Bevin Taylor has a Masters in Teaching ESL from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She currently teaches all levels of ESL to adult immigrant and refugee learners at Highline College. She co-founded and teaches in the Jumpstart Program at Highline, which provides tuition waivers and support for ABE/ESL students transitioning to college. In addition to her work in the classroom, Bevin enjoys being part of other student-centered initiatives at the college such as the Culturally Responsive Educators Group, Unity through Diversity Week, and the Advising Taskforce. She has appreciated being a part of WAESOL and working with other dedicated professionals on the WAESOL Board.
How did you become interested in TESOL?
My undergraduate major was Linguistics and Spanish, and I was sure that I was going to be a “professional linguist” (whatever that means!). The focus of my senior thesis was minority language shift – the process by which minority language communities progressively shift over time to using the dominant language exclusively for all purposes. As part of my research, I was hoping to make a connection with some local immigrant families to learn about their language use. My thesis advisor suggested I might meet people by volunteering in a nearby community-based adult ESL class. I had no idea what to expect on my first night as a volunteer, but after two hours, I was hooked! I couldn’t believe this was someone’s job, and I thought it was the perfect career for me – using my love of languages and linguistics to actually help people in a tangible way.
I went on to get my Masters of TESL at Bowling Green State University, and I have never looked back. I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon my dream job, and cannot think of anything else I’d rather be doing with my career.
Why do you serve on the board?
I joined the WAESOL Board in 2008, shortly after moving to Washington, as a way to meet people in the field. I started as a member-at-large and figured I would only stay until the end of my two-year term. But then I had such a great time planning that first conference that I decided to stay a bit longer. Seeing professionals come from all parts of the state (and beyond) to learn from their colleagues was very inspiring, and I was proud to be a part of that. My goal on the board was always to provide the highest quality professional development possible, on a scale that would be affordable and accessible for teachers in Washington. I think in most cases we have achieved that, and the Board is continuing to find new ways to support the dedicated professionals in our region – from Tri-TESOL, to expanded pre-conference workshops, to moving the annual conference to Spokane next year. I have enjoyed collaborating with the other hardworking members of the Board, and I am excited to see where they head in the future.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger teacher self?
Oh, lots of things! I think I made a ton of mistakes in my first couple years of teaching. However, the biggest thing I’ve learned is to listen more to the students and build curriculum from there. I used to come to class with these elaborate lessons and activities that I had designed during the break times. I was sure everything would be a hit, and when it all fell flat, I couldn’t understand why. A few years into teaching, I attended a workshop at TESOL by Gail Weinstein, author of Learners’ Lives As Curriculum. She reminded me of all the things I’d learned in grad school about Freire’s ideas of participatory education. It took me a while to get used to the idea of “emergent curriculum,” and not having the whole quarter planned out from day one, but I eventually saw how much better learners responded to lessons and activities that took into account their current lives outside the classroom. It’s now a much easier process to design curriculum around my actual students, but I wish that I had understood that from the very beginning.
What do you think is a major challenge for the field today?
I think one of the major challenges to the field is the growing use of adjunct and contingent labor in the classroom – especially at the community college level. Obviously, this is not a good situation for teachers, who must sometimes take two or three teaching jobs at two or three different (and far-flung) institutions just to make ends meet. Many teachers work on a quarter-to-quarter basis, not knowing until the last minute if they will even have a contract for the coming quarter. This situation is not great for students either. Even though these are dedicated and passionate teachers, who work hard to plan engaging lessons for their students, there is only so much effort you can put into planning and preparation when you spend three to four hours commuting to different jobs each day. And because they spend less time on any one campus, adjunct teachers are less likely to fully understand campus policies, procedures, and resources, and therefore can not pass this information on to students. We are professionals, most of us with graduate degrees, and we all care deeply about doing a good job for our students. If institutions would do a better job of treating ALL instructors as professionals, both the students and the institutions would benefit.
Tell me something unexpected about you.
As part of my graduate degree at Bowling Green State University in northern Ohio, I worked on a project to help local members of the Mingo Iroquois Tribe to preserve their indigenous language. We collaborated with the tribal members to design a variety of language learning materials and activities, including recordings and videos of various dialogs that I played bit parts in. I “learned” a little bit of Mingo during that time. I don’t remember much, but I still remember how to say “Hello you guys!” – Kuwe swakwékö!
Where do you think WAESOL will be in 10 years?
I hope we will be continuing to grow and represent more and more professionals in our region. I hope that more people will get involved on the board, and that the board will have representation from a more diverse array of professionals and teaching backgrounds. As an organization, I think we are moving more in the direction of advocacy for our members, and I hope that this role expands. There are so many changes coming in the field, with new federal and state requirements, technology, and changes in our student populations; I hope that WAESOL can be a leader in supporting our members through whatever the future brings.