May 2012
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Meet an ITA Member
Elizabeth Gillstrom, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Hi, Elizabeth. Thanks for talking with us. Can we start with just a brief bio?

Sure. I was born and raised in a small suburban town in West Michigan. I’m a first generation learner, so when it came to picking a college, I had no idea where to start! Something about Kalamazoo College’s study abroad program seemed intriguing to me, so I signed up. I had the opportunity to work and study in Kolkata, India through the International Partnership for Service Learning. That’s where I had my first TESOL experience: teaching with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. After graduating, I moved to Philadelphia and served with City Year, which is kind of like a domestic version of the Peace Corps. I worked in a bilingual elementary school in North Philadelphia as a pull-out literacy instructor. Then I bounced back to west Michigan for a while where I worked as an IELTS administrator at Grand Valley State University. I relocated to Philly again to get my master’s in TESOL at the University of Pennsylvania. While studying full-time, I worked several part-time jobs including rating for ETS, briefly teaching at Drexel University’s English Language Center, and instructing in the University of Pennsylvania’s English Language Program. Upon graduating, I was offered the position as ITA coordinator, and I haven’t looked back since! I live in West Philly with my fiancé and our dog, Lucy, and I have a one-mile walking commute to work every day.

How did you get your start in the TESOL field?

As I briefly mentioned before, it all started in India when I was 20 years old. Then every job after that seemed to be ESL related, whether I was working in a public school, at a private business, or at a university. I always tell myself, “Everything happens for a reason,” so I decided to pursue my TESOL degree after pausing and taking stock of the patterns in my life. I remember the watershed moment: I went straight into a desk job after working in the Philly public school system, and I hated the sudden decrease in activity. There is something about teaching and being kept on my toes (figuratively and literally!) that gives me a sense of fulfillment. And there is nothing quite like an ITA program to keep a teacher on her toes.

Would you give us a quick overview of your interests?

Everything―I’m still new enough that it all seems fascinating. Of course language assessment is a primary interest; my presentation at this past TESOL convention was related to effective oral assessment via BlackBoard for classroom-based teachers. Next, I’m about to embark on a rater-training project for our ITA program, so wish me luck. Besides assessment, I’m also interested in classroom discourse and interaction, teacher training, and pronunciation instruction.

Do you have a favorite ITA-related story from your research or teaching experiences?

There are so many good experiences. The one that never gets old is the pride our ITAs feel after completing our training program. We always ask alumni to speak at our new student orientation, and so many past participants are eager to volunteer to stand up and speak about their experiences in a clear and concise way. It’s a true manifestation of the effective combination of a good training program and a hard-working student.

Was there something from the TESOL convention in Philadelphia that you'd like to share, that you thought was particularly valuable?

I didn’t get to see enough! I thought living in the same city where the convention was held was going to be great; I was avoiding airports and train stations, and would still be home in time to walk my dog every night. However, I was also teaching at Penn, which meant a lot of shuttling back and forth between the convention center and the university, and I completely underestimated how much I was going to be missing out on. Fortunately, I caught two great back-to-back presentations about utilizing undergrads in ITA programs. That initiative is on deck after my rater-training project.

Is there anything you’d like readers to know about you that I haven’t asked about yet?


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Did you attend this year's TESOL Conference in Philadelphia?
Yes, I try to attend as often as possible.
Yes, this was my first TESOL Conference.
No, unfortunately I couldn't make it.
No, and I never will attend a TESOL Conference.