November 19, 2010
Despite a two and a half month time crunch, two TESOL students organize a major conference for language educators at the Monterey Institute.
Courtney Pahl and Jennifer Grode (MATESOL '11) didn't expect to spend the first few months of their fall semester co-chairing a CATESOL conference for 400 guests. When an emergency search for a new location brought the conference to Monterey, they happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Patricia Szasz, CATESOL member and Director of the Intensive English Programs, worked closely with Courtney and Jennifer over the summer and offered them the opportunity to be Conference Co-Chairs at the end of August. The two TESOL students were immediately tasked with convening a 14 member committee, crafting a theme, wooing potential speakers, and coordinating overall logistics for the day-long event.
The conference theme, "Changing Tides: Transformative Teaching and Learning," captures both the idyllic Monterey location and the changing landscape of the language education field:
"We wanted to express not only the hardships of the field such as budget cuts and new reforms, but also the idea of doing more with less, of adapting to new contexts."
Courtney and Jennifer also recruited their "dream keynote speaker," Diane Larsen-Freeman, a prominent linguistic theorist whose concept of language as a dynamic system also reflects their theme of change. Thanks to a fortuitous lunch date with Professor Kathi Bailey, Courtney and Jennifer connected with Dr. Larsen-Freeman:
"Kathi said 'Keeping with your theme, who would you like to be your keynote speaker?' And we responded, laughing as though it would be impossible, 'What about Diane Larsen- Freeman.' Then Kathi said 'Okay, do you need her email address?' A big speaker like that doesn't usually come to a regional conference."
Other high-profile speakers included Kathi Bailey herself; almuna Maricel Santos, whose research connects healthcare and literacy; and Denise E. Murray, an advocate of the networked model of education.
Both Courtney and Jennifer believe that organizing the conference has played a role in their professional development. As Jennifer reflects
"Given that both of us are pursuing the Language Program Administration Certificate, it has helped us become thoughtful planners, able to see the big picture and small details at the same time. We've also built relationships with our committee members and delegated responsibilities, essential skills for our careers as administrators and educators."
For Courtney and Jennifer, who already have extensive teaching experience, the CATESOL Northern Regional Conference is yet another stepping stone towards their future careers. Courtney may apply for the English Language Fellow Program after graduation and explore the field of teacher training. Jennifer, who participated in Teach for America after college, hopes to return to her roots working with underserved schools and promoting equal access to education opportunities.
Catch up with the happenings of the 2010 CATESOL Northern Regional Conference hosted at the Monterey Institute on November 13, 2010.