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AMTESOL 2025  Keynote Speaker - Saturday


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Keynote Speaker: Debra Suarez, Ph.D., MS-TESOL, MBA

President, TESOL International Association

Executive Director, Uplifting Teachers, LLC

Adjunct Professor, International Teaching and Global Leadership, Johns Hopkins University

With an unwavering belief in the power of education to change the world, Dr. Debra Suarez has dedicated her professional life to improving the educational experiences of students and teachers in the field of English language teaching and, also, of immigrants, refugees, and members of minority populations, throughout the US and the world. Debra's professional roles have progressed through TESOL/TEFL positions, assuming increasingly higher levels of responsibility and achieving wider levels of impact. Her 25+ year career has had three broad stages:

  1. classroom teacher

  2. university professor and international consultant

  3. senior federal leader and global educational leader

At each stage, Debra has applied her expertise in training, instruction, curriculum development, research, DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility), advocacy, and strategic thinking to addressing challenges for minority populations. Debra's impact on and for minority populations can be seen in multiple sectors: Education, Federal, Business, and Association.

After serving as a TESOL and TEFL classroom teacher, and after earning her doctorate, Debra started her university career as Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. As graduate faculty, she coordinated university MA, Ph.D., and study programs and, also, published and presented in the field. As a young professor at the University of Alabama, she created what would become lifelong professional friendships, most notably with Dr. Susan Spezzini, Dr. Julia Austin, and Dr. Josephine Prado. Debra became assistant professor and then associate professor in Maryland, where she first met Dr. Lori Edmonds, another lifelong professional friend who would continue her stellar career at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. During this time, Debra's international work as a professor included creating TESOL teacher education programs in Panama, Korea, Mexico, Peru, and Ukraine. Over the years, she served as English Language Specialist for the US Department of State, providing teacher training seminars around the globe, including West Africa, Eastern Europe, Mexico, the Middle East, South and Central America, and Southeast Asia.

In 2012, Debra expanded her impact into the realm of national policy and outreach. She was the ELL Education Program Specialist for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) with the US Department of Education (ED), the Special Designee for the Assistant Deputy Secretary in the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) and Senior Advisor for initiatives on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (APPI). In these roles, Debra developed and led coalitions, public/private partnerships, stakeholders, and interagency groups to identify and collaborate around mutual goals related to language education and minority population concerns. Debra has also served on the TESOL advisory board for USCIS contracts and supported a Task Force for New Americans with a national project, "Networks for Integrating New Americans" that placed Adult ESL programs at the center of holistic immigration services.

After her election as President of TESOL International Association, Debra departed from federal service to focus on this executive leadership role. Debra's current emphasis is on developing the next generation of strong, impactful TESOL educators through transformational leadership, coaching, mentoring, and commitment to DEIA. While serving in the TESOL presidential line, Debra also serves on faculty as an adjunct professor with the Johns Hopkins graduate program in International Teaching and Global Leadership. In addition to founding and directing Uplifting Teachers — a global social entrepreneurship, she has continued with her research initiatives, book publications, and international speaking engagements. A lifelong learner, Debra holds a Ph.D. in Language Education, MS-TESOL, and MBA in education business management. A favorite highlight of her career was being awarded Maryland TESOL's Lifetime Achievement Award.

It is with gratitude that Dr. Debra Suarez returns to Alabama for the Alabama-Mississippi TESOL conference, working once again with TESOL friends and former students and, hopefully, creating new professional endeavors.

Connect with Dr. Debra Suarez:

Keynote Address

Saturday January 18, 2025 at 8:00 - 8:30am

Thursday January 16, 2025 at 1:00 - 4:00pm

Taking Ownership of Our Life Directions

Feature Session

Friday January 17, 2025 at 2:00 - 2:45pm

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