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.
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
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 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
In 1994, the College of Humanities departments and
programs moved from HSS to our beautiful new Humanities
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
--by May Shih, who thanks Jim Kohn, Elizabeth Whalley, and
Pat Porter for their contributions