Dr. Hyesun Cho is an assistant professor at the University of Kansas. She has been at KU since the fall of 2011. She earned her B.A. degree from Korea University in Seoul, Korea, and upon graduation, started working as an English teacher at a middle school in 1995. She then earned her M.A. in English as a Second Language and her Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition, both from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
For the past two decades, teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) has been her passion. “When you work with diverse language learners including English Language Learners (ELLs), without understanding the nature of who they are as a person, you have a hard time relating to them in the classroom.” Cho says. “I’m interested in examining the intersection of language learning and identity with my grad students, going beyond the simplistic notion of culture and identity. We are interested in looking at the multifaceted and complex process of identity construction, in relation to language learning.”
The field of TESOL, according to Cho is growing – rapidly. “If you look at ESL demographics in the US, by 2015, next year, English Language Learner enrollment in US schools will reach 10 million. By 2025, nearly one out of every four public school students will be an English language learner.” Given this demographic, Cho believes we will need “more teachers who are equipped with knowledge and skills for ELLs.” And also beyond – outside the U.S. there are millions of non-native speakers in the world who are learning English as a foreign language or an international language.
The TESOL program goes beyond celebrating “food and festivals” in other cultures. Cho notes, “It aims to go deeper to understand the issues of power inherent in different groups in our society and schools, and figure out the ways in which to counter the power imbalance between different groups. The main purpose is to help teachers provide an equitable, culturally relevant pedagogy for all of their students.” One of the courses Cho teaches is C&T 820, Teaching English as a Second Language, a methods course to offer theoretical concepts and practical strategies for teachers who work with ELLs. Another course she teaches is C&T 828, a new course she developed at KU. It explores the spectrum of learner and teacher identity and the role of language in the construction of social identity and vice versa.
According to Dr. Cho, in the TESOL program, students will be provided ample opportunities to translate theory into practice. They will be studying a myriad of hands-on topics, such as digital literacy for ELLs and content-based language teaching. Students will be developing lesson plan for ELLs, conducting interviews with them, and conducting action research in the classroom. Students will also create an electronic teaching portfolio, which is a great tool to reflect on what they have learned in the program.
Her advice to TESOL students: “Be proactive. Seek help from the faculty and fellow students if you need any assistance about the classes, instead of waiting and facing challenges. We have a student-led TESOL Club at KU. You can learn a great deal from your peers about job opportunities, course-related information, conference presentations and so on. A growing learning community, that’s something that I’m really proud of in our program.”