In Memoriam: James E. Alatis

March 2, 2015

CAL is saddened by the passing of our valued colleague and friend, Dr. James E. Alatis, a visionary in the field of English language teaching and a founding member and first executive director of TESOL International Association. Through his service to the association and to the field, Dr. Alatis embodied the vision and the collegiality that gave rise to the TESOL association. His efforts have helped provide educators at all levels with a home where their efforts are recognized and championed worldwide.

In January 1966, Dr. Alatis was a member of the ad hoc committee that met in Chicago to form an association that recognized the professional status of teachers of English as a second or foreign language. In an interview for ESL Magazine, Dr. Alatis pointed out that “TESOL’s initial goals were to satisfy the need for a professional organization that would be permanently devoted to the problems of teaching English to speakers of other languages by establishing a professional journal and providing a register of specialists that would be helpful to government agencies, universities, and foundations." 

In the ESL Magazine interview, Dr. Alatis also set the record straight about TESOL’s founding. “Contrary to popular belief, I was not the founder of TESOL. TESOL was founded with the support of five professional organizations: the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs (NAFSA), the Speech Association of America (SAA), the Modern Language Association (MLA), and the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL).” He was, however, among the charter members of TESOL; in fact, he has member number 0002 (his wife Penny has 0001). 

Dr. Alatis had a distinguished career at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, where he was Dean Emeritus at the School of Languages and Linguistics; Distinguished Professor of linguistics and Modern Greek; senior advisor to the dean of the Georgetown College for International Language Programs and Research; and director of the university’s master’s in TESOL program. Over the course of his career, Dr. Alatis also published numerous articles and books, served as an editor to prestigious journals in the field, and presented at conferences all over the world. He earned numerous awards as well.

 In all he did, Dr. Alatis never lost sight of his vision for English language teaching.

“Good teaching happens when competent teachers with non-discouraging personalities use non-defensive approaches to language teaching and learning, and cherish their students.” (Dr. James E. Alatis, 2007)