Networking through interest sections in TESOL: NNEST-IS
*Dr. Bedrettin Yazan
When I was asked to write a blog entry on my networking experiences in TESOL International, I said to myself that I was not the best person to talk about it, because I have never felt like I have been able to use my time at the national and international conferences efficiently for networking purposes. However, then I thought it would be helpful for the readership if I shared my experiences, in general, becoming an active member of TESOL Non-native English Speaker Teachers (NNEST) Interest section (IS). Since Wenger’s (1998) idea of communities of practices could be very instrumental to understand the ways in which TESOL international and each one of its interest sections function, I will be referring to some concepts from his book in this entry.
I have been part of the NNESTIS (one of the 19 interest sections) in TESOL International for about seven years. I have had the distinct pleasure to serve as the co-editor (with Dr. Nathanael Rudolph) of the NNEST-IS Newsletter since 2012 and was elected as chair-elect effective as of the annual TESOL convention in Baltimore, MD during 5-8 April. Thanks to the community of the NNEST-IS, I have had the chance to meet and interact with TESOL professionals before and during the time of my editorial service. I cannot mention all the names here, but Madhukar is one of those great professionals I feel so honored to have met and stayed in touch with for about 4 years.
There is one crucial aspect of the NNEST-IS that I need to explain before I move on in this entry. Even though the name of this interest section could lead the readers to think that this interest section is ONLY for the non-native English speaker teachers, it is NOT the case. Regardless of their self-perceived nativeness or non-nativeness (two idealized binaries), any TESOL member can be part of the NNEST-IS activities. The main goal of this interest section is to promote professionalism and advocate for equitable professional relations in the field of English language teaching by fighting against the discourses of idealization and essentialization. Any TESOL member who is willing to participate in this professional community’s activities towards that goal is welcome in the NNEST-IS. I know it might sound odd, but in this case, the name of the interest section does not entirely represent the membership it implicitly invites and actually encompasses.
With this goal in mind, I have been questioning my role in and contribution (or lack thereof) to the NNEST-IS and the role of this interest section in my professional life. I have been trying to understand how my participation in NNEST-IS has been shaping my professional identity as a teacher, teacher educator, and educational researcher. Here are a few questions I have been grappling with: Is every member of the interest section supposed to be an advocate? Then, what is advocacy? What does it mean to be an advocate? What am I supposed to do and be for this advocacy? For whom and for what am I advocating? Can English language teachers be advocates for themselves? Do they need somebody else to advocate for them? How would TESOL international and NNEST- IS factor into those questions of mine?
Advocacy, which needs to be conceptualized along with agency, is the central concept in whatever type of participation TESOL members imagine for themselves as part of NNEST-IS. After perhaps thinking about the description and questions above, if you have decided or thought that the NNEST-IS is the one interest section that you believe your professional experiences, imaginations, and envisioning aligned with, then first thing you can do is to select NNEST-IS as your primary interest section in your TESOL membership profile and attend the business meeting and social dinner at the annual convention. Even if you are not attending the annual convention, you can still participate in the email conversations through the NNEST listserv managed by TESOL international, read the newsletter, write articles for the newsletter, read the NNEST interview blog, and follow the conversations in various online social media. As you start as a new member, you will have some “legitimate peripheral participation” (Wenger, 1998) process for a while, but I would recommend you volunteer for the leadership opportunities as soon as you feel comfortable. You learn how TESOL International and its interest sections work while you are an active participant in the voluntary activities and interacting with the “old-timers” of this professional community (Wenger, 1998). From my experience, interaction with old-timers has always been the most fruitful part of my participation and they have always been so willing to provide any help, support, and advice they can. All you need to do is to initiate the conversation and ask.
One important recommendation I can humbly present here is the following: consider your students, your passion in teaching them, your context, and your continuous professional development when making your ultimate decision regarding which interest sections in which you would like to be involved. Think about the ways in which your engagement and involvement in the activities of various interest sections will contribute to your professional identity development (your self-concept as a teacher of English) and influence on your teaching practice. There are 19 interest sections (see the link above) which supply a huge variety of services for the members of TESOL international. Each one of them has its own focus in teaching English. If you are attending the annual convention, you can visit their booths. If not, you can always contact and interact with their leaders and enjoy your TESOL international membership benefits. It is always possible to be active in more than one interest section at the same time and I believe all the interest sections would appreciate your service to them. You can initiate interaction with various interest sections from the list, and pick the ones that you feel will help you grow in your profession the most. One last important aspect of TESOL international is that it is through the members’ service and dedication that all professional communities are growing and able to serve their membership. You need to be involved in those communities as part of your professional growth, but also they need your sense of belonging and involvement to further support the other new members who are in the process of “legitimate peripheral participation” (Wenger, 1998).
Wenger, E. (1998).Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, UK:Cambridge University Press.
(*Dr. Bedrettin Yazan is an Assistant Professor of Second Language and Teaching at the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He has been serving as the co-editor of TESOL non-native English speaking teachers (NNEST) newsletter since 2012. As of April, he will be the Chair-Elect of TESOL NNEST Interest Section. He can be contacted at email@example.com. | http://yazan.people.ua.edu/.)