By ALISSA WOLTERS
—The first time I heard about CATESOL was in a job interview. Usually, job interviews are the last place I would want to be caught off guard, and this was no different. Amid a series of questions regarding my teaching methodology, my future supervisor, Jennifer Nolasco, asked if I participated in or was a member of CATESOL. I remember being completely stunned. Sure, the acronym sounded vaguely similar to the graduate program I was enrolled in, TESOL, but I could not be sure. I was forced to be honest and answer “No.” Jennifer looked surprised but graciously went on to explain the benefits of being a member: conferences, journal articles, ideas for materials, and continued education postdegree.
Fortunately, not knowing what CATESOL was did not affect my qualifications; I was hired as a teacher regardless, except now, I kept my eyes and ears alert for any mention of this organization.
At the time, I was a full-time graduate student with, thanks to that interview, two part-time jobs. During the next two years, I heard bits and pieces about CATESOL from either professors in the Linguistics Department or from Jennifer. However, whenever there were events, I was too overwhelmed with other responsibilities, and I was intimidated because I had never attended a conference and did not know what to expect.
One year later, during my final semester in the program, I promised myself that I would join CATESOL upon graduation and finally find the time and confidence to take more control of my extracurricular education, but in the meantime, I decided to search for any events that would take place at the time I would be finishing my studies. After visiting catesol.org, I found out that there were quite a few in the fall and winter, many more than I expected, which excited me. Although I wanted to attend the wide variety of conferences available, I knew that I had to be selective because between work, volunteering, and writing my comprehensive paper, I had very little time. It was on this website that I found out about the Orange County Chapter.
A lot of aspects appealed to me about this chapter. It was close (minimal driving is always a reason for celebration in LA and Orange Counties), it was intimate (I would actually get to hobnob with local professionals), and it was affordable (less than $100 for the day). The Fall Workshop immediately went to the top of my list.
Excited about attending, I went to the OC Chapter website, catesoloc.org. Here, sure enough, was Jennifer’s smiling face among those of the other chapter members. A notice on the site called for poster proposals, and, having just presented my independent research for my comprehensive paper, I decided I had enough skills to write an abstract on an interest I had not yet had the opportunity to explore for a school paper—community building in the ESL classroom. Without much preparation, I wrote an abstract. When I submitted the form, I doubted I would be presenting, but I figured it was good practice nevertheless.
One week later, I received an email from my graduate adviser offering the OC Chapter Graduate Student Initiative Grant for one graduate student from each nearby school—CSU Long Beach, CSU Fullerton, and Biola—to be given free admission to the Fall Workshop and lunch in exchange for reporting to his or her classmates, writing a review of the experience, and attending a board meeting. Of course, I immediately applied.
Over Thanksgiving break, I found out that I had been selected to not only present my poster but as the graduate student to represent CSULB.
One month later, the time for the conference finally arrived. I attended with my boyfriend, who studies Spanish literature, and a former student who wanted to become a TEFL teacher in his home country, Japan. I arrived early to set up my poster and was greeted by Jennifer, who immediately put me at ease. I saw that although there was relatively low attendance, everyone who was there was hungry for information. Throughout the day, between listening to talks and presenting my poster, I saw that I was with like-minded individuals; we all wanted to empower our students and give them skills to succeed autonomously. I felt at home. By the end of the day, Jennifer had invited me to join the board and attend meetings.
The OC Chapter Fall Workshop was an extremely rewarding experience. The plenary speaker, Bruce Rubin, spoke of critical thinking and illustrated how easy it is to include thought-provoking activities into a lesson regardless of the materials available. Roger Dupuy’s presentation inspired me to not only use Apple technology more in the classroom, but to become a better instructor as I observed his ease and mastery as he navigated himself around the room. The opportunity to talk to other instructors about my own passions during my poster presentation showed me that there are many other teachers with the same goal as mine—to create an atmosphere that protects our students from the attacks on immigrants in our country while still promoting learning. I had brought materials that I had developed to perform needs analysis, peer reviews, and other student-centered tasks. By the end of the day, I was completely out of handouts, but I was left with the satisfying thought that maybe I, a graduate student and fairly new teacher, had somehow contributed to the field.
This conference gave me confidence in my skills as an instructor while also honoring me for my hard work as a student. Rather than feeling out of my element, I felt at ease and held my own with other local teachers. Because I received such a warm and interested response from my poster presentation, I have now applied and presented at other conferences. In fact, I am now planning a workshop to talk to fellow CSULB students about CATESOL, the OC Chapter, local and larger conferences, and how and why to apply. Jennifer has also talked to me about being a blind poster reader for future abstract proposals. The OC Chapter Fall Workshop has driven me to not only become a more active participant in the education community, but it has given me the tools and motivation to grow into a better instructor.
Alissa Wolters earned a BA in History from University of California, Santa Barbara and recently graduated from CSU, Long Beach’s master’s program in Applied Linguistics with an emphasis in TESOL. She is an English instructor in Southern California and in the process of applying to PhD programs.
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