ESL programs are essential entities on American college and
university campuses that help nonnative users of English develop and
improve their English language skills. Without these ESL programs, many
nonnative users of English would be unable to enroll in academic
programs in higher education. In fact, there are approximately 600 ESL
programs in higher education across the United States (Osborne, 2015)
that function as the needed gateway through which ELLs must pass to
achieve their academic goals. In addition to helping nonnative speakers
enter academic programs of their choice, ESL programs are notorious for
producing a steady flow of income for their host institutions (Osborne,
2015). To be sure, it is not uncommon to think of ESL programs as one of
the major cash cows of higher education.
However, in spite of the educational contributions and economic
benefits that ESL programs offer, they still remain the “unwanted
stepchild” of American institutions of higher learning (Randolph, Jones,
Porter-Sucs, Arokiasamy, & Dunsmore, 2016). The purpose, then,
of this three-part series is to help elevate the image and exposure of
ESL programs and their professionals. The first installment will look at
some core problems facing ESL and then propose the first solution,
which centers on improving the ESL faculty bios on department websites. I
offer seven suggestions on how this can be done.
Three Common Problems Precluding ESL Program Respect
If ESL, as a legitimate discipline, dates back to the
establishment of this country, why is it still not given the respect it
deserves on campuses of higher learning? Before offering solutions to
this conundrum, let’s briefly take a look at three core problems that
ESL programs and their professionals face.
There is a common misunderstanding of what ESL is and a lack of
information about what ESL professionals do and teach. This identity
crisis is exacerbated by the fact that many ESL programs are not
accepted as equals among departments like English, linguistics, or
applied linguistics. Moreover, ESL departments are often housed in the
buildings of unrelated departments, which makes it even more difficult
to form ties with disciplines that share common or similar academic
subjects of study. For example, my own ESL program shares a floor with
the criminal justice and gerontology departments.
2. Academic Rank and Title
The vast majority of ESL professionals are not offered
tenure-track positions with an increase in salary and title promotion
(Osborne, 2015). In addition, ESL lecturers in many intensive English
programs are given titles such as “academic staff,” “faculty
specialists,” or “language specialists.” Despite the fact that ESL
lecturers have terminal degrees in applied linguistics or PhDs in TESOL
methods, their professional rank and title are lower than many lecturers
in other departments.
3. Professional Contributions
ESL professionals present at local, regional, and international
conferences; do research; and publish articles and books on
cutting-edge topics in the field. However, their professional
contributions are often not acknowledged by the higher education
community, and their achievements are often not recognized at annual
campus awards ceremonies.
Breaking the unwanted stepchild curse will not, unfortunately,
happen overnight. It may even take decades before the profession is
looked at as a legitimate equal in higher education. To help move us in
the right direction, I will propose three solutions in this series that I
hope will help start us on the path of acceptance.
Addressing Identity: Issues of Current Faculty Bios
My first solution, which addresses the ESL professional and
program identity crisis, centers around improving ESL faculty bios,
highlighting their professional background and contributions on ESL
program websites. Before moving to these suggestions on how to improve
the faculty bios, I’d like to review the kinds of ESL program websites
that seem to represent the current state of ESL faculty bios. I surveyed
approximately 60 U.S.-based ESL program websites and found that the
sites generally fall into the following five categories.
Type 1: No Access to ESL Faculty Information
These program websites offer a program overview, the payment
process, and university resources, but they do not provide links on the
menu to view the program director or faculty bios.
Type 2: Director/Administrator Centered
These particular program websites feature a photo and bio of
the director or an administrator; however, they do not offer any
detailed information about the faculty. At best, they offer a general,
single-sentence statement claiming all the instructors in the program
hold MAs or PhDs in the field.
Type 3: Minimal ESL Faculty Contact Information
These websites provide minimal information about the faculty
members: their names, positions, email addresses, campus addresses, and
phone numbers. There may or may not be photos of them, and no personal
background or professional information is given. In many cases, these
kinds of program websites also fail to list the degrees of their
Type 4: Relatively Acceptable ESL Faculty Information
These websites are an improvement on the aforementioned sites.
They include the basic information such as name, position, and contact
information; in addition, they offer the faculty members’ professional
backgrounds, degrees received, and personal hobbies.
Type 5: High-Quality, Professional-Looking ESL Faculty Shown
Of the websites I surveyed, I found only a small handful that
would warrant elevating the image of ESL. Among these are the faculty
bios at Central Michigan University. This particular program’s website
is of high quality, and it offers what I hope more programs will adopt
in the near future (see example).
Central Michigan University’s ESL faculty bios offer full contact
information, a short bio, courses taught, areas of expertise, degrees,
honors, professional organizations/memberships, and, in some cases,
publications and presentations.
Enhancing ESL Faculty Bios: The Seven-Suggestion Solution
Suggestion 1: Acquiring the Director’s Initiative and Support
The first step in elevating the image of ESL faculty websites
is to get the director or chair of the ESL program to agree that a
faculty bio upgrade is necessary. Then, have him or her meet with the
Information Technology Department to discuss and select a template like
the one discussed in number five above. In short, it is essential that
the director/chair become involved and find it significant to showcase
the faculty’s academic history and professional contributions.
Suggestion 2: Use Standardized Faculty Photos
Having unprofessional-looking photos or photos of poor quality
(e.g., highly pixilated images) in no way helps the image of ESL. The
second suggestion is to simply use standardized or uniform headshots
taken at a campus photo studio. In order to do this, the ESL department
would need to set up a designated day to take headshots. If the cost is
too high, simply have someone in the department take the headshots with a
fixed background for all the faculty and staff members on a given
Suggestion 3: Highlight Professional Contributions
Another clear way to help address the identity issue would be
to highlight the professional activities, contributions, and research
interests of the ESL faculty. The faculty bios could include awards,
article or book publications, classes taught, conference presentations,
grants, guest lectures, and research projects. Showcasing these will
make fellow faculty members and the profession proud. Moreover, it will
legitimize the world of ESL, and it may also inspire colleagues to
contribute to the profession.
Suggestion 4: List Professional Memberships
Listing the faculty’s professional memberships will draw
attention to their current participation in the field and help others
network with them on a professional level. It may be best to list both
past and current memberships to show the faculty’s activity throughout
Suggestion 5: Showcase Innovative Teaching Activities
Every instructor in the field of ESL is unique, and most have
developed creative or effective activities that inspire both teachers
and students. Consider including a 50-word summary of a creative or
effective activity that each faculty member uses in his or her classes.
Showcasing these ideas might also help recruit new students and attract
high-level instructors to ESL programs.
Suggestion 6: Promote Teaching Philosophies
Another powerful addition to the faculty bios is the inclusion
of a short, 50-word teaching philosophy. A teaching philosophy can act
as an insightful window into the unique psyche of each instructor. These
would highlight the essential elements of what is important in an
instructor’s classroom. In addition, the teaching philosophy of each
instructor is something from which students and colleagues could
benefit, as it would promote unique perspectives and ideas on pedagogy
Suggestion 7: Highlight a Love for the English Language
My last suggestion offers a fun and playful way to complete the
faculty bio pages. I suggest that faculty post their favorite English
word, phrase, or idiom and briefly explain why they treasure that
particular lexical item. This will, like the above idea on promoting
teaching philosophies, give others a personal view into the mind of the
instructors. There is even a chance that others reading these might
learn something new.
As mentioned above, the unwanted stepchild curse will not be
broken overnight, but these seven suggestions for improving faculty bios
for ESL program websites will help address one of the common problems
reinforcing the stigma: they will help elevate the image of the
English teaching field and begin to move the profession in a positive
and inspiring direction. These suggestions are simple, but I believe
that they will have far-reaching consequences and help us legitimize the
world of ESL in a powerful and professional way.
NOTE: This article is dedicated to the memory of my
father, Gerald Richard Randolph (1931-2016). He was my mentor, close
friend, and unique soulmate.
Osborne, D. (2015). The ugly stepchild: On the position of ESL
programs in the academy. College ESL Quarterly, Summer
2015, 1–20. Retrieved from http://www.languageartspress.com/ceq/The%20Ugly%20
Randolph, P. T., Jones, T., Porter-Sucs, I., Arokiasamy, L., Dunsmore,
C. (2016, April 6). Breaking the unwanted stepchild curse:
Elevating the image of ESL. Paper presented at the meeting of
TESOL International Association, Baltimore, MD.
Patrick T. Randolph specializes in creative and
academic writing, speech, and debate. He continues to research current
topics in neuroscience, especially studies related to exercise and
learning, memory, and mirror neurons. He lives with his wife, Gamze;
daughter, Aylene; and cat, Gable, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Recently,
Randolph was awarded the “Best of the TESOL Affiliates–2015” for his
work in vocabulary pedagogy.