Transitioning from Teacher to Language Program Administrator by Suzanne K. Panferov

By Suzanne K. Panferov | University of Arizona

Teaching and leading are distinguishable occupations, but every great leader is clearly teaching – and every great teacher is leading. (Gardner, 1990, p. 77)

“I want to be a Language Program Administrator.” Short and sweet, those words resounded through my ears like a joyful symphony to a conductor. Recently, I had the honor of serving on a doctoral committee for a graduate student who was also a full-time English as a Second Langauge (ESL) elementary school teacher in a small U.S. town near the border with Mexico. 

Having already had the pleasure of getting to know the student in a graduate course that I had taught on language program administration in the previous semester, I was more than happy to serve on her committee. At her candidacy exam, she was asked to justify her interest in matriculating into an educational doctoral program while at the same time remaining a full-time teacher. Hearing her begin her exam with the words above was well worth the time I personally spent on the exam myself. 

Not long ago, the field of English language teaching (ELT) began setting expectations for professional teachers that required obtaining qualifying credentials to teach ESL or English a foreign language (EFL) (Muchisky, 1998.) ELT professional associations, such as Teachers of English to Speakers of other Languages (TESOL) and University and College Intensive English Programs (UCIEP), have also advocated professional credentials for English language teachers.

No longer is being a native English speaker or being proficient in English enough to qualify someone to teach ESL or EFL; teachers must also have professional credentials. We are now seeing an increase in the number of university students who want to be ESL or EFL teachers when they graduate. The Ph.D. student I mentioned above, however, is the first student whom I have heard state and intention to become a language program administrator (LPA), purposefully select courses that would prepare her for such a career, and develop a plan to eventually leave her position as a teacher and become an LPA. She is one of the first students in her generation to recognize language program administration as a viable career choice. This student’s career path, like that of possible others, serves as a signal that the profession of language program administration is being launched. Students (and practicing teachers) are deliberately choosing a career in language program administration and formally preparing to make the transition from teaching into administration.

For most practicing LPAs, the transition from language teaching to program administration happens quite by chance. Certainly, this phenomenon is common in other fields as well where employees have been promoted into positions of management (Boyd & O’Neill, 2006; Harper, 1994; White, Hockley, van der Horst Jansen, & Laughner, 2008.) It is often the case when a position needs to be filled that a highly organized, yet unsuspecting, an internal candidate is identified and charged with (or even coaxed into) stepping into an administrative position. At a recent professional meeting, sixty practicing ESL program directors were asked to identify what their “when I grow up” career plans had been, and none mentioned language program administration. Responses varied from teacher to medical doctor and even to professional baseball player, but none had foreseen a future in language program administration.

If you are one of those individuals who is transitioning from language teaching into language program administration, or you are yet to embark upon a professional career and find yourself a student in a language program administration course, this chapter for you.

A Handbook for Language Program Administrators Second Edition

A Handbook for Language Program Administrators Second Edition

MaryAnn Christison and Fredricka L. Stoller – Editors

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of A Handbook for Language Program Administrators, Second Edition
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