More than 50 teachers and scholars from Whatcom and Skagit counties gathered at Western over the summer with peers from Taiwan and Mongolia to learn more about English language teaching programs in their respective schools and countries.
The Bellingham Regional TESOL Conference in late July in the Viking Union was the first of what planners envision as an annual event to welcome new teachers into the local TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and ESL (English as a Second Language) communities.
“We have many illustrious ESL educators visiting our area, especially in the summer,” said Cheiron McMahill, Woodring College of Education professor and TESOL instructor. “We have no official way for everyone to connect and learn from them. It seems like a tremendous opportunity that has been waiting to be seized all these years.”
Conference participants included teachers from WWU, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham Technical College, Bellingham Public Schools, Skagit Valley Community College, and Goodwill Industries. They were joined by teachers in training from National Taiwan Normal University and visiting scholars from Mongolian National University of Education, both Western partnerships.
The idea of the conference was the result of a conversation between McMahill and Kris Moore, Extended Education’s Intensive English Program director, as the two waited for their flight home after attending the national TESOL conference in Chicago in 2017.
“I attended a session on organizing mini-conferences on a budget,” said Moore. “The two of us chatted about how great the idea was in these budget-conscious times. We wanted our colleagues to have professional development opportunities, but knew many of them didn’t have the budget to attend them because of distance and cost.”
“We often travel far to conferences to present or learn,” added McMahill, “but we don't have any chances to present or learn in our local area.”
With the help of Trish Skillman, Woodring’s TESOL program director, the idea took.
Guest speakers included Horacio Walker, dean of Woodring College of Education, ; Vicki Hamblin, executive director of Western’s Institute for Global Engagement, Anthony Shull, senior director of, Language and Culture Programs at WWU, and Gerelt-Od Erdenebileg, director of the Office of International Relations at Mongolian National University of Education.
Plans are already under way for the second annual regional conference.