Alumni and students celebrate 50 year masters program with memories and success

More than 50 years after the creation of the nation’s first ever graduate program for teaching English as a second language, SF State welcomed back alumni of the curriculum to campus last week.

The Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program was established to create a rich teacher development experience for M.A. students who wanted to teach English — in the United States or abroad — to non-native speakers.

At the Seven Hills Conference Center Oct. 17, President Leslie E. Wong brought the audience back to 1963, the year they began training graduates not for a job, but a career.

“I feel very lucky that I’ve gotten to meet so many different kinds of people from all over the world and I had just wonderful teachers,” said Bali Kathleen Nelson, a 1997 graduate. “It really gave me great training in developing materials and everything I needed to go out there and make a good life as an ESL teacher.”

Nelson said she used the skills from TESOL to teach English language courses to Roman Catholic nuns at the Monastery of Perpetual Adoration in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, which led to a book and short film.

“With this program you get a really good theoretical basis and framework for teaching but then you also get a lot of opportunities to practice teaching, to volunteer to be a teacher and that to me is really important,” said current graduate student Lina Jurkunas. “Also, the tradition of this program is incredible. We’re celebrating 50 years today and that’s a very special moment. I feel very lucky and blessed to be a part of this program.”

Linda Teague, class of 1979 graduate, stepped foot on campus for the first time in over 35 years to attend the program’s anniversary.  Teague had already taught English in Mexico and Japan before getting her master’s and continued to teach English as she set up schools in Brazil shortly after her graduation. Teague got out of the field in 1984 but still expressed a strong love for the community and faculty here at SF State.

“It was absolutely the thing I feel I was born to do and I hate saying stuff like that,” Teague said.

SF State’s renowned program attracts students from all over the world, some as far as South Korea, where current student Jung Kyu Na was teaching until she came to America on her study leave.

“When I studied for the teacher’s exam back home, I studied with Dr. Brown’s books and found out he actually taught at SFSU in the M.A. TESOL program and I was like ‘that’s the school I’m going to’ and that’s when I decided to come here,” said Jung. “Now I’m really satisfied with the program. It’s well balanced.”

Alumni from years past mingled with one another during the 50th anniversary over old faculty, memories and inside jokes that 2014 TESOL Teacher of the Year, Ann Fontanella recalled the activity “turn to your partner and discuss” and the room erupted with laughter.

“Our students go to teach in a wide range of contexts, including adult schools, community colleges, private language institutes, and universities in the SF Bay Area, and across the country,” said Professor David Olsher. “Our international students often return to their home countries, such as Korea, China, Japan, and Taiwan, where they teach in universities or are promoted to teacher training posts for secondary school teachers.”

Friday’s anniversary displayed a long-anticipated time to come for individuals to celebrate 50 years of success. “It’s just a wonderful program, really nice teachers and nice students, because ESL teachers tend to be nice, open minded, multicultural type of people,” Nelson said.

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