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Jan 2003

Rhona Genzel

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ESL MiniConference Online!

Conference Spirit Strong Going Into 2003
Exclusive Interview with Robb Scott
by Meribel Osorio

Robb Scott, Editor, ESL MiniConference Online First of all, Mr. Scott, could you tell us something about yourself?

I grew up in Great Bend, Kansas. Both of my parents were teachers licensed in Kansas, although my father later switched to a medical career. On both sides of my family, there are a number of teachers (and preachers), going back to my Grandfather Huffman, who taught high school biology in Pittsburg, Kansas, and my Grandmother Scott, who taught elementary school in East Liverpool, Ohio. I attended the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, Kansas, in the late 70s and early 80s, completing a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Curriculum & Instruction (TESL). I have lived and worked in Kansas, South America, Japan and New York City during my 20 years as an ESL professional. I have taught middle school, high school, college and adults from dozens of different cultures and language backgrounds.

I started my own language school in Quito, Ecuador; gave teacher-training seminars in Ecuador and Japan; served on the Tokyo JALT executive committee; coordinated a TOEFL test site in Tokyo; wrote language arts and social studies materials for Newsweek's student marketing division in New York City; served on program committees for major language teaching and computer-assisted language learning conferences in Japan and New York; presented at international TESOL meetings in 1985, 1992 and 1994; taught Web authoring to junior high and high school students through Cablevision's Education Department; worked in ESL program administration; studied educational leadership, second language acquisition and teacher observation at Columbia University; and top-edited a number of online and offline publications for educators.

Since last year, I have been an assistant professor of special education/ESOL at Fort Hays State University, in Hays, Kansas. I teach ESOL linguistics, cultural diversity, ESOL assessment, ESOL methods/materials, and the ESOL practicum for P-12 teachers working towards their State of Kansas additional endorsement in ESOL. I have represented Fort Hays most recently at the 2002 MIDTESOL convention in Ames, Iowa, where I gave a session on distance-education models for ESOL teacher education.

Where did the idea of initiating this newsletter come from?

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, I found myself--like many others in New York City and across the country--re-evaluating my life, my work and how I could make a positive contribution and give something back for all the wonderful cross-cultural experiences I have enjoyed through my involvement in ESL/EFL teaching.

In October, 2001, at the NYSTESOL convention, I found many people were interested in a concept I was developing for how to build and maintain a positive atmosphere in the ESL workplace, a "conference-like spirit," with teachers and administrators sharing ideas and challenging each other to continually grow. I posted several follow-up articles about these ideas and sent links to a small network of my ESL colleagues and acquaintances locally and around the world.

Their enthusiastic responses convinced me there was a need for the ESL MiniConference Online, to help all of us bridge the wide gaps between events and services provided by our professional organizations. There are now nearly 500 subscribers to our free e-mail newsletter, and an average of 150 new visitors access our articles every day, a testimony to the compelling nature of the content we publish.

What do you want to communicate with this newsletter to the people who read it?

I have been very fortunate in my ESL career to have met and interacted with colleagues whose comradery, advice and encouragement have challenged and sustained me over the years. When I go to TESOL events, I always run into friends and get into fun conversations which remind me of what is so exciting about the lifelong activity of teaching, learning and learning about languages and cultures. I want to share this enthusiasm and esprit de corps with the readers of the ESL MiniConference Online newsletter.

You are a busy man. How do you find time to assemble this newsletter every month?

I consider the ESL MiniConference Online newsletter to be a service-learning activity. Many readers have thanked me for making a positive difference in their professional lives through this publication. I have also learned a tremendous amount in the process of devoting personal time to this project. It is worth the sacrifices, and I am glad others are joining me in volunteering their own time and ideas. There is still plenty of room on our editorial advisory board, which already includes some very dedicated ESL professionals from across America and around the world who have given me invaluable assistance. With everyone's help and active participation, I believe the ESL MiniConference is destined to make a positive and lasting contribution to the development and improvement of our profession.

Is the ESL MiniConference newsletter written or dedicated to a specific group of people?

The ESL MiniConference Online is dedicated especially to all new and prospective English teachers, as well as to those who encouraged me to become a teacher and those who gave me my earliest opportunities to practice and improve my teaching under their guidance and supervision.

I have read some very interesting interviews you have done for the newsletter. Would you please tell us which of them has impressed you the most?

The Achievement Profile interviews are some of the most important articles in our ESL MiniConference archives. Many of these interviews are used regularly in ESL teacher-training courses, to give novice teachers insights from the experiences of seasoned veterans. An interview in May, 2002, with Robert O'Neill, sparked a lively debate with contributions from Stephen Krashen and Bill VanPatten, over conscious versus unconscious language learning. Links to these heated exchanges formed the basis for Sendai JALT's September meeting, where members extended the debate.

To me, it seems the best Achievement Profiles are yet to come. I believe that, in addition to the valuable lessons to be learned from well-known ESL thinkers like Betty Azar, Marianne Celce-Murcia, John Fanselow or Joy Reid, there are also crucial insights not yet shared from less widely renowned ESL professionals with decades of experience making a positive difference in their local ESL communities. The Internet permits ESL MiniConference Online to disseminate their ideas and advice for the benefit of literally thousands of readers. Many of our best interviews have resulted from tips sent in via e-mail by individuals who recognize the valuable contributions being made by a peer, co-worker or colleague.

Is there a way people can contribute to the growth of this valuable work you are doing?

In order for the ESL MiniConference to grow and serve larger numbers of ESL professionals, we need short articles (350-500 words, generally) about new or reconfirmed teaching approaches, announcements of local events and personal letters from readers telling others how they have utilized the information and ideas in our stories. As we start our second full year of publication, I look forward to learning together with our growing list of subscribers, as we strive to "keep the conference spirit going"!

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.

You're quite welcome. They were good ones.

Story by Meribel Osorio, Hays, Kansas

2003 ESL MiniConference Online