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Teacher Agency, Societal Change, and Professionalism in TESOL

by Nicolas Parés |

This blog is part of the TESOL Research Professional Council (RPC) Blog series.

Standards for teacher effectiveness offer direction for developing educators in the TESOL profession. In Colorado, where I work, the State’s Educator Effectiveness Office offers standards covering teacher responsibilities like professionalism and lesson planning to help teachers and teacher education programs foster teaching excellence.

According to the Colorado Department of Education, the professionalism standard in Colorado reads, “Teachers demonstrate professionalism through ethical conduct, reflection, and leadership.” When providing this standard to a new English language instructor, what might their interpretation be? How do they translate this definition of professionalism into practice? How did their teacher educator program and TESOL classes prepare them to be professionals?

Professional Standards and Societal Change

These questions can be further complicated when considering societal change. In the past, TESOL has developed and shared position statements on societal issues that impacted policy and practice. For example, TESOL published a “Position Statement on the Preparation of Pre-K–12 Educators for Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in the United States.” This position clarified the ethical direction for teacher preparation as it recognized that the number of English learners entering public schools was growing. A more recent societal change was the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 43% of Pre-K–12 students in February 2021 were enrolled in distance education programming, and in 2020 73% of postsecondary students were enrolled in distance programming. This change begs the question of what standards of professionalism look like when our teaching context and classrooms change.

How Do Teachers Interpret “Professionalism”?

At Front Range Community College in Colorado, our working answer is inclusiveness. My TESL colleagues and I are developing a research approach to help us incorporate a professionalism dimension into our TESL curriculum. We will include voices and perspectives from our diverse TESL students, TESL peers, and ESL program students.

Supported by the TESOL Research Agenda, which emphasizes systematically questioning assumptions and testing theories, we may find that the Colorado State standards are adequate, but our hope is that through a qualitative, grounded theory study, we can cocreate a definition for professionalism that is inclusive and representative of our changing society.

Inclusion by Research Design

A grounded theory study may be the best choice because of its pragmatic approach. Corbin and Strauss state that the researcher constantly compares what is being collected, that is, what people say, until a stable theme is found. As we ask the three groups of participants to define professionalism and provide examples, our hope is to reach a definition for professionalism that can be used to create professional criteria for our TESL certificate program.

We are excited to share this inclusive research approach and invite you to share your own ideas about professionalism and teaching English in a time of societal change. What changes do you see around you, in your teaching context? What does professionalism in TESOL mean to you?

See other posts in the TESOL Research Professional Council (RPC) Blog series.

About the author

Nicolas Parés

Nicolas Parés is currently an adjunct instructor in a TESL program, the 2022 outgoing CoTESOL president, and 2022 Research Professional Council member. He teaches courses in applied linguistics, adult learning, and Instructional methods to adult learners. His research interests cover social justice, OER, a pedagogy of care, and learner-centered approaches to ELA learning and teacher education.

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