(excerpt from the Spring 2005 WAESOL World Quarterly by then WAESOL President LaVona L. Reeves, Ph.D.)
“Sally Wellman was an ESL faculty at Eastern Washington University in the eighties and passed away after a long bout with cancer. Still in her thirties when she died, she never had the opportunity to complete her doctoral degree at Gonzaga or continue to educate ESL teachers and learners. She was well known and respected in the Spokane region and was one of the key players in starting the Spokane Regional Conference. What I remember most about Sally is her devotion to students and peers. It was Sally who recognized talent in Pacific Rim undergraduates and recruited them for the MA TESL program or encouraged them to go home and make a difference in their own countries as they taught English there. Sally’s workday never ended at 5 PM, for she believed that language learners needed to know the rivers, lakes and mountains of the Northwest. It was her mission to ensure that their stay here was enriched with cultural and sports outings as well as contact with Americans in a variety of settings. And, to that end, she gave tirelessly to our students and to us—driving van loads of us to national parks, ski resorts, and art exhibits.”
Excerpts from Sally’s Keynote speech at 1991 Spokane Regional ESL Conference
If you decide to get into English language teaching, you’ll find yourself one of a number of committed individuals who will accept your way of doing things and they will expect commitment from you. Once you start into English language teaching, you’ll never be the same.
English language teaching changes a person, affecting self-concept and altering egos forever. By moving the self from center stage, raising awareness of other people’s value systems, challenging the self to learning a non-judgmental way of life and leading a person into a way of living that causes constant introspection and learning, we all have the opportunity for change.
Yes, English language teaching is a life decision. Remember what Albert Einstein said as he was dying, “It would have been so nice to have been a plumber.” He was expressing a simple desire for a life uncluttered by professional responsibilities. I think we all wish for the simple life – at one moment or another. Yet, once we’re in this very person-oriented field, we become addicted to the highs we get from intense human interactions as we work with our own cognitive system and expand those of our students to include the possibilities of understanding the world and the human condition through the English Language, the rhetorical patterns, the thought processes and the understanding available therein.
English language teachers learn to be like ballet dancers, always stretching and reaching, always turning and trying to be grace and gentility personified – always on our toes. Spinning as we do, I suppose it’s harder to be heels; we get to see a bit of human nature. And what we see, we learn to value because we recognize it as the human story.
English language teaching is a commitment – like a religion, like a way of life: to stay free, to be a link to a different world, to be different, to be a champion for others, to serve as advocate, to be the one who represents all the positives and negatives of the English speaking culture, to be an outcast at times because of the xenophobic nature of society, to be humble, ever recognizing that there is so much to learn from those we teach. This is the persona of the TEACHER, the basis for the building of respect for other people so that the world can become a set of interdependent communities, a world of peaceful existence.
Yes, we’re talking about taking responsibility for a lot, including the wise use of power. English language teaching is more than a job. It is a life decision and a commitment. As I explore the dimensions of the profession, I explore also, the potential for human development, starting with me. I concur with Mae West when she said, “Too much of a good thing … is wonderful.”