February 22, 2019
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Kathleen Flynn, Past President, CATESOL, USA

CATESOL’s History

CATESOL, which started in 1969, was always at the forefront of TESOL affiliates in the U.S. Owing to the large size of the state and its growing and highly diverse population, the founders of our organization quickly realized that one meeting per year would not serve the large number of teachers and graduate students who needed the expertise that CATESOL mentors could offer. Gloria Jameson, the first president of CATESOL, held initial meetings in both Los Angeles and Monterey (the location of the Defense Language Institute). CATESOL has grown and the map shown below lists the current number of chapters in California and the Northern and Southern divisions of Nevada. What follows is a brief history of CATESOL by the decade. As of late 2018, Nevada ESL professionals have formed their own TESOL affiliate (nvtesol.org)

Map of CATESOL chapters

The 70s

CATESOL conferences were first called “minis.” By 1971, these mini conferences had soon morphed into northern and southern conferences held roughly two weeks apart in November. By 1975, attendance had almost doubled with conferences held in both San Francisco and Long Beach. CATESOL decided to expand to five regional conferences (L.A., the Bay Area, Orange County, Fresno, and Ventura County). In September of 1974, a Nevada Committee was added to address the needs of our neighboring state.

Much like the states of New York and Texas, California experienced a large influx of immigrant students into the different levels of state-funded education (K-12, community college, and university systems). TexTESOL set up numbered regions due to the large size of the state. California chose geographic names that reflected either a county or a larger area. By November of 1975, CATESOL had 15 regions as well as a committee for Nevada. The chairs and assistant chairs of these regional groups met both locally and at the annual state conference. In large metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles County, local chapters were formed.

The 80s

CATESOL continued to grow in the 1980s as refugees from wars and poverty sought better lives for themselves and their families. From 1984 to 85, three more chapters were added (Nevada, Orange County, and Sacramento) and in 1988 the CATESOL Board approved the creation of theCATESOL Journal. This academic publication had previously been a series of Occasional Papers.

The 90s

The waves of immigration spilled over from the late 80s to the early and mid-90s. More colleges and universities added TESOL MA and certificate programs. With more ESL professionals getting jobs in the field, it became necessary to support and represent the various professional academic concerns of the CATESOL membership. Thus, Interest Groups were added. In 1988, the Intercultural Communication and TELL (Technology Enhanced Language Learning) Groups were added. The following year saw the addition of both the Teaching English in the Workplace Group and the Non-native Language Educators Issues Group.

The 2000s

The 2000s brought more changes initiated at both the state and national level. CATESOL needed to keep up with new legislation that had an impact on students, teachers, and school funding, so Jeff Frost was hired as CATESOL’s Legislative Advocate in 2000 to keep members informed about issues related to teaching English language learners and to make the needs of our students clear to our legislators. CATESOL is unique in that it represents teachers of English to non-native speakers at every level and type of educational setting. A full list of the current board positions may be found at catesol.org.

CATESOL also sends representatives to Washington once a year to meet with U.S. legislators to put forth the concerns of ESL teachers in California and Nevada.

CATESOL Past President Sydney Rice and K-12 Advocacy Chair Judy O’Loughlin visit Rep. Eric Swalwell’s office in Washington D.C.

​CATESOL is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (501-c-3), so there are certain limits on what such an organization may fund, and it may not use the majority of its funds to influence legislation. The CATESOL Educational Foundation was formed in 2006 in order to fund projects and events. Some of these projects have included funding speakers for the annual conference, sponsoring training workshops, and establishing a Regional Stipend Fund to help students attend regional conferences.

2016 Rick Sullivan Stipend Awardee Ninet Aghasarourian with 2017 Regional Stipend Awardee John Pervez

Funding was for this foundation was provided by the estate of Dr. Sumako Kimizuka, a professor of Japanese and Linguistics at the University of Southern California (USC) and a long-time advocate for ESL students. Dr. Kimizuka had learned English in Japan prior to moving to California for graduate studies and mentored many Linguistics and ESL students during her long career. Karen Dennis and Dan Fichtner spearheaded the effort to create the foundation with this funding along with a group of dedicated volunteers.

John Liang, the 2016 winner of the Sadae Iwataki award, sitting in front row with ten past award winners.

The 2010s

The current climate is more challenging. There is more of an emphasis on testing at every level of education. Colleges and universities in California have felt the effects of increased scrutiny by accrediting agencies. Adjunct teachers have had to deal with class reductions. The current trend of moving students out of ESL classes and into Freshman Writing sooner is one that bears watching.

The good news is that many CATESOL members have worked tirelessly to help amend legislation to protect both teachers and students. Assembly Bill 705 could have limited ESL instruction to one level below transfer-level English. Instead, the bill now allows a three-year timeframe. More significantly, California law now codifies that ESL instruction is “distinct from remediation in English” and that students enrolled in ESL coursework are foreign language learners.” This makes a big difference for students who are seeking financial aid and to adjunct teachers looking for more classes. Administrators can better plan for future budgets and class scheduling. The story will continue since ESL programs will have until Fall 2020 to comply with the provisions of AB 705.


CATESOL sent a letter and a white paper to state congressional representatives explaining the impact that new legislation would have on DACA students. CATESOL sent an email to membership describing how to contact federal legislators to request that opportunities for DACA students be restored.


In addition to the CATESOL Journal, CATESOL offers a website with access to articles, a job bank, information on recent legislation and opportunities to volunteer and mentor. This is a far cry from the stapled newsletter that was mailed to members in the 1970s.

What CATESOL Has Meant to Some Recent Past Presidents

Gretchen Bitterlin (1995-96)

When I started teaching ESL in 1972, I knew nothing about actually teaching ESL, so I went to a CATESOL Regional conference to learn what to do in the classroom. CATESOL’s professional development was vital, so I never missed a Regional or State conference after that. I received leadership training through serving as the Adult Level Chair and as CATESOL President. This gave me the confidence to serve in leadership positions within my program at San Diego Continuing Education. One of the things I am most proud of is the political work we did through CATESOL to pass a ‘No” vote on Proposition 187, which would have discriminated against immigrants. The battle continues to protect immigrant rights, and CATESOL can be a powerful force in fighting that battle.

Kara Rosenberg (1996-97)

I owe much of my leadership career to CATESOL. I believe that participating in professional organizations is an important part of a career. One of the things that struck me the most as I went through several CATESOL offices was the importance of sociopolitical work. I was uneasy about jumping into the politics of helping our students and other immigrants, but through participation, I came to realize the importance of working for appropriate educational legislation and for protecting the rights of immigrants. We need to immerse ourselves in this work because it seriously affects our students and their families. Legislators need our input and working through a professional organization increases our influence.

Kathleen Flynn (2008-09)

I joined CATESOL in 1980. I was a new grad student at USC and my professors told me that this organization would make a difference in my life. I saw former students returning to put on conferences and they told me how their experiences volunteering with CATESOL had helped them to make contacts in the field that led to jobs. I attended my first state conference in 1980 and realized that this was the organization for me. Over the years, I have met many people whom I now call friends and I look forward to the annual conference as a time to reconnect and to keep current in the field.

Belinda Braunstein (2009-10)

I’ll never forget when I joined the CATESOL board mid-year as a new Chapter Chair in the late 1990s, replacing a person who moved away. I had no idea what to expect at my first big state board meeting, and I didn’t know a soul. Everyone was so kind. Two people came up to me at different times to welcome me and answer my many questions. I knew right away that this was a great organization that I would become active in.

Lynne Díaz-Rico (2010-11)

At every CATESOL conference over the years, whether a local, regional, or the annual, I have reconnected with colleagues I rarely see in person (California is a big state!), made new friends, attended terrific presentations, and acquired new technology skills. I have my own favorite presenters that I seek out time and again--these have been my teachers over the years. I always try to contribute as well. This year I made my 50th CATESOL academic presentation. Many thanks to those colleagues who have supported me as I have grown and matured in this profession!

Ellen Lange (2014-15)

When I decided to teach ESL/EFL instead of French, Gwendolyn T. Schwabe, aka Tippy, a CATESOL icon, taught my very first teacher training class. Our class attended the Northern Regional at the University of San Francisco. Once there, I was captivated by the colorful ribbons hanging on name tags and said to myself, “I want one of those.” To reach my goal of “that ribbon,” I taught, care gave for my husband, and studied for my M.A. in TESOL at CSU­—Sacramento, all at the same time. And I had started presenting before I finished my degree. My “collection” progressed to a CATESOL Board ribbon when I became College and University Chair. Along the way, I also wore Conference Committee and Conference Chair ribbons. In 2012, Tippy Schwabe “urged” me to run for President. I was retired by then but wanted to continue service. I never forgot my primary goal which was to promote all levels of instruction and encourage instructors to learn from one another as I firmly believe we are pieces of a much larger puzzle. I treasure my time in service to CATESOL and just agreed at the 2018 Annual to become the TOP Co-coordinator for 2018-19 and wear yet another ribbon.

Thanks to K. Lynn Savage for sharing the outline of her presentation on the history of CATESOL.

Kathleen Flynn taught ESL at the community college and university levels and was the Series Editor for the Panorama reading series.

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Upcoming Affiliate Conferences

For additional conference information or to submit an event, visit the Worldwide Calendar of Events online.

March 2019

12-15: TESOL International Convention & English Language Expo

April 2019

17-19: PELLTA iELT-CON 2019

May 2019

16-18: TESOL Colombia Conference 2019
31-2 June: JALTCALL 2019

June 2019

28-29: HELTA TESOL 5th Conference

July 2019

3-4: 8th ETAI International 'Anniversary' Conference
3-5: ACPI-TESOL Costa Rica


Africa TESOL: Past, present and future aspirations

Presenter: Okon Effiong
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