September 2017
TESOLers for Social Responsibility



Riah Werner
National Pedagogical Institute for Technical and Professional Training,
Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire

Anastasia Khawaja
University of
South Florida,
Tampa, Florida, USA

Hello SRIS,

Thank you for taking the time to read our Identity, Inclusion and Advocacy issue. We live in turbulent times, and as socially responsible English language professionals, there’s a pressing need for us to engage with all three of these issues. Teaching and learning English doesn’t happen in a political void, and we have a responsibility to counter the hate and exclusion that dominate the news cycle. As teachers, teacher educators, researchers and materials writers, we can bring messages of acceptance and inclusion into our work. It is our responsibility to create classrooms and materials that validate all students and a professional community that makes space for diverse perspectives.

As editors of this newsletter, we strive to do our part by showcasing the voices of a diverse and international set of TESOLers. The writers whose work is featured in this issue provide insights into how we can create an inclusive environment for both our students and ourselves as professionals, demonstrate the impact of political situations on students around the world, and call for us to reach beyond the bounds of our profession as we advocate for our learners. Their perspectives are their own, and our newsletter should be taken as a forum for our membership to share their views about issues that are important to them, which may or may not reflect the opinions or official positions of TESOL International. The strength of this issue comes from the range and quality of the submissions we received and we are honored to share these voices with you. The theme for our next issue is Social Justice in the Classroom, and we strongly encourage you to share the ways you integrate social issues into your classes with the SRIS community. If you’re interested, please read the Call for Submissions and consider writing an article for the December issue.

This issue begins with letters from our leadership team. Laura, our chair, shares the results of our SRIS survey, which identified nine streams that highlight the range of areas we as an interest section advocate for in our work. There is also an overview of the ways you can engage with SRIS online, from Kimberly, our community manager.

Next, we have five articles focused on identity, inclusion and advocacy within TESOL. In the opening article “NNEST Issues are not just about NNESTs,” Seullee Talia Lee invokes all three topics as she examines the power of NNEST identity transformation and the need for NESTs to engage in advocacy alongside their NNEST peers. Next, Timothy Krause’s “Queering the ESL Classroom: A Case Study” offers a step by step description of how he integrated queer themes into an English course at a community college in the United States. Next, we have three powerful explorations of the impact of the legal and political context in different countries on English students. Jessie Bakitunda’s article, “Child Protection Inadequacy in the Ugandan Education System,” explores the role of children’s rights in Uganda, calling for more student input into the creation and enactment of laws about education. In “Competing Identities and Education in East Jerusalem,” Mahmood K. M. Eshreteh offers a personal reflection as to how Palestinian identity is excluded from schools and educational materials by the Israeli authorities, which negatively affects the education of Palestinian students. Lastly, in “Advocating for Undocumented Students in Anti-Immigrant Times in the United States,” Lori Dodson, Anne Marie Foerster Luu and Shelley Wong document the political discourses and laws that have been put forth against undocumented immigrants in the United States and call all of us in the field of TESOL to action.

We end the issue with two personal reflections on ways of reaching out to engage in advocacy beyond our field. In, “Empowering Educators and Administrators by Attending the TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit,” Maria Betancourt shares her experience as a participant in TESOL’s Advocacy Summit last June and encourages all teachers to envision advocacy as part of our work. In our final article, “Diversity and Inclusion in Another World: Beyond Rhetoric to Reality,” Andy Curtis provides insight into the surprising parallels he has found between TESOL and his work with Diversity and Inclusion initiatives in an investment firm in the United States.

These articles provide insight into the ways politics affect students around the world and demonstrate the need for TESOLers to engage in advocacy on behalf of our students and colleagues. As last month’s tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, a city just over a hundred miles from TESOL headquarters, illustrates, there are those out there who may meet our voices of resistance with hostility or even violence, but that only adds to the urgency of speaking out against bigotry. Thank you, SRIS, for your courage.


Riah and Anastasia

Riah Werner is an English teacher and teacher trainer who has taught in Tanzania, South Korea, Thailand, Ecuador and Cote d’Ivoire and trained more than 200 teachers. She holds an MA in TESOL from the SIT Graduate Institute. Her research interests include drama and the arts, social justice in ELT, and locally contextualized pedagogy. She documents her projects and blogs about the academic articles she reads at

Anastasia Khawaja has been in the TESOL teaching profession for 10 years. She is a doctoral candidate in second language acquisition/instructional technology at the University of South Florida. Her dissertation research focuses on the emotions associated with languages that Palestinians use in Palestine and in the diaspora. She currently holds the position of senior instructor at INTO University of South Florida and has international teaching experience in Peru, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.


Dear SRIS Membership,

Greetings from a very warm Southern California!

This summer, the leadership team has been working on putting together two InterSections and one academic session for TESOL 2018 in Chicago. Information on these three sessions will be forthcoming in the upcoming months. On one hand, TESOL 2018 feels distant, and yet we have to work months in advance to ensure a quality convention.

Of course, not all of who we are and what we do should be centered on the annual convention. Thank you to those who took the time to fill out the survey that we are using to compile information on the issues that our membership is passionate about and active in. If you have not completed this survey, you may do so now here.

Please be on the lookout for a second survey to complete. This survey identifies the top “strands” within SRIS and asks for members to choose primary and secondary strands that represent their area of passion and action.

Here are the strands that have already been identified:

  • Gender and ELT
  • Incorporation of Social Justice Into Teacher Ed/Training
  • Peacebuilding and ELT
  • LGBTQ+ and ELT
  • Global Education
  • Environmental Responsibility
  • Immigrant Rights and Access to Education
  • Racial, Linguistic, and Cultural Discrimination
  • Advocating for English learners

As we work to organize our interest section, please think about a few questions:

  • Are you interested in stepping into leadership within an SRIS strand?
  • What, in your perspective, would an active “strand” do?
  • Are there remaining areas of social responsibility and ELT that are not named in the list above that you think should be added?

We are very interested in your input and feedback. We would love to hear from you! Please feel free to email me or any of the leadership team.


Laura Jacob

Laura Jacob is the current chair of the Social Responsibility Interest Section and coeditor of Social Justice in English Language Teaching (published by TESOL Press), and she teaches adults at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California. She has previously lived in South America, Japan, and India.


Dear SRIS,

The TESOL Social Responsibility Interest Section hosts discussion groups through the myTESOL page and Facebook that allow interested educators to explore current topics affecting our students and share best practices for celebrating diversity. Topics we have previously explored include the Muslim travel ban, climate change, the proposed border wall, families divided by deportations, LGBTQ rights, and evaluation of news sources. These discussion groups are members only, which allows those participating in the discussions to openly state their views without risk of encountering hostility. The following questions are examples of anticipated discussion starters related to this newsletter’s next theme of Social Justice in the Classroom:

  • What authentic, compelling texts, videos, and/or images have you utilized to integrate social justice into your classroom?

  • What challenge(s)/success(es) are you experiencing as an educator in addressing issues related to social justice?

  • What have you learned from your students that has broadened your awareness of their experience?

Consider adding your voice to the discussion. You may have a unique perspective to offer another educator. Or perhaps you are an educator in search of a sounding board. Either way, we welcome you to contribute your insights and experiences.



myTESOL discussion page: Social Responsibility Interest Section             
Facebook Group: Social Responsibility Interest Group – TESOL

Kimberly Mitchell has been in the ESL education profession in Texas for 13 years. She taught ESL language arts for Grades 6–12 and supported teachers with instructional delivery for English learners as an ESL facilitator, and she is currently a school district administrator for the secondary ESL program in Katy, Texas. She holds an MA in education, curriculum and instruction and is certified as a Master Reading Teacher.



In the TESOL field, over the last decades there has been a stark change in the way nonnative-English-speaking teachers (NNESTs) are viewed. There has been a growing body of research on discriminatory environments favoring native-English-speaking teachers (NESTs) and on the inferior identities of NNESTs as professionals. In addition to this research, many NNEST-related groups, such as the NNEST Interest Section, have been founded to destabilize the NEST/NNEST dichotomy (Selvi, 2014). This NNEST movement is in line with constructs such as World Englishes and multicompetence, which challenge the traditional binary between NESTs and NNESTs. These constructs also view NNESTs as multicompetent professionals rather than second-class citizens in English language teaching (ELT) communities. Consequently, many NNESTs have experienced a brand-new identity through learning about their multilingual identity option (e.g., Pavlenko, 2003). I am one of them.

I realized that I had long been struggling to be a native-like English speaker/teacher to obtain the NES(T) status. However, I learned that the goal to be a NES(T) was not only impossible but also undesirable because my multicompetence is of great value in multilingual communities. Since then, I have been enjoying much freedom from my past identity as an inferior English speaker/teacher compared to NES(T)s.

However, I found that the one-time transformation was not enough to stay firm against injustice toward NNESTs. Although I did have academic language to identify the unfairness of native language– or place of birth–based discrimination against NNESTs, I was often unable to speak up when I experienced or witnessed such unfairness. When there was little or no understanding of NNEST issues, I ended up choosing to silence myself, instead of standing up for NNESTs as multicompetent professionals. I started to wonder why. Why am I silent whenever I observe discrimination against NNESTs in practice? Is it in my personality to be passive? I tried to find previous experiments or theoretical frameworks that could possibly explain this “going backward” phenomenon. Yet I could not find any research focusing specifically on NNESTs’ stories after they experience identity transformation.

So, I asked other NNEST colleagues who considered themselves multicompetent if they were actively advocating their rights as professionals in the field. They answered that whenever they were unfairly treated because of their NNESTness, they would rather accept or ignore the situation than confront it. Listening to them, I became certain that this was a common experience for NNESTs and not merely a personal issue. I came to a conclusion that many NNESTs are reluctant to speak up even after they have accepted a multicompetent identity and have the proper language to fight against NNEST issues. Why? What holds NNESTs back from advocacy?

Martin Luther King (2010) once wrote that one of the ways that the oppressed deal with their oppression is acquiescence, a state in which people become conditioned to oppression by adjusting themselves to it. I believe that this provides meaningful insights to the phenomenon in which NNESTs remain silent. NNESTs can be seen as the oppressed through a lens of native-speakerism in the TESOL field. The absence of advocacy may not mean that there are no issues of oppression, but that NNESTs are acquiescent. Moreover, the issue of NNESTs being unable to advocate their own rights is intricately intertwined with sociocultural aspects of their upbringing.

Take, for example, South Korea, where English proficiency is one of the most powerful determining factors of one’s socioeconomic status. Although English is seldom used in everyday life, there is a social, economic, and cultural chasm between English-haves and English-have-nots (Phillipson, 2008). In this setting, Korean NNESTs are conditioned to admit the superiority of NESTs and are accustomed to being silent when facing discrimination. On top of that, having a strong voice is not appropriate in Korean society. Korea has been significantly influenced by Confucianism, where acting modestly and being harmonious in groups are basic principles. These sociocultural values govern interactive behaviors of Koreans, and thus individuals tend to remain silent when encountering injustice on an individual level. Likewise, for Korean NNESTs, transforming their identity to multicompetent professionals and thus becoming fervent advocates is not a simple process—it is interconnected with nationwide beliefs that position them as the oppressed as well as sociocultural values that urge them to be modest individuals under the Confucian culture. In this context, chances are that Korean NNESTs will be unable to speak up for themselves when discriminated against. This is not only the case of Korean NNESTs, but also of many other NNESTs from diverse ethnic and linguistic backgrounds.

As English is often associated with economic influence, having a NES(T) status itself is a great privilege in many countries. This practice of favoring NES(T)s has a negative impact on NNESTs’ identity both as English speakers and teachers. Many NNESTs end up becoming accustomed to such discrimination against their NNESTness. In the globalized world, where English is the primary lingua franca, NNESTs grow up experiencing unequal treatment. Once they get used to the inequality, it is difficult for them to recognize and choose to oppose the oppressive system. Furthermore, if NNESTs come from cultures with sociocultural norms that require them to be harmonious members of society, it becomes much harder for them to speak up. Because being harmonious often means not challenging traditions, the aftermath of destabilizing rampant discrimination against NNESTs may result in further discrimination. Consequently, it can be too difficult for NNESTs to stand up for NNEST issues even though they recognize the need and have a passion for advocacy.

Then how should we deal with the NEST/NNEST dichotomy? I believe that NESTs have a significant role to play. Oftentimes, NESTs think that they cannot relate to NNEST issues because of their NESTness. Even though they have a strong desire for NNEST advocacy, they are often hesitant to take a leading role in the NNEST movement (Selvi, 2014). However, that NESTs are not victims or oppressed does not mean that NESTs are not responsible for addressing NNEST injustice. As ELT professionals, it is important to remember that we all are in charge of providing a wide range of linguistic and cultural diversity to our English language learners. Regardless of being a(n) NEST or NNEST, we all are responsible for inequality regarding NNEST issues in the TESOL field. In fact, the role of NEST advocates can be far more important than that of NNESTs, considering the NNESTs’ upbringing makes them reluctant to take active action against unfair treatment. NESTs are not victims but beneficiaries of NNEST injustice—and if the beneficiaries were to demand equal treatment for NNESTs, the vicious chain of NNEST issues would break far more easily. Additionally, the voice of the oppressed is not heard in times of oppression, but the voice of NESTs can be heard because people and their existing system of oppression favor NESTs.

Therefore, it is crucial to raise awareness among NESTs on the prevalent misconception that the NNEST movement is only for NNESTs. Furthermore, there should be more communities of practice where NESTs and NNESTs can gather together and discuss the issues that NNESTs face. Currently, there is little or no foundation for NNEST advocacy at many work places. Although there has been research concerning NNEST issues as well as the establishment of NNEST equality-related entities, such movement of the central TESOL body is not tangible for many NNESTs. Moreover, these communities seldom have an influence on down-to-earth problems that individual NNESTs face in everyday life. Hence, regular gatherings and fellowships are necessary to strengthen the capital of such communities of practice and in turn empower NNEST advocates.

All this started with a question to myself: Why is it so difficult to speak up against NNEST discrimination even after I experienced an identity transformation into a multicompetent ELT professional? I found the answer from Martin Luther King’s concept of acquiescence. For the oppressed, adjusting to oppression is one way of dealing with it, and this tends to be the case for the majority of NNESTs. I believe that this can explain why NNESTs choose to remain silent, rather than to speak up, when facing discrimination. To address this issue, NESTs need to be aware that they can play a significant role in creating nondiscriminatory environments. More important, NNEST issues are not only about NNESTs, but about all ELT professionals. When NESTs and NNESTs gather and work together for the NNEST movement, the TESOL field will become a rich repertoire for English language learners where they can enjoy the beauty of linguistic and cultural diversity in the era of World Englishes.


King, M. L. (2010). Stride toward freedom: The Montgomery story. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Pavlenko, A. (2003). "I never knew I was a bilingual": Reimagining teacher identities in TESOL. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 2, 251–268.

Phillipson, R. (2008). The linguistic imperialism of neoliberal empire. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 5(1), 1–43.

Selvi, A. F. (2014). Myths and misconceptions about nonnative English speakers in the TESOL (NNEST) movement. TESOL Journal, 5, 573–611.

Seullee Talia Lee is an MPhil student in education studies (research in second language education) at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. She has worked as an ELT professional in Korea, Nicaragua, and China. She holds an MA in TESOL from SIT Graduate Institute and a BA in English education as well as film and theater from Hanyang University. Her research interests lie in issues related to (in)equality in TESOL and second language teacher identity.


While many ESL students and instructors identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or queer (LGBTQ), typical classroom materials often further a heteronormative paradigm and ignore the voices of queer and trans students (Nelson, 2009). Taking proactive steps to be more inclusive can be daunting for teachers. Materials remain scarce, administrative support can vary from institution to institution, and instructors may fear tokenizing sexual minorities or promoting a political agenda (Mitchell & Krause, 2016). One effective strategy is to identify specific points of integration within existing curricula where the narrow content of the classroom overlaps with the greater diversity of the country. Making these connections can help all students develop a deeper sense of intercultural sensitivity while providing needed support to queer and trans students.

Two Frames of Reference

Over the past year, I have worked closely with colleague Jennifer Sacklin to better understand best practices around inclusion, advocacy, and awareness of LGTBQ issues in postsecondary English as a second language (ESL) classrooms in the United States. As social justice proponents, we share two goals: to advocate for queer students and to help homophobic and transphobic students move one step closer to acceptance. The former is based on the recognition that all instructors have at one time or another queer students and colleagues, even if they are not aware of it. The latter is based on Bennett’s (2013) Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity, a framework for discussing the spectrum of reactions to different cultures, which includes six stages: denial, defense, minimization, acceptance, adaptation, and integration.

Using Bennett’s (2013) model, Sacklin identified the following learning objectives, which I then trialed in my classroom (Sacklin & Krause, 2017):

  • Students currently in the stage of denial of differences will recognize the existence of differences. Here, the goal is visibility. An instructor, for example, might choose a text by a queer author, such as Tennessee Williams, or with a queer character or historical figure, such as Alan Turing.

  • Students in the stage of defense against difference will recognize everyone's common humanity. Here, the goal is equality. One activity that worked well for me is the Human Library, an event in which people are books” that can be borrowed for one-on-one conversations about topics that might never have otherwise been broached. This allows students to appreciate differences and uncover unexpected commonalities.

  • Students who minimize differences will develop self-awareness and reconcile diversity among human experiences with the truth of their own experience. This is about understanding. Partnering with campus resources can be a useful tactic here. Where I teach at Portland Community College, for example, students can attend performances of the Illumination Project, an interactive student theater that recognizes inequities and promotes social justice.

  • Students who accept cultural differences will refine their analysis of gender and sexuality as social constructs and begin to integrate the reality of social diversity into their own experience. Although we do not usually reach this level of discourse within an ESL setting, we hope that our previous efforts have prepared students to do so in the future.

My focus was the strategic integration of these principles into my curriculum. I realized that I needed to balance what I wanted to accomplish in terms of social justice with what I needed to achieve in terms of language development. To begin, I identified five spheres of influence:

  • Self: What can I myself do to be open and accessible?

  • Students: What are my students’ needs and how can they help me in this? How might the demographics of my students—and their level of communication skills—affect what I do?

  • Syllabus: How can I create an inviting, supportive classroom?

  • System: What are the opportunities and constraints within my institution? Are there campus resources or restrictions?

  • Stuff: How can my textbook and materials reflect diversity? Where are queer issues relevant?

A Case Study

With these ideas in mind, I launched a conscious effort to queer my classroom last winter when teaching an intermediate reading course for a Portland-area community college. My approach was to integrate queer social justice where it made sense for a richer examination—and a more accurate representation—of U.S. culture and society. My goal was to place queer content on equal footing with other things familiar to my students. In this way, I would normalize, rather than minimize, tokenize, or aggrandize, queer concerns.

I began with my usual start-of-term checklist:

  • By mentioning my husband and my experience with LGBTQ issues, I was open to my students and colleagues about being gay.

  • I included my institution’s antidiscrimination statement in my syllabus and took time to read it aloud in class; my syllabus included links to campus resources, such as advising and counseling offices.

  • I conducted a student survey in which students specify pronouns and names they wish to be called and volunteer information they wanted me to know about them.

  • I placed prodiversity posters in the classroom.

Like many ESL programs, I was given a list of approved textbooks. I chose Making Connections 2 from Cambridge University Press (McEntire & Williams, 2013). Each unit has four readings around a central theme, but nothing in the text even hints at queer content. After reviewing the text carefully, I chose the following points of integration.

Unit 1 was about news media, and the primary learning objective was vocabulary in context. Text about ethical reporting included a classroom survey with questions that asked, “Is it OK for a journalist to …” I added “Is it OK for a journalist to out a celebrity?” which sparked an immediate awareness of terminology. Each week, we also read news stories. During Unit 1, an article appeared about the Trump White House removing pages from its website, including an LGBTQ page as well as pages about civil rights, global warming, and Spanish-language pages. In both cases, queer identities were introduced on par with something else that my students could understand (language, civil rights, global warming). I wanted them to perceive queer rights as an equally important issue that affects a large number of people. Students displayed no negative reaction in either activity.

Unit 2 was all about education, and the learning objectives were identifying main ideas and supporting details. I considered discussing gender bias in educational opportunities around the world. However, once again my supplemental news lessons provided an appropriate connection with stories from the Women’s March, an international event that advocated multiple issues, including gender, LGBTQ, immigration, healthcare, environment, racial equality, freedom of religion, and workers' rights. As before, queer issues were presented on par with other issues. Because words like march and demonstration have multiple meanings, this story also provided a natural segue into our lesson on dictionary use. This time, student curiosity was piqued, specifically asking about the “Q” in LGBTQ as well as why the Women’s March was a global event.

Unit 3 discussed business and workplace issues, introducing vocabulary of numbers and reading graphs and charts. Here, I presented a level-appropriate summary of our state’s antidiscrimination laws and then compared them with college policies and federal protections, noting differences that included sexual orientation. The more we read, the more students began to ask about related vocabulary, not only LGBTQ, but now sex, gender, and sexual orientation alongside race, national origin, and religion. Regardless of their personal attitudes toward queer people, students were beginning to recognize parallel struggles.

Unit 4 concerned population change, and learning objectives were collocations and scanning. During this unit, I introduced an infographic about the changing American family, which included data on ethnicity as well as “nontraditional” families. This offered a review of the previous unit’s lesson on numbers and charts while practicing new skills. As before, this put the idea of same-sex households on par with relatable perspectives of multigenerational and multicultural households. In fact, whenever I introduced what I thought might be an isolated social justice lesson, I discovered links to things we were already studying, whether the theme of the current reading or its language learning objectives.

Unit 5 focused on more vocabulary study and taking notes. Its theme was design in everyday life. Here I had planned to introduce a lesson on stereotypes to play against the assumptions of gay designers. Unit 6 talked about the brain and behavior, a natural for addressing nature-versus-nurture and gender identity questions. The reality, however, was that because of snow days, no time remained to explore either of these two units.

Looking back

A basic marketing principle assumes seven exposures to make a message stick. Even with the snow days, I managed six integrations. Though these may seem like small moments, I believe their cumulative effect was to nudge students gently forward on the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity.

Upon reflection, one concern I have was not having enough time to unpack why we were talking about these things. I question if this strategy left LGBTQ issues too incidental, minimizing their importance and relevance. Furthermore, because social justice is focused on problems such as discrimination, the work is typically serious, perhaps even frightening or intimidating. This counters a common assumption that a fun classroom lowers the affective filter and increases the opportunity for language learning.


The lesson from this exercise is that recognizing the queer identity in the ESOL classroom does not necessarily mean taking on a potentially uncomfortable queer-specific unit, nor does it require rewriting every individual lesson to incorporate a queer perspective. Rather, a more practical and relevant strategy is to identify opportunities to simply reflect the greater diversity of our country within the four walls of our classroom without minimization, tokenization, or aggrandizement. It is not about promoting queer culture, but rather not shying away from its inclusion. In so doing, we not only advocate for our queer and trans students, but we also foster a deeper sense of intercultural sensitivity among all our students.


Bennett, M. (2013). Basic concepts of intercultural communication: Paradigms, principles, & practices. Boston, MA: Intercultural Press.

McEntire, J., & Williams, J. (2013). Making connections 2: Skills and strategies for academic reading. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Mitchell, J. D., & Krause, T. (2016). Steps toward respecting sexual diversity in the ESOL Classroom. ORTESOL Journal 33, 41–43.

Nelson, C. (2009). Sexual identities in English language education: Classroom conversations. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sacklin, J., & Krause, T. (2017, March). Queering the ESL classroom: Strategies for promoting social justice. Presentation at the meeting of TESOL International Association in Seattle, WA.

Timothy Krause is an ESOL instructor at Portland Community College in Portland, Oregon. He received his MA-TESOL from Portland State University, where he was awarded the Nattinger Graduate Teaching Fellowship and served as TESOL methods teaching assistant. Tim holds undergraduate degrees in Spanish and theater, and his career has spanned arts administration, journalism, and civic engagement.


[NOTE: This article has been reviewed by the SRIS leaders, and not copyedited by TESOL, due to its length.]

There once was a student in her first year of senior high school. She missed school for a couple of weeks since she was struggling with the typhoid fever. None of her teachers called her home to follow up on her. Perhaps the reason was the overwhelming number of students in the school she attended. She reported the matter to her class teacher and gave her a medical report to explain her absentia. As was the norm, it was the class teacher’s responsibility to inform other teachers concerning this matter. However the English teacher was not informed on time. The students’ explanations were blocked when the teacher failed to listen. The student was labelled negligent, unserious and lazy. The teacher continually said hurtful things about her. The student felt that the teacher started failing her on purpose, even for the simplest mistakes that fellow students were not failed for. She detested the teacher with a passion, as well as the subject. She realised she was heading on the road to failure. The quick solution would be to drop the English literature class, but she knew it would cost her good grades in her secondary leaving examinations.

She reported the matter to the head of department in detail. The teacher calmed her down and arranged mediation with the teacher she hated. They had a candid and constructive discussion on each other’s’ expectations, likes and dislikes. The matter was resolved. The English teacher later became her confidant and good friend and they mutually respected one another. She went ahead to become her school’s best English literature student in the final examinations. This girl was me.

Inclusion and Involvement Versus the Teacher’s All-Knowing Identity

The story above shows that it takes two parties to solve a conflict and none is all knowing. Resolving a conflict requires humbling oneself, listening and talking to the other. This supports the notion that children are not empty vessels; they need not be passive participants in the learning process. Children can make valuable contributions towards their learning and take control of it when they are encouraged and well guided. Participation in project work and essay writing are ways of encouraging creativity and critical thinking.

My experience of traditional Ugandan society has been that adults (teachers too) seldom give children an audience or allow them to participate in decision making and learning. In fact, my recollection of English lessons had teachers writing long lists of tenses and nouns of different forms and all we did was copy the work off the board. Such dull lessons are still the norm in many Ugandan schools. As a school going child, I realised that most of the teachers used the teacher centred approach where the teacher was always right.

There are times when learners only copy notes from the blackboard with no explanation. Teachers’ habits and pronunciation mistakes are sometimes passed onto learners. There were times when teachers were offended by a child who had pronounced the words differently; on occasion this would result in a violent or emotional conflict. Additionally, the learning process then becomes confusing. This is still happening today. Some teachers tell children everything: what to think, what to say, the subjects they must major in and career choice. It is common for parents too to decide their children’s subject majors and careers because of the opportunities they see, without consulting with the child. When the child insists on going in a certain path of academia following their strengths and weaknesses, they face a lot of discouragement.

The Realities Concerning the Right to Education in Uganda

In the previous section we saw that teachers have hunger for dominance in classrooms, thus causing tension and fear among learners and stifling communication. Below we will indulge further into this:

57% of Uganda’s population are children, and children between 4 and 18 years must lawfully be in school. Child protection and development are a critical challenge. The situation analysis of children in Uganda indicated that students reported experiences of sexual abuse, but 60% of the abused children kept quiet due to cultural inferiority and the fear of being victimized by perpetrators (United States Agency for International Development, 2015). School authorities also preferred to handle matters quietly to avoid scandals. In the schools I attended and taught at there were no designated counsellors that dealt with student issues, thus teachers doubled as counsellors and often blundered, despite their good intentions. Trust based relations were lacking between teachers and learners. Some teachers were, and are, seen as objects of fear because they verbally, emotionally and physically abuse learners.

Ugandan children, like those in the rest of the world, have a right to education as accorded by the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children. This right has led to the availability of free education in some primary and secondary schools Education in Uganda. However there are still some problems associated with the provision of education as seen below:

  1. The assessment system focuses on learners passing examinations (Nangozi, 2017). It is rigid and the focus is on traditional assessment or the exam. This assessment does not prepare learners for real-life challenges. With the focus on examinations and tests, teachers have not been able to identify their different learner needs and competences, thus stifling creativity and critical thinking among learners. Learners who fail examinations are labelled as failures yet, in actuality, teachers were not able to examine and accommodate the different learning styles and assessment needs. Teachers often punish instead of support learners.

  2. The large class sizes affect the quality of teacher service. With a class of 100, it is hard to pay full attention to individual learner needs.

  3. There are not enough funds to cater to the learners in school. Uganda’s rampant poverty causes parents to default on school fees and has a negative toll on the enrolment of the children of the poor (Republic of Uganda & United Nations Children’s Fund, 2017; Deininger, 2003). For example some girls miss school because they cannot afford sanitary pads to use during their menstrual periods. Finally, some schools fail to provide meals for children, and many teachers are not being paid well (salaries are often late and low).

  4. Children and teachers’ rights are denied.

In my observation, children are not involved enough in deciding what they will learn and the enactment of the bills that concern them. For example, in 2016 the 9th parliament of Uganda passed the Children’s Act that led to the establishment of the Uganda National Children’s Authority (Atimango, 2016). It was charged with the management, monitoring, and coordination of the implementation of all child-related policies and laws: including ending all forms of violence against children. It also introduced confidential abuse reporting mechanisms. This act was a good step taken, but was lacking in the area of sensitization and implementation. I think sensitization concerning the act has been too slow to allow effective implementation, which is common with Ugandan policies. Uganda needs to learn from countries like Sweden that have a good reputation in child protection; Sweden was able to completely affect a ban on corporal punishments in 1979 (Fredén, 2015).

My assertion is that one cannot overstate how important it is to have had children fully involved in the implementation of the act and all decisions concerning them since they would be more responsible in ensuring that their rights are upheld. Sadly, I hardly recollect their involvement in the act enactment. Personally, I was never asked, even though I was a school going child during the time of research leading to the enactment. To check the fact: I asked 50 of my teacher acquaintances different schools if their learners participated in the enactment of the act. Only three had heard about the act, and two of those teachers did not know the details pertaining to it. The poor sensitization is thus not suiting the aims of the act.

In addition, Ugandan teacher training colleges and universities have not fully emphasised the importance of child protection. International schools are keener in implementing child protection laws in comparison to the Ugandan local schools. Most of the child protection awareness is done by civil society organizations in response to demands by foreign donors like UKAID and USAID. These organizations have a small scope in providing protection literacy to both teachers and learners. Let us take an example of the girls’ education challenge project implemented by the Private Education Development Network; between 2013 and 2016, they trained only 2 teachers per sampled school in 3 out of Uganda’s 111 districts (Private Education Development Network, 2016). This is a great initiative with a lot of potential however, considering the needs and current status quo, it is but a drop in the ocean.

Recommendations for Averting the Issues

Despite several laws, teachers’ and especially children’s rights are still violated both physically (corporal punishments) and emotionally. Further trainings concerning child and teacher protection would go some ways in alleviating this problem. A paradigm shift advocating for positive disciplining instead of beating learners is needed in Uganda. Teachers should adopt different corrective measures, for instance asking the student to write an essay about their naughty classroom conduct. Such a punishment would also help learners improve their writing skills. Adopting measures that are less harmful and ensure child protection, such as the Western detention system would make a great difference in their learning experiences.

In the Uganda National English Teachers Association (UNELTA) we believe in teaching English not only for its sake but for the sake of solving communal problems. We sharpen each other with new instructional skills, assessment and professional development trends. We passionately advocate for child protection in schools and take other lessons in professional development among members. We have voluntary trainings with teachers in various regions of Uganda. We would like to partner with the government, universities and organizations of the world to make learning the best experience for our learners.

UNELTA members would deeply value collaboration with international teacher organizations and schools in regards to supporting and equipping us with modern teaching, assessment and child handling skills. This can be done through conducting webinars, conferences, and seminars. Teacher exchange programs could be adopted where Ugandan teachers will be exposed to hands on training in countries with better education systems. We could learn from teachers from developed countries in handling identity and diversity issues considering their exposure in teaching immigrant children. This will help Ugandan teachers handle children from different tribes as well as refugee kids better.


Atimango, M. (2016, March 22). Uganda parliament passes children act. Retrieved from

Deininger, K. (2003). Does cost of schooling affect enrolment by the poor? Universal primary education in Uganda. Economics of Education Review, 22(3), 291-305.

Fredén, J. (2015, December 14). First ban on smacking children. Retrieved from

Nangozi, Y. (2017, June 12). Educationists ‘blame’ teachers over assessment of learners. The Observer. Retrieved from

Private Education Development Network. (2015). The 2015 PEDN Annual Report. Kampala, Uganda: PEDN.

Republic of Uganda & United Nations Children’s Fund. (2017). Emerging global challenges: Climate related hazards and urbanization - Protecting Uganda’s children. Kampala, Uganda: Raya Muttarak, Martin Flatø and David Lawson.

United States Agency for International Development. (2015). National forum on the state of the Ugandan child (briefing note). Kampala, Uganda: USAID.

Jessie Bakitunda is a Ugandan English language teacher from Kampala who graduated from Makerere University. She is a member of the Uganda National English Language Teachers Association where she serves on the strategic planning committee as a public relations officer. Jessie was an exchange student at Gothenburg University, Sweden, where she received a certificate in conflict resolution.


Relying on my own perception and experience of the situation in Jerusalem, I explore education in the region by identifying the overlapping and competing identities that have shaped the lives of Palestinian students and teachers, such as myself. Since I work as an assistant professor of English linguistics who teaches English Major BA and MA students from Jerusalem at Hebron University, I will focus on the experience of the Palestinians who have fought to preserve their identity despite the systematic Israeli efforts to control the economy, society, the media and educational institutions. More specifically, I have observed that the formal educational system for Palestinian students in Jerusalem that is currently run by Israel is designed and forced to control, shape and manipulate the national identity of Palestinians.

In spite of the many challenges facing education in Jerusalem, English language teachers can have a vital role in promoting a culture of peace at school and in their social networks and communities by favoring the positive management of conflict and the prevention of violence, stimulating tolerant attitudes that are respectful of oneself and others, and promoting critical awareness about social injustices.

The Education System in Jerusalem

After the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, more and more Jewish people began migrating to the newly established country of Israel, despite it being Palestinian land. A goal of the Zionist movement was to expel all Palestinians from the land as they believed this land was promised to them by God as a place to return to escape the hostility towards the Jewish people (Pappe, 2007). According to Rosner and Ruskay (2017), Israel frequently calls Jerusalem “the capital of the Jewish people.” This has been condemned by international actors, and declared null and void by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 (UN Security Council, 2245th meeting). Hulme (2006) states that this “identification with the city” became an aspect of identity that is supported by ideological considerations expressed through association with political youth movements or Zionist (Israeli)/Palestinian nationalist organizations. In other words, both Palestinians and Israelis state they are the rightful inhabitants of the land. However, Palestinians feel they have a stronger claim as they have lived on the land for generations.

Therefore, it seems to me, and to many scholars before me, that the Zionist movement has tried to deny the existence of the Palestinian people. (Schoeman, 1988; Makkawi, 2008). Zionists continue to claim that Palestine was a land without people for people without land. According to Makkawi (2008), this was intentional. As he writes, “within their internal circles, the Zionists were well aware of the fact that the native Arab people of Palestine, aspiring for their own independence and self-determination, had populated the country for centuries” (p. 23).

In fact, Palestine, and Jerusalem in particular, has remained inhabited by Arab Palestinians who have their own language and culture. However, it is clear to me that the Israeli view avoids telling this reality which is, in most cases, expressed and manipulated in Israeli educational texts and curricula to achieve certain ideological advantages through the promotion of social beliefs that portray Israelis as victims and Palestinians as aggressors. Such Israeli attempts ignore contradictory arguments, especially facts connected to Arab-Palestinian history.

Israel's law for Public Education, which was passed in 1953, privileged the Jewish identity at the expense of Palestinians, and aimed to “raise youth on the values of Israeli culture, and love of the Jewish nation and people of Israel” (Eideen, 1976, p. 10, cited in Barghouti, 2009). Despite the fact that one quarter of the students in Israeli schools are Palestinian, they are forced to learn the Israeli Zionist narrative in the public education system, since no religious schools are available for Palestinian Christians or Muslims. According to Barghouti (2009), the erasure of the Palestinian identity and the imposition of the Zionist perspective in schools was the intention of the Israeli politicians. Along these lines, Al Azza and Alqasis (2012) state that Palestinians in Jerusalem “are forced to operate within a structure that serves the Zionist character of Israel as ‘the state of the Jews’. In other words, they have been subjected to attempts to erase their national identity” (p. 7).

According to a colleague of mine from Jerusalem, there are about 150 schools in Eastern Jerusalem and some of these schools have taught the Palestinian curriculum to more than 110,000 students. This curriculum was developed after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994 and is now used in West Bank and Gaza. However, I have observed that the Israeli government has omitted material from the Palestinian school books, including the Palestinian flag, poems and Quranic texts, as well as the commemoration of crucial Palestinian historical events such as Al Nakba, the 1948 displacement of the Palestinians. Israel has provided greater support for schools that have relented to their approach, and threatened to take harsher measures against ones that have not. Israeli authorities use their control over the city and exploit the schools’ need for financial support, renovation, aid, recruitment of new teachers in order to impose compromises that suit them.

The Jerusalem Municipality then set the adoption of the Israeli curriculum instead of the Palestinian one as a precondition to renovating Arab schools, which some schools followed and others resisted. For example, two years ago I observed that the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Jerusalem Municipality called principals and directors of Palestinian schools to stop using a specific third grade civic education book because the new book included a chapter called “I like my motherland Palestine.” Key elements of this chapter focused on the Palestinian identity, teaching the Palestinian national anthem and referring to Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

Another example of the Israeli attempts to control and shape the identity of Palestinians was when the Israeli authorities ordered Arabic high schools in Eastern Jerusalem to adopt the schedule of Israeli holidays. Two of my MA students, who work as teachers in Jerusalem, informed me that a memo from the Israeli Education Ministry was sent to directors of the Arabic schools in Jerusalem ordering them to work in accordance with the Israeli holiday schedule. Due to lack of dialogue, this step provoked the parents of Palestinian students, who refused to apply this schedule, since they had not been consulted. In response to these Israeli actions, the Palestinian Authority urged students and their parents to reject the schedule.

Sabri Saidam, the Palestinian Education Minister has voiced his concern that the Israeli government “seeks to Judaize these schools, aims to combat the Arabic-Palestinian identity, and usurps Palestinians’ right to maintain their identity and freedom in choosing their culture” (Ziboun, 2017, para 8). He has also pledged to fight against any attempts to sever the history, culture, and identity of these Palestinian-Arab students promising that interference in the Palestinian education system would not stand as attempts to marginalize the history and culture of Palestine in school is a violation of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The group identity of Palestinians in Jerusalem is reshaped and endowed with new meanings and symbols by these types of social and political events. According to Hasson (2001), “social and political struggles might remould the nature of group identity, providing it with new experiences and myths” (p. 312). Identity construction, in other words, is associated with historical developments, everyday experiences and recent political events.

Languages and Identities in Jerusalem

The main languages spoken in Jerusalem are Hebrew, by Jews in western Jerusalem, and Arabic, by Arabs in eastern Jerusalem. Most people throughout the city speak sufficient English for communication. In particular, English is widely spoken in areas most visited by tourists, especially the Old City. My own impression is that students and teachers make decisions to use English, Hebrew, and Arabic—the three regional languages—based on issues of hegemony and social influences. Schools in Jerusalem and the Israeli Ministry of Education blame each other for the current state of affairs.

English is studied formally in East Jerusalem. Outside contact with English speakers is very slight because there is no direct contact between the Arabs in Jerusalem and an English-speaking community. English is important because of its role as the international language of science, technology and commerce; the popularity of American culture, and the close relationship between the United States and Israel. While interacting with my students from Jerusalem in English classes, I have noticed that though the Arabs in Jerusalem express positive attitudes toward English, there is a lower level of priority for learning English because Arabs see learning Hebrew as first priority.

The problematic nature of the diglossic situation in Jerusalem is not only linguistic, but also social and ideological. It is clear to me that education in Jerusalem faces a state of disintegration in general. This is due to the conflicting policies, in addition to the Israeli occupation and its efforts to alienate the educational system from its Palestinian context, which directly and adversely influence the social harmony as well as collective norms and values of Arabs.

Thus, taking into consideration the abovementioned Israeli practices against Palestinians in Jerusalem, I can confirm that the Israeli authorities aim to marginalize or even wipe out the Palestinian identity and to weaken the national feelings and identity among Palestinian youth. Moreover, these authorities, for so many decades, tried their best to deform and change facts in the Palestinian curriculum and delete any issues related to the national context.

Can English language teachers foster the ideology of tolerance and co-existence among students in Palestinian schools? Can Arab and Jewish students learn English with an aspiration toward equal representation of both their cultures? Can TESOL teachers bridge the gap between Jews and Arabs? It is clear that identity formation is associated not only with positive identification, but also with a reactive act that distinguishes between “our experience” and “their experience.”

I have no doubt that education in Jerusalem faces a lot of challenges negatively affecting its quality. I can tell that the greatest negative impact is related to the collective Palestinian identity, which mainly resulted from the multiplicity of educational systems and the supervising authorities, which, in turn, has affected the Palestinian social and cultural heritage and the social harmony. Therefore, because of the great danger threatening students in Jerusalem, it becomes necessary to coordinate efforts with international agencies and human rights organizations in order to document Israeli violations against Palestinian schools and for English teachers to foster the ideology of tolerance and co-existence.


Al Azza, N & Alqasis, A. (ed.) (2012). One people united: A deterritorialized Palestinian identity - BADIL survey of Palestinian youth on identity and social ties - 2012. (Working Paper No. 14). Bethlehem, Palestine: BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights. Retrieved from

Barghouti, S. (2009). Palestinian history and identity in Israeli schools. Al Majdal 42, 16-20.

Hasson, S. (2001). Territories and identities in Jerusalem. GeoJournal, 53(3), 311–322.

Hulme, D. (2006). Identity, ideology and the future of Jerusalem. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Makkawi, I. (2008). Cultural hegemony, resistance and reconstruction of national identity among Palestinian students in Israel. Arab Studies Quarterly, 30(4), 23- 42.

Pappe, I. (2007). The ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications.

Rosner, S. & Ruskay, J. (2017, July 2). What JPPI’s 2017 global Jewish dialogue on Jerusalem Teaches us about the Kotel crisis. Retrieved from

Schoenman, R. (1988). The hidden history of Zionism. Santa Barbara, CA:
Ventes Press.

UN Security Council, 2245th meeting. Resolution 476 (1980) [On the status of Jerusalem]. 1980. UNISPAL. (20 August 1980). Retrieved from

Ziboun, K. (2017, March 21). Education in eastern Jerusalem maintains Palestinian identity. English Edition of Asharq Al-Awsat. Retrieved from

Mahmood K. M. Eshreteh is from Daherieh, Palestine and worked for 10 years as a high school English teacher in Palestinian public schools. Currently, he is an assistant professor of linguistics at Hebron University in Palestine. His research interests include translation studies, pragmatics, and discourse analysis.


Lori Dodson
Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA

Anne Marie Foerster Luu
Silver Spring, Maryland, USA

Shelley Wong
George Mason University
Fairfax, Virginia, USA

When anti-immigrant rhetoric and fears of “outsiders who are here to take advantage of our riches” infiltrate our communities, lawmakers can make devastating nativist laws criminalizing the lives of our students and their families. Even though these laws target undocumented immigrants, they are making all immigrants and those who look like them socially, economically, and politically marginalized in the communities they call home. Public and political discourse that led to the passage of these laws raises fears resulting in a climate that, to some, justifies a strong backlash against those who are our students. While these laws were taken through the courts, the damage was already done (Duara, 2016). The “othering” and criminalizing of immigrants remains in discussions. Decisions such as the “Muslim bans,” the call to build a wall on the Texas/Mexico border, and the shift of immigration judges from New York City to the southern border in what some call a “crackdown on illegal aliens” keep the issue of immigration in the popular media at a cost. The language used and the intentions behind this type of rhetoric have our students and their families living in fear.

We have DREAMers (a youth movement made up of undocumented students who after graduating from high school want to go to college and live legally in the United States) in our classrooms. As we write this article, congressional leaders are summoning the courage to stand strong against those challenging Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 executive order that protected DREAMers. Currently, DACA allows young people who submit complex paperwork, pass a criminal background check, and pay a significant fee to legally work in the United States. They must renew this work authorization every 2 years.

To protect DREAMers and other young people protected by DACA, the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy (BRIDGE) Act was introduced in the Senate on 9 December 2016 and in the House on 12 January 2017, with bipartisan support for the DACA program. The DREAM Act is legislation that has been attempted before and was defeated in 2011. It would provide undocumented youth who arrived in the United States prior to age 16 access to higher education, work authorization, and conditional permanent residency, which could eventually lead to citizenship. On 20 July 2017 it was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate in a bipartisan effort to stop the discontinuance of DACA; such a discontinuance would have catastrophic results for the nearly 80,000 DACA recipients, who would no longer have the right to work and would be subject to deportation. The students at risk are those who trusted in the process of giving their personal information that exposed their status to the government on the promise of deferred deportation. Another effort, The American Hope Act, was introduced on 28 July 2017 by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the House Democrats to offer a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers currently in the DACA program. If all goes well, the law may change the legal status of our undocumented students, but it will take time and education to change the hearts and minds of the broader community.

Persistent anti-immigrant rhetoric, anti-immigrant laws, and the criminalization of immigrants happens at the peril of the jurisdictions involved as our immigrant population, documented and undocumented, is a strong economic force. The state of Alabama passed HB56 in 2011, making it clear that undocumented immigrants were not welcome in the state and threatening criminal action toward anyone who contracted with undocumented immigrants. However, targeting 2.5% of the state’s population, not all of whom were undocumented immigrants, proved to be an economic disaster. That 2.5% of tax-paying consumers were being pushed away. In the United States, undocumented immigrants alone generate US$13.7 billion tax dollars (Walter, 2017). Alabama also learned that they put foreign investment at risk. Investment plans by Spain and China of approximately US$180 million were threatened. Mercedes Benz and Honda questioned their investment of US$4.8 billion in auto industry payroll alone (Baxter, 2012). Money from taxes and investments ultimately funds our public schools.

In addition to the economic pressures of anti-immigrant policy, Alabama HB56 also criminalized school registrars who failed to request immigration papers despite this being determined unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (Peterson Beadle, 2013). HB56 was only nullified after the state of Alabama was sued and sustained huge economic losses in foreign investment, agriculture, and legal fees. There seems to be little remorse for the impact on the human beings marginalized by misinformation and ill-conceived legislation (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012).

Even with the example of Alabama, Texas passed and signed into law SB4 on 7 May 2017. However, on 30 August 2017 this law was temporarily blocked by a federal judge who stated that “SB4 will erode public trust and make many communities and neighborhoods less safe. There is also ample evidence that localities will suffer adverse economic consequences which, in turn, harm the State of Texas” (City of El Cenizo et al v. State of Texas et al, 2017). If this decision is reversed, campus police would be expected to enforce immigration laws under penalty of removal from service and fines of up to US$25,000. They would also be expected to ask the immigration status of crime victims. Anti-immigrant actions such as this law leave our undocumented students and neighbors vulnerable to the most nefarious elements of our communities.

Our students enter the classroom with the burdens imposed by often unwelcoming and hostile rhetoric and policies. Some are being kept out of school by families fearful of their safety from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, uninformed educators, and classroom bullies (Steenland & Kelley, 2012). The sense of security is scarce outside the home, but school is supposed to be safe for all students. Nonetheless, a refugee from Honduras attending high school in North Carolina was grabbed up by ICE on his way to school. The school board, his teachers, classmates, and family all worked together to make sure he continued his studies in detention while they fought for his release (Morse, 2016). Though his story ends well, with his release from custody, it is not the only story that makes the evening news.

A story that did not end well occurred in Rockville, Maryland, a long considered progressive bastion welcoming immigrants from 170 different cultures. This incident took place at a local high school, releasing heretofore unspoken fears. Two high school students in the asylum process were accused of a heinous crime that was later dismissed by the courts. It became a news story that blasted the students as illegal immigrants, too old to be enrolled in school. These students, one of whom was under the age of 18, were “convicted” on the evening news with their personal information used to make a point about issues of immigration. One student was also identified with a photograph. Was this really an issue of immigration status? Some people questioned if they were possible gang members simply because of their country of origin.

In the United States, we have seen the assumption of guilt based on country of origin before. In an interview about the Rockville case, Superintendent Matsuda of California’s Anaheim Union High School District said, “The sort of scapegoating that went against an entire ethnic group [the Japanese-Americans during WWII], there’s some of that going on right now. We really need to reflect on the role of public schools in a democracy, in very tumultuous times.” (Mitchell, 2017)

TESOL members and all teachers need to stay informed, take action, and make it personal. To stay informed, we can move beyond mainstream media and follow immigrant community organizations like United We Dream. We can frequently check in on the status of federal and state legislation and consider the probable impact on our students and families. Taking action could be as simple as adding issues of immigration to our curricular resources or organizing information sessions. Even having a cup of tea with a neighbor could spread the word about what is really happening to the humans beneath the rhetoric. When we make it personal, we open our eyes to the dilemmas posed by the realities of our students. Supporting them will require us to understand them for who they are and the challenges they face. This may require teachers to look beyond their own cultural perspectives to find solutions that will make a difference in the lives of our students.


Baxter, T. (2012, February 15). Alabama's immigration disaster. Retrieved from

City of El Cenizo et al v. State of Texas et al., Civil No. SA-17-CV-404-OLG (U.S. District Court Western District of Texas, 2017, August 30). Retrieved from

Duara, N. (2016, September 15). Arizona's once-feared immigration law, SB 1070, loses most of its power in settlement. The LA Times. Retrieved from

Mitchell, C. (2017, March 24). High school rape case becomes flashpoint in immigration debate. Education Week. Retrieved from

Morse, J. (2016, July 6). How one immigration detention shook a city. Pacific Standard. Retrieved from

Peterson Beadle, A. (2013, October 30). Alabama's HB 56 anti-immigrant law takes final gasps. Retrieved from

Southern Poverty Law Center. (2012, January 31). Alabama's shame: HB 56 and the war on immigrants. Retrieved from

Steenland , S., & Kelley, A. M. (2012, March 15). The damage of anti-immigrant laws and rhetoric. Retrieved from

Walter, E. (2017, March 03). Undocumented immigrants are making a huge impact as taxpayers. Retrieved from

Lori Dodson is an elementary ESOL teacher in Maryland.

Anne Marie Foerster Luu is a high school ESOL teacher in Maryland.

Shelley Wong is a member of the Mason DREAMers advisory board at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.



Many ESL educators and administrators are baffled by the notion of advocacy and its role in and out of the academic environment because they do not know how they can support students in this chaotic time period. Immigration policies and the recently proposed budget released by the U.S. president has caused turmoil in the field of education. Within the TESOL profession, many are equipped with the tools necessary to teach English and prepare their students for the rigor of academia; however, numerous students throughout the country—particularly those at my college, East Los Angeles College—are experiencing a growing amount of fear due to the political uncertainty in the United States. Because of this fear, there is a vital need to not only advocate for students but also to empower them to become leaders for their families and their communities. First, however, faculty and administrators must educate themselves about advocacy. The TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit, which was held in Alexandria, Virginia, USA from 18–21 June 2017, was a great first step toward becoming aware of policies that affect education and the role of advocacy within the field of TESOL.

A great number of educators and administrators are passionate about seeking ways to improve the delivery of their lessons or developing new programs to ensure the success of students. In addition, many are unaware of how their professional role has expanded throughout the years. Some educators do not understand the relationship that exists between their role as educators or administrators and their responsibility to advocacy. Not only are they educators and administrators, but they are also advocates for their learners. They represent their students at curriculum development discussions or district meetings, where they speak on their students’ behalves to secure more educational opportunities for them.

During the summit, keynote speaker Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner, who has written several books on advocacy, like Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators, had attendees discuss the definition of the word advocacy and its role within the profession of TESOL. During the course of this discussion, audience members realized that there is a dire need to broaden the definition of the TESOL profession to encompass the role of advocacy and to develop new ways in which to integrate advocacy in educators’ lessons. With this awareness, attendees planned to share this knowledge with others within their field and with their elected officials.

TESOL organizers David Cutler and John Segota had sent out emails in the months prior to this summit requesting all attendees to set up meetings with their senators and representatives. For instance, I am from California, so I collaborated with my TESOL state affiliate, CATESOL, and I attended CATESOL’s scheduled meetings, which included Kamala Harris, Diane Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi. Because senators and representatives were voting at the Capitol building, aides met with many of the attendees in their stead. Meetings were generally scheduled between 10 and 15 minutes. In preparation for these meetings, Cutler and Segota shared with attendees the importance of structuring their time before their meetings, and they asked them to think of two or three talking points that they wanted to focus on in their pitch. In addition, attendees needed to interrelate their points with their students’ personal stories; these narratives needed to be memorable so that they would resonate with politicians and aides and motivate them to make a change.

After spending two days with ESL teachers and administrators from across the United States, attendees gathered with their organized groups to march together on Capitol Hill. Attending these scheduled meetings provided educators and administrators a meaningful, hands-on experience to act as advocates on Capitol Hill. Attending this summit empowered attendees with information that pertains to immigration policies, such as the Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream and Grow Our Economy (BRIDGE) Act, which affects ESL students and their families who are enrolled in K–12 education, adult education programs, or higher education. The summit provided a platform for both educators and administrators to advocate for the needs of students and to meet with their local representatives in Congress or with their aides. It was a great reminder for everyone present that they have a civic responsibility, and it is their right and duty to share their message with their elected officials so that those officials can promote the notion of change.

Not only did this summit enable participants to become strong leaders, but it also gave them the chance to reevaluate the ways in which they can develop and implement advocacy-based activities that empower students to become future advocates for their families and become leaders in their communities.

Writing Assignments

Creating advocacy-related writing assignments is an effective way for teachers to target both purposeful and meaningful critical thinking and writing skills. Educators can have students write to their local representatives to share their personal stories and explain what their needs are. This would provide an opportunity for students to understand the importance of making their voices heard and helping others to gain the confidence to make theirs be heard as well. At the summit, Dr. Ester de Jong, TESOL president, explained to attendees the importance of being persistent when advocating in general. Having students write to their local representatives at least once every semester will create a consistent voice that politicians and their aides will not forget. Instructors can help nurture and strengthen their students’ voices by incorporating a writing activity like this.

Campus Event and Leadership Activities

At East Los Angeles College, an ESL task force has been created to plan and prepare for an International Student Festival, which will be held in Spring 2018. Task force members are planning to have a panel of ESL students share the challenges that they have experienced here in the United States. Faculty, staff, administrators, local representatives, and the community will be invited to hear students share their stories, and they will educate audience members on how everyone on and off campus can further assist them in achieving their goals.

Activities like these incorporate both elements of advocacy and skill sets relevant to language learning. Educators can continue to have students focus on their educational goals while simultaneously developing their leadership skills.

The need for advocacy is crucial, and educators and administrators share a responsibility to enable our ELLs to become independent learners and leaders. The summit was a great avenue for learning more about the role of advocacy, and it provided a meaningful opportunity to discuss with other educators from across the country and to collaborate with them in educating those on Capitol Hill about the needs, diversity, and equity of our English language learners. Educators and administrators who are interested in advocating for English language learners should attend this summit, for it brings awareness to the gaps that exist within educational and immigration policies, and it will ignite the passion to seek justice and equality for the needs of students and their families. As a united group, faculty, administrators, and students can help bring change just by actively participating in their civic responsibility.

The TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit is held annually during the month of June. For more information regarding the summit, please visit the TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit webpage. This year, TESOL will also be offering a new 1-day program for advocates who are interested in advancing their advocacy skills and capacity. This workshop will be held once on 27 October 2017 and will be repeated on 4 November 2017. For information about TESOL’s advocacy initiatives, please visit the TESOL Advocacy Resources webpage.

Maria Betancourt is an assistant professor of ESL at East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park, California. She teaches credit ESL there. Professor Betancourt has had several opportunities to present at many of professional conferences and considers these opportunities to be helpful for her to strengthen her own pedagogy and mentor novice instructors.


[NOTE: This article has been reviewed by the SRIS leaders, and not copyedited by TESOL, due to its length.]

In "Tales from the Dark Side," one of my chapters in Color, Race and English Language Teaching (Curtis & Romney, 2006, pp. 11-22), I note that darkness is usually associated with badness, whereas lightness is generally associated with goodness. There are many reasons for these associations, going back to at least Biblical times. For example, more than 100 light/dark references can be found in the Bible, and in almost all of them Dark is Bad, Light is Good. For example: “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5). Millennia later, the same color-coded connotations are still with us, for example, in the Star Wars movie franchise, which is one of the largest and most profitable in the world. As one of the infamously evil characters, Sheev Palpatine, says: “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural”. The power of the Affective Factor can also been seen here in the world of Star Wars, for example: “Individuals who used the dark side drew their power from darker emotions such as fear, anger, hatred, and aggression”. So, when a close, Canadian friend of mine (who is also a member of our SRIS) said to me recently, and I should add, playfully: “Oh, so you’ve gone to the dark side, eh?” I had to stop and think.

My SRIS friend was referring to the fact that, since recently rotating off the TESOL International Association’s Board of Directors, off the Association’s Executive Committee, and out of the presidential line after three years, I have been doing some consulting work for one of the largest financial services firms in North America. (It may be important to note that they are not a bank.) They approached me to help them develop their Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) programs in the USA and Canada. I agreed to work with them, partly as I made my three years back on the Board (2014-2017) a 20-hour a week, 50 weeks a year service leadership commitment. As a result, I did almost no paid work during those three years, but the main reason for working with this financial services firm is that I have been a client of theirs for more than 12 years. I came to be a client because, in the early 2000s, we went to all of the major banks where we live (Kingston, Ontario, Canada) and asked them about ‘Socially Responsible Investing’. The banks’ responses ranged from blank stares to polite smiles that spoke volumes, which sounded very much like: “Oh, you new immigrants, you’re welcome to Canada, of course, but you have so much to learn about how we do things here, and this ‘Socially Responsible Investing’ of which you speak is nothing to do with us”.

On the other hand, this particular financial services firm said: “You know what, we’ve heard of that [Socially Responsible Investing] and we don’t know much about it, but we’ll look into it, and get back to you”, which they did, after which I became a client of theirs. Lastly, I should add that this particular firm appears to be very much aligned with Peter Senge’s notion of a ‘learning organization’, which he defined as: “…organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together” (1990, p. 3). Here, then, is a brief summary of some of the lessons that are emerging as this D&I project unfolds.

Differentness Vs Diversity

For a number of reasons, talking about diversity can be difficult. For example, when Brown, Smith and Jones or BSJ (a pseudonym) were looking for a consultant to help them develop their D&I programs, and my name was put forward, the question came up: How diverse is he? That may be an important question, but one that is difficult to answer because there are so many different kinds of diversity – from race, skin color, gender, age, and ethnicity, to sexual orientation, medical conditions, and diversity of (dis)abilities – any number of which can be embodied within the same individual. However, if the discussion can be framed in terms of differentness, then it is possible to address the unique individuality of the experience. Someone can be asked: Where you live and/or where you work, do the people around you look similar to each other but different from you? Do you believe that the people around you – at work, where you live, etc. – react and respond to you based on your apparent differentness from them/the majority?

Visible Vs Invisible Differentness

The limitation of these kinds of differentness questions is that they are based on being visibly different, on being a ‘visible minority’. Therefore, although differentness factors, such as race, color, gender, age, and ethnicity are often visible from afar – which we are calling ‘Differentness at a Distance’ or ‘Long-Distance Diversity’ – sexual orientation, for example, usually cannot be seen from far away. Then there are differentness factors such as medical conditions and diversity of (dis)abilities, that may or may not be visible, depending on whether the symptoms of a medical condition show, or on whether the person’s disability is more to do with physiological constraints, or with mental health, or both. The issue of visible vs. invisible differentness is important to BSJ as they are keen to recruit more financial advisors from the LGBT(Q) community, but as sexual orientation is not visible, and as employers are not usually allowed to ask about that, recruiting such financial advisors is going to be one of the challenges of including those who are less-visibly (or even in-visibly) different.

‘Positive Self-Interest’

‘Positive Self-interest’ might sound like a contradiction in terms, as ‘self interested’ is usually defined negatively, for example: “Motivated by one's personal interest or advantage, especially without regard for others” (Oxford English Dictionary, emphasis added) . However, in terms of “regard for others”, BSJ is acutely aware that greater diversity, of all kinds, in their workforce has many potential benefits, including a better ‘bottom line’, more innovation, and better decision-making, as well as the idea that ‘It’s the right thing to do’. In my experience, it is not enough to tell employers – that includes some of the schools, colleges and universities that I have worked with – that their workforces should be more diverse because ‘It’s the right thing to do’. In that case, a number of those employers nod thoughtfully, then appear to forget all about D&I, as soon as I leave the room. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind. But BSJ is one of the largest and most successful financial services firms in North America, and they realize that to stay at the top, they must invest time, money and other resources into building a more diverse workforce – to go beyond the rhetoric of D&I, to the reality.

Unpacking the Language

One of the mantras of BSJ is “Words Matter”, which is a phrase that I have seen on the powerpoint slides in many of the presentations given by their financial advisors, written down in notes, put up on noticeboards, etc. For some reason – probably my personal biases and prejudices – I did not expect a financial services firm to be so acutely aware of the power of language. When I am asked what I do, I often reply: “I do language for a living”, as, by definition, language is the basis of everything language teachers and learners do. I was then, pleasantly surprised to have my view of this particular world, of financial services, challenged. As a result of BSJ’s focus on language, diversity and inclusion, we are spending time at BSJ looking closely and carefully at what is meant and understood, within the organization, by those terms, as well as related terms such as ‘minority’, ‘majority’, and ‘under-represented’.

Making the Biological Case for D&I

As I have noted above, in my experience, arguing for D&I on the basis that ‘It’s the right thing to do’ can have little or no effect, beyond some level of raising awareness that this is an area that an organization needs to address. As reflective practitioners, we know that awareness is an important starting point, but if that awareness does not translate into change – from changing understanding to changing practices – then we cannot move beyond the starting point. Therefore, as I also noted above, a degree of self-interest, in terms of the bottom line – or whatever it is that is motivating real change in terms of D&I – can be a positive force. However, one of the things that I have added to the discussions at BSJ (and elsewhere) is the idea that, biologically speaking, ‘Purity is Death. Diversity is Life’.

Drawing on my years working in hospitals in the U.K, as a Medical Science Officer, I am able to show that a 100% pure strain of any living thing has what we used to call, in biomedical science, Zero Environmental Adaptability. Consequently, even the smallest change in the environment – a cough or a sneeze, or a change in the room temperature, even of a small degree – results in death. The idea that ‘Purity is Death. Diversity is Life’ is not a political slogan, but a Fact of Life, on every biological level – from the cell, to the organ, to entire metabolic systems – has been the most powerful of all of the D&I models, metaphors and analogies that I have presented. As I noted at the beginning of this article, one of the Core Values of the TESOL International Association is “Respect for diversity”, but it is not only language teaching and learning organizations that are committed to D&I. It is, therefore, helpful to look further afield, to see what other kinds of organizations are doing to help create more diverse and inclusive workplaces and communities of practice.

Concluding Comments

To expand on the opening discussion of light and dark, not only may dark-skinned people suffer as a result of such Biblical color-coding, but black-and-white may also be a false dichotomy, like labeling people as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’. An essential aspect of helping to create more diverse and inclusive communities is recognizing our own biases and prejudices, as those do not make us ‘bad people’, just ‘people’, so denying those aspects of ourselves only makes matters worse. I am, therefore, grateful to BSJ for this opportunity to expand my view of their world, and to realize that, although the Big Banks certainly play a central role in the problems of socioeconomic inequity globally, there are some financial institutions that are committed to ideals similar to those of us in our TESOL world. Within that world, we may sometimes forget that that there may be many organizations that are not not-for-profit educational institutions, but which may nonetheless be working to make the world a better place, through their own D&I programs and initiatives.


Curtis, A. & Romney. M. (Eds.). (2006). Color, race and English language teaching: Shades of meaning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Senge, P.M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Andy Curtis received his M.A. in Applied Linguistics, and his Ph.D. in International Education, from the University of York, England. From 2015 to 2016, Andy served as the 50th President of the TESOL International Association. He is based in Ontario, Canada, from where he works as a consultant for learning organizations worldwide.



Statement of Purpose

TESOL's Social Responsibility Interest Section (SRIS) supports members who are actively engaged in integrating language teaching with social responsibility, world citizenship, and an awareness of global issues such as peace, human rights, and the environment. The interest section aims to promote social responsibility within the TESOL profession and to advance social equity, respect for differences, and multicultural understanding through education.


  • Represent the interests of those incorporating social responsibility methodologies into their teaching of English to speakers of other languages (ESOL).

  • Promote the development of professional standards for social responsibility.

  • Develop instructional strategies that promote tolerance, global awareness, international understanding, and social responsibility among teachers and learners.

  • Research language teaching content, methods, and approaches that can help students become active global citizens in their local cultures.

  • Help teachers and learners around the world better understand the causes and solutions for global issues that affect the human family.

  • Work to overcome national stereotypes and negative images held by ESOL professionals and learners that hinder peace, cooperation, and trust.

  • Disseminate ideas in the form of publications, research, and ready-to-use classroom materials.

  • Arrange teacher training courses and workshops that introduce TESOL professionals to such fields as global education, peace education, environmental education, and AIDS/HIV education.

  • Provide teaching resources to help teachers teach about global issues and social responsibility.

  • Further the profession by making language teaching more relevant to world realities.

  • Provide a forum for TESOL professionals to share experiences so as to more effectively promote global awareness and social responsibility through content-based approaches to English language teaching.

  • Link TESOL members, affiliate groups, like-minded associations, and governmental organizations worldwide working with global issues, peace education, and social responsibility.


Greetings Social Responsibility Interest Section!

We are Riah Werner and Anastasia Khawaja, the editors of the SRIS newsletter, TESOLers for Social Responsibility. We were thrilled with the response to our call for submissions for the September issue and are excited to announce that the theme for our December issue is Social Justice in the Classroom. For this issue, we are looking for practical articles about the ways you incorporate social issues directly into your lessons, as an English teacher or teacher educator. What activities have you used to engage your students in social justice? How have you been able to raise your students’ awareness of the connections between language and power? How do you make time for social issues in your lesson plans? What advice do you have for teachers who want to adopt a socially responsible approach to English teaching? As always, we would love to share a wide range of voices and perspectives on these issues and particularly encourage international submissions.

We are looking for

  • Feature articles: Share your presentations, research projects, or classroom practices.

  • Lesson descriptions: Describe a lesson plan you’ve created about a social justice topic so that other teachers can use it with their students as well!

  • Anecdotes and stories: Do you have a story or personal reflection on incorporating social issues into your classes? If so, we’d love to hear it!

  • Compilation and evaluation of useful resources: Share resources that you use in your work, along with an explanation of how or why you find them helpful.

  • Reports and reviews: Write about a book or an article that has inspired you as a teacher or researcher.

  • Interviews: Is there a member of the TESOL community you would like to interview? Send the interview our way!

  • Responses to articles published in the newsletter: We welcome submissions in dialogue with articles we have already published. Continue the conversations started in this issue!

Your submission can be between 500 to 1,750 words. Please keep this word count in mind as you draft your piece. It includes the title, byline, teaser and references, so the actual body of the article should be less than the limit of 1,750 words. If you have an idea but need some guidance on how to develop it more fully, please email us at or, and we will brainstorm together!

Please send your articles to Anastasia Khawaja at with the subject line "SRIS Newsletter Submission.”

The deadline for submissions is 1 November 2017.

General Submission Quick Guide

Articles should

  • have the title in ALL CAPS;

  • list a byline (author’s name with hyperlinked email, affiliation, city, country, and an author photo);

  • include a 2- to 3-sentence teaser;

  • be no longer than 1,750 words (including bylines, teasers, main text, tables, references and author bios);

  • include a 2- to 3-sentence author biography at the end of the article;

  • contain no more than 5 references;

  • follow the style guidelines in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological

  • Association, 6th Edition (APA style); and

  • be formatted in .doc, .docx, .rtf, or .txt.

Include an author photo

  • This should be a head and shoulder shot.

  • It must be a jpg, submitted as a separate file, not embedded in the same document as the article.

  • Dimensions are 120 pixels (width) by 160 pixels (height).

  • The photo must be clear, clean, professional, and appropriate to the article.

The SRIS newsletter is a great venue to share your innovative work and ideas with our community. We look forward to receiving your submissions soon!

Kind Regards,

Riah and Anastasia