By Published: May 10, 2022

CU Boulder’s Rai Farrelly hopes to use the board of directors position for TESOL International Organization to make English a more all-encompassing, all-inclusive language

A University of Colorado Boulder linguist has been appointed to the Board of Directors for TESOL International Organization, the organization recently announced.

Rai Farrelly, a teaching professor in linguistics and the coordinator for CU Boulder’s TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program, was selected by her peers to help lead the organization, which is the foremost global authority for teaching English, with more than 11,000 members from 169 countries.

Portrait of Raichle Farrelly

Rai Farrelly, a linguistics teaching professor at CU Boulder, has been appointed to the Board of Directors for TESOL International Organization.

Beyond helping with budgeting and strategic planning, Farrelly hopes to use the position to help define and elevate the organization’s diversity, equity, inclusion and access efforts so that they don’t just stay with the leadership, but rather trickle down in a meaningful way to all the organization’s members. In turn, Farrelly hopes these efforts make English a more all-encompassing, all-inclusive language.

“It’s exciting just to be asked,” remarked Farrelly. “To be elected felt like a good validation for all the time and effort I’ve put into this career and this particular line of work.”

It was a combination of a love of languages and travel that got Farrelly into TESOL after receiving her bachelor’s in Spanish at the University of Utah. For Farrelly, like many who get into the profession, “teaching English was a doorway, a pathway, to get out into the world.”

While getting her PhD in TESOL at the University of Utah, however, Farrelly pivoted from travel and toward teaching educators, a passion spurred in part by working with Burundi refugee women.

These women had no literacy in their home languages, Farrelly said, and so she found herself wanting to know more about their background so she could teach them better. This led her to Tanzania, where she visited a refugee camp, meeting with her students’ families, and made connections in the neighboring village, where she was invited to help build a secondary school.

After coming back and raising money, Farrelly founded a nonprofit and, over the course of a few years, built the school. This project then grew into Project Wezesha, another nonprofit Farrelly founded that elevates educational opportunities for young people in Western Tanzania.

These efforts continue to influence Farrelly’s work and how she teaches future educators, she says.

“I have to remember when I’m preparing (future educators) that they aren’t always going to land in a high-tech classroom. They could end up in parts of the world where I don’t want them to be in the situation I was when I was teaching those Burundi women. I want them to be able to flex a little bit … think of ways where we can modify what we do to fit the teaching context.”

Farrelly went on to be an assistant professor in the MA TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Program at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan, and an assistant professor in the applied linguistics department and MA TESOL Program at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, before coming to CU Boulder, where she has overseen the TESOL program since 2019.

“It’s really cool to see this program growing and thriving and getting new feet. It’s exciting to be part of,” commented Farrelly.

TESOL is an organization that brings you in and empowers you, and makes you feel like you’re part of something important.”

TESOL is the largest professional organization for teachers of English as a second or foreign language in the world. It provides continued learning opportunities for English language teachers as well as a yearly convention. During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization also provided tools for online and remote learning in all parts of the world and assistance in making content accessible.

“The organization unifies all the efforts around the world, and I’m a huge proponent of teachers being a member of a community of practice. I think that’s where we go to learn, to reflect, to share, and so TESOL is a gigantic community of practice that brings a lot of people together,” said Farrelly, adding that TESOL is an organization that “brings you in and empowers you, and makes you feel like you’re part of something important.”

Farrelly will serve on the TESOL board until 2025.