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Dr. Mark James: Teacher and mentor

Mark James as the David O. McKay lecturer.

As Mark James, a TESOL professor, looked back on his 38 years teaching at BYU–Hawaii, he recalled the growth of the university, the improvements in TESOL, and shared some of his favorite memories teaching at BYUH.

James, who said he originally was looking to teach English in Saudi Arabia after receiving his master’s degree in TESOL, decided to apply for an internship at BYUH in the EIL program. After one year, he became a full-time faculty member. Since then, he shared how he has seen the university almost double in size.

“Some of my favorite memories involve nature,” James shared. “Most of us travel from one class or building to another without noticing that this campus has an amazing diversity of flora and fauna. For example, there are one or two pairs of saffron finches who frequent the campus. They’re just beautiful.  I have a fond memory of the huge paper bark tree that stood in the courtyard by the biology labs. One day, when its blossoms were all out, it was surrounded by thousands of honeybees.

“I’ve also enjoyed moments sitting down with colleagues who needed support, likewise with students who needed a bit of direction, understanding, clarity, or advice.  Opportunities to assist others in moving forward with their lives have been very rewarding.  Oftentimes, it has simply been a matter of giving a listening ear and giving them the time and place to express themselves and talk it through.”

James has been involved in the TESOL nearly as long as it has existed. The profession, he said, came into existence in 1966, and the major came to BYUH in 1967.  According to James, TESOL has changed as a major with the profession. “We have transitioned from a literature-based curriculum to a methodological-based curriculum that focuses on how your brain is wired to learn languages.”

James explained how one of the best things about his job is watching students fulfill David O. McKay’s vision after they leave BYUH, saying teaching here, “Has brought me into contact with thousands of young members of the Church—our church’s next generation of leaders. Looking back, I have had the privilege to teach students who are now community and professional leaders, as well as currently sitting general authorities, current and former mission presidents, and numerous, ward, stake, and district leaders.”

Advice he would like to leave the students with, James said, is to, “Take advantage of the opportunities on campus. Ask the important questions now.”

After retiring, James said he plans to tend to his farm in Kahuku, which he said has been neglected over the years, and he will be dedicating more time to his calling as a church historian for the Hawaiian Islands. With the extra time he has, he said he will begin working his way through the collection of books he has been wanting to read.

Writer: Haeley van der Werf