Ron Belisle


Ron has taught at Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute in Spokane since 1990. He served 5 and half years on the WAESOL Board. Ron and his wife Kathy (also an ESL teacher) enjoy traveling, corn hole toss and East Coast Swing dancing.

Tell us about the first time you really felt like you helped someone learn English

My first experience truly helping someone (that I recall) with English was when I went to Japan in 1983. It was my first teaching job just out of college before my master’s degree which came 4 years later. The company that hired me was a Tokyo based language service company that hired young people from the USA, Australia and England for a year or two. In Tokyo I plowed through a 2-week crash course on teaching business English. I was then sent out to different companies (Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Mitsui Chemicals, and others) where I taught office workers and professionals (engineers, scientists, etc.) basic business English on site. I even lived in a company dormitory in a remote part of Japan for 6 months. I was the only American in a city of about 80,000 people. What an experience!

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger teacher self?

I love that quote by Christopher McDougall in his book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. He says, “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

I’m glad that over the years I have striven to improve as a teacher, to innovate and to think out of the box. And I have associated with many people that do the same and believe strongly in the profession of ESL by moving it forward through their service, innovation and dedication to the students.

Tell us about an experience that changed your perspective on yourself or the world around you. Have you ever bumped up against something so new, that it changed your viewpoint? (Of course you have!)

There have been two main experiences that have changed my views on how I see world and others around me. The first has to do with my faith journey. After high school I became a Christian, and this was the number one life changing experience for me. It helped me see my world and my service to others in a new light. All of my teaching, helping, encouraging, mentoring, etc. has been more and more directed by a passage in Matthew 25 (Jesus speaking) which reads “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Secondly, my first and only experience living overseas in Japan for 4 years as a young teacher was full of life changing perspectives. Having lived in rural Montana for most of my growing up years meant that I had had limited experiences with space (way too much compared to the rest of the world), relationships (relating only to people like me from the same culture), and culture (relatively new and cowboy style vs. ancient). For an inside look at a big aspect of the culture I grew up in, read “The Bartender’s Tale by Ivan Doig.  I learned a lot living in Japan, especially about different worldviews and different ideas about relationships and how the world works. The experience of living in a new culture involved, as it does for most who have a similar experience, going from the excitement of new sights and surroundings at first to a degree of culture shock later with feelings of dissatisfaction, irritation, and loneliness.  Also, in learning a different language I experienced confusion, moments of humiliation and embarrassment, frustration and loss of personality. I slowly began to accept all of this as part of the journey. This along with seemingly conflicting values in the fascinating Japanese culture helped me embrace ambiguity more and not fight against things that I didn’t understand.

If you had a year of paid sabbatical, what would you do with it?

I would go on a year long around-the-world cruise with my wife Kathy. We would just need about $80,000 each or something like that. :)

Tell us something unexpected about you.

May I list a couple?

  • I do magic and I have a show (not professional) that I perform about 3-4 times a year for students and sometimes others.
  • I have attended about 43 ESL conferences (13 TESOL, 6 WAESOL, 2 Tri-TESOL, 2 TESL Canada and more than 20 Spokane Regional ESL conferences). For 21 of these, I have served on the planning committee, and for 10 of them I have served as conference chair.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new instructor, what would it be?

Make it your ambition to put students and their needs first, strive to care, to listen, and to create effective and innovative educational experiences for your students. Students are the end game, the benefactors. It’s their success that matters.