I was an expert of sorts on international recruitment, visas, language proficiency requirements and issues related to international students.  I learned that many concerns that impact summer sessions are also problems faced by many ESL programs: lots of international students, being outside of the “normal” academic year, and combatting a sense of a stigma against our students that our programs are remedial.  I learned more about marketing and promotion, student success, pre-college students and programmatic innovation than I had ever learned at a TESOL conference, and much of it applied to my ESL director position.

The TESOL conference has been my familiar stomping ground, but this year, I was more critical.  I looked for sessions on marketing, on administrative issues. Not finding them, I put on my ESL britches. I attended some great sessions on faculty development and hybrid learning to bring back and implement as Director of Summer Session.  I met the incoming Chair of the conference, and unloaded onto her ideas of sessions that I would like to see at TESOL that were inspired by the NAASS conference.

It has been interesting to see how the two fields diverge and intersect.  The differences between ESL and Summer Programs are clear.  University-level English as a Second Language programs are generally for international (and sometimes domestic) students who are either not yet admitted or conditionally admitted to a university.  They may support matriculated students, especially at the graduate level.  Although an ESL program can be academic in nature, much like a French course or a Latin course, the courses usually do not offer academic credit, and they largely focus around language skills such as reading, writing, listening and speaking, rather than content such as Philosophy or Biology.  Summer Programs offer academic, credit bearing courses that can count towards an undergraduate major, and may include courses such as French, Latin, Philosophy or Chemistry.  Summer students include students who attend the university, visiting students, and often visiting international students. The NAASS conference is geared towards administrators, while the TESOL conference is geared towards instructors.

ESL programs and NAASS share common goals.  NAASS institutions seek to internationalise their institutions through collaboration, knowledge exchange and continuous professional development.  TESOL is an international association of professionals advancing the quality of English language teaching through professional development, research, standards and advocacy.  Straddling the two has been beneficial for me and my programs. Administrators and teachers need each other at these conferences. Straddling means stretching, which leads to flexibility and strength.


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