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In 2003-2004, the SFSU M.A. TESOL program will celebrate its 40th anniversary! We hope to mark the anniversary with a year of special events and special projects, including the debut of an alumni listserv and alumni Web pages. We welcome ideas.
The following brief history describes some of the highlights of our program's rich past. Many other fascinating stories remain to be told. (Are there any volunteers to put together an anniversary booklet with contributions from faculty and graduates of our program?)

A Brief History of the M.A. TESOL Program at SFSU

By Dr. May Shih
Professor of TESOL at SFSU

SFSU has offered classes in English as a Second Language (ESL) since 1949, when Professor Lois Wilson began teaching classes for international students in the English Department. These classes were designed to strengthen the English skills of non-native English speakers whose academic preparation qualified them for admission to San Francisco State College (our name until 1972), but whose oral and written proficiency in English put them at a disadvantage. These courses continued, and the ESL program grew from fewer than 10 sections in the 1950's to 60-70 sections a semester today.

As interest in teaching the ESL classes increased over time, a need emerged for teacher preparation classes to train the instructors. The first methodology classes in teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language began in Spring 1959, taught by Professor Wilson. She was soon joined by Professors Dorothy Danielson, Allis Bens, Ray Grosvenor, and Thurston Womack.

In 1961-62, these faculty members proposed a Master's degree program with Concentration in Teaching English as a Foreign/Second Language (TEFL). By 1963-64 the M.A. TEFL program was in place, and it has grown steadily over the past 40 years (renamed a degree in English with a Concentration in TESOL in 1996).

Shortly after the start of the M.A. TEFL program, the American Language Institute (ALI) was founded. This intensive English program was designed to teach English to international students whose English proficiency did not yet meet University standards for admission. Applicants to San Francisco State College whose scores on proficiency tests did not meet admission standards were recommended to take ALI classes.

Professor Kohn has many fond memories of the '60s. He recalls how he helped Allis Bens set up just the exact combination of students at the ALI -- there were exactly 64 students admitted, which meant exactly 4 groups of 16, and each group had to be precisely constructed to vary the ethnic backgrounds of the class. He also remembers "the Language Factory" -- John Dennis and Ray Grosvenor were instrumental in getting a contract with the Peace Corps to do Peace Corps training on campus, which meant offering applied linguistics jobs and teaching jobs to some of the graduate students. The faculty did research on Liberian languages, and wrote materials to teach to PC volunteers.

The early graduate students had parties which usually featured spoofs of their teachers and a lot of dancing. Jim Kohn and Pat Porter remember the square-dance parties very well. One of the faculty, Kenneth Croft, was a real-life square-dance caller. The ALI volleyball games were also a highlight of this era. The ALI teachers would often play volleyball after class with some of the students. It was great fun, especially when the ball would end up on the roof of the gym, and one of the group would have to climb up the side of the building to the roof and retrieve the ball.

The late '60's and early '70's were an era of political activism on campus. Elizabeth Whalley remembers when she first came to the SFSU campus to ask about being a M.A. student. It was during the days of the Vietnam War protests. The Coordinator of the program at that time, Thurston Womack, told her to meet him by the picket line and to look for a man wearing a beige trench coat. Upon meeting him, he said, "Come with me to my office", and she followed him to his VW station wagon, his office at the time.

The late 70's and 80's saw a marked increase in enrollments in the M.A. TESOL program. An active MATEFL Student Association sprung up, featuring parties and talks by invited guests in the profession. Students held regular donut sales outside of HSS to raise funds.

In Summer 1989, SFSU hosted the TESOL Summer Institute, attended by over 400 participants and directed by Jim Kohn. Courses were offered by a number of well-known figures in the field, among them, Marianne Celce-Murcia, Ulla Connor, Fred Genesee, Shirley Brice Heath, Ann Johns, Ann Raimes, Larry Selinker, and the noted "alternative methods" trio of John Fanselow, Ted Rodgers, and Earl Stevick. That memorable summer included escorted dinners, parties, picnics, and an ice cream social, as well as tennis matches organized by Doug Brown.

1989 was also an unforgettable year because of the Loma Prieta earthquake. The campus community pulled together to recover from the deep physical and psychological effects.

In 1994, the College of Humanities departments and programs moved from HSS to our beautiful new Humanities Building.

In Fall 1994, the first M.A. TESOL program conference was put on by the English 891 class. The conference became the big event of every semester. Themes have included "Visions of the Fture", "A Banquet of Possibilities", "The Millennium Challenge", and "Global Perspectives". Plenary panels have featured returning alumni, employers, and other invited speakers sharing insights and advice on employment and other issues. As the conference day expanded to include a buffet lunch and an evening graduation party, fund-raising became necessary to cover expenses. Some of the fund-raising schemes included selling mugs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, and jogging shorts emblazoned with various MATESOL logos (not all profit-making ventures).

1998 saw the debut of the M.A. TESOL Web site, thanks to pioneering work by Luiz Poza (Fall '97). A redesigned and expanded Web site featuring a new MATESOL logo and graphic design by Ya-Ling Hou (Fall '02) went online in May 2002.

The past year has seen a dramatic increase in the number of students in our program; in fact, current enrollment rivals that of in the mid-90's (160 enrolled in Fall 2002, 179 in Fall 1994). In terms of total enrollment, the M.A. TESOL program is the largest graduate program in the College of Humanities. It is also one of the largest M.A. TESOL programs in the U.S.

--by May Shih, who thanks Jim Kohn, Elizabeth Whalley, and Pat Porter for their contributions