TESOL Caucuses Are about Who We Are

Through TESOL caucuses, you join your voice with those of other TESOL members who share your beliefs, challenges, and values, writes Lucie Moussu. See Phil Quirke's Out of the Box article, "Three Years after Springing Out of the Box," Essential Teacher, March 2007, pp. 24-25.

When I started teaching, my first supervisor told me something that I never forgot: when you enter the classroom, you leave your personal life at the door. Little by little, however, I realized that I could leave the events of my life outside the classroom, but I could not leave my personality, my life experiences, my disability, my first language, and my beliefs. All these came with me to class and influenced my teaching, for better or for worse.

If TESOL's interest sections are about what teachers do in professional life, caucuses are about who teachers are. Interest sections bring together teachers who are engaged in similar types of professional activities, while caucuses draw together people who may share life experiences. Interest sections are about professional expertise, while caucuses are about beliefs, challenges, and values.

A Relatively New TESOL Entity

Caucuses have been part of the TESOL association for only eleven years. In 1996, TESOL recognized the Christian Educators in TESOL Caucus (CETC) after the group had held twelve years of informal meetings. The Caucus on Part-Time Employment Concerns (COPTEC) was also created in 1996. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Friends (LGBTF) Caucus and the International Black Professionals and Friends in TESOL (IBPFT) Caucus were recognized in 1997. In 1998, Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL (NNEST) became an official caucus. Two years later, TESOLers for Social Responsibility (TSR) held its first official meeting.

The purposes of these caucuses are as follows:

  • CETC is composed of persons who have a common interest in the teaching of English to speakers of other languages and share a common belief in Jesus Christ.
  • COPTEC is dedicated to righting the inequities facing English language teaching professionals with less-than-full-time positions and to promoting the improvement of their working conditions.
  • The IBPFT Caucus exists to promote and enhance the professional growth and development of TESOL members of color by providing a forum for discussion of pertinent issues.
  • The purpose of the LGBFT Caucus is to create fair, safe, and accepting environments for students and colleagues of all sexual orientations.
  • The goals of the NNEST Caucus are to create a nondiscriminatory professional environment for all TESOL members regardless of native language and place of birth; to encourage the formal and informal gatherings of nonnative speakers at TESOL and affiliate conferences; to encourage research and publications on the role of nonnative speaker teachers in ESL and EFL contexts; and to promote the role of nonnative speaker members in TESOL and affiliate leadership positions.
  • TSR comprises TESOL members who are engaged in integrating language teaching with social responsibility, world citizenship, and an awareness of global issues such as peace, human rights, and the environment.

Strong Voices

Caucuses are organized by TESOL members like you and me. The chair and chair-elect are elected by caucus members. Web managers and newsletter editors volunteer or are elected for two- or three-year terms. In addition to producing biannual newsletters, caucuses organize electronic discussions and share information on their Web sites.

Caucuses increasingly have strong voices in the TESOL association and a significant professional impact. For example, several members of the NNEST Caucus conducted and published research about discrimination based on the first language of TESOL educators. Then the caucus worked with TESOL board members on a resolution against such inequities in the workplace. This resolution, passed in March 2006, should have worldwide impact. Other caucuses organize monthly workshops in various countries, provide lists of recommended materials (for example, books and movies) that can be used in the ESL/EFL classroom, create communities of support, and establish links with other international organizations, such as UNESCO.

Personal and Professional Benefits

Unlike interest sections, there is no fee to join a caucus, and you can be a member of several caucuses. What I like about caucuses is that, for example, you don't have to be a Black professional to belong to the IBPFT Caucus. Being a member, however, will help you better understand the situation of students and colleagues of color. It can raise your awareness of and sensitivity to teaching materials that disseminate discrimination and negative stereotypes.

If you join a caucus, you have the opportunity to hold a leadership position and publish brief articles in the caucus newsletter without the pressure often associated with volunteering for a larger organization or writing for a peer-reviewed journal. These activities promote voices and positions that might not otherwise be heard in the association. From a personal perspective, holding such positions and writing articles for publication are crucial elements of successful professional life.

But perhaps the most important benefit of being a caucus member is the ability to network with groups of interesting individuals. When I started working on my doctoral research, I was able to correspond with people all over the world who could help me with my project or knew people who could. When I looked for employment, members of my caucus shared tips and suggestions with me so that I was better prepared for my job search.

Through its caucuses, TESOL recognizes that both professional skills and personal experiences belong in and enrich the ESOL classroom. By recognizing these caucuses, the association demonstrates the attitude that multiple voices working together have much power to affect change in a world that often fears differences and change. Learning from one another and sharing knowledge and life experiences are vital for the type of broad enrichment that makes TESOL members good educators.

Lucie Moussu (moussu @ ryerson . ca) is an assistant professor in applied linguistics at Ryerson University, in Toronto, Canada.