20 jul 2015 – “Seminars and conferences? No, thanks. Been there, done that, took a selfie. I’ve seen it all.”
If, like me, you have been in the field of TEFL for what I choose to call a substantial amount of time, you have probably (over)heard teachers, or even work colleagues say, “I’ve participated in so many seminars and conferences that I really don’t see the point of keeping attending them anymore. I’ve seen it all…” “Really!?”, I think to myself or say to them. If, differently from me, you haven’t been on this road this long (which I believe to be the case), chances are that you have never heard (or thought of) this before. My purpose for writing this post is to offer you extra ammunition if you ever have to fight demotivated co-workers and/or counterparts. For that, I need to tell you a personal story.
Teaching is what I do. Teaching is what I am. I started teaching even before I actually became a teacher. I can still remember my very first English class in the fifth year of formal education at high school level, according to the system in force back then. I can also recall the teacher’s face (unfortunately, not her name) and some of the vocabulary we learned in that lesson. I remember her stressing the correct pronunciation of the vowel ‘i’ in the word milk: “Not open, not long”, she’d say, which makes me wonder if this is the origin of my obstinacy for accurate pronunciation…
For a reason that is still unclear to me, it felt like I already knew what she was teaching. I was a shy kid (still am – well, a shy “adult” now, to put it more properly), so things were not particularly easy for me when I was invited to help the students who had difficulty understanding the subject. Three years after my first real, third-degree encounter with the English language, I was finally able to talk my parents (especially my father) into paying for a private 2.5 year long English course at a language institute. Mind you, choices did not abound back then as they do today. The owner of that school was generous enough to offer me a full scholarship in return for some hours of support classes I was to put in for slower learners. I still remember the relief smile that blossomed on my father’s face.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that teaching was what I really wanted to do. Time went by and sooner than I had expected I found myself teaching at the same language school where I had studied some years before. But I wanted more. TEFL was growing rapidly, and the foundation of BRAZ-TESOL in 1986 (yes, I was already in the classroom then) was the milestone of a new era in English Language Teaching in Brazil. With regional chapters popping up in different parts of the country, workshops, seminars and conferences started becoming increasingly more common. This was a time when EFL teachers realized their need of personal and professional development. Lying ahead of them was the unprecedented opportunity for them to rethink/improve their teaching practice and beliefs. This was when teachers started attending these events more and more often. This was when I got started.
The exact year I started attending these events escapes me now, but I will never forget the first ever BT National Convention I attended. Meeting the Challenge! was held at Instituto Mackenzie in São Paulo, in July 1992. With Donald Occhiuzzo as the president, that was BRAZ TESOL’s 3rd National Convention (the 15th is due to take place in Brasília next year). Yes, I’m definitely attending it.
Now, why is it that some teachers will insist that after some time the presentations (workshops, papers, demos and the like) start to become repetitive? I partly agree that SOME of the contents of a few presentations might be the similar to something you have seen before; however, I entirely agree with Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s quote that says “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” One of the meanings of this is that, because we are always changing from what we experience on a daily basis, it is highly likely that the second exposure to the same idea be perceived differently by a different “us”. I am quite sure you have been in this situation before. Think of a time when you saw for the second time this great idea to use, let’s say, music as a lead-in activity, and you thought:
– “That’s a great idea! I’d completely forgotten it.” Or
– “I’ve used this before, but if I change this and that in the technique, it will be great for my group of teens!” Or
– “I don’t really like this, but I’ve just had a completely different idea which I think will work much better with my students.”
Revisiting and recycling contents are key components of true learning. Isn’t this something we do during our lessons to help students internalize the linguistic item(s) we are teaching them? The same type of thing happens when you think you are wasting your time because you are attending a talk which is about something you have seen before. Make no mistake. This is simply NOT true. I could also mention the fact that the speed in which things change these days is much higher than it was a decade or two ago, and that there are always new things to be seen, experienced and learned during seminars and conferences. However, this could be the topic of another article, and I have already gone way beyond the word limit.
Finally, if you can think of someone who could use some encouragement in order to go back to attending ELT events, invite them to read BRAZ-TESOL’s current President Valeria Benevolo’s FIVE FABULOUS REASONS TO ATTEND THE 14TH BRAZ-TESOL INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE at https://braz-tesol.org.br/InternationalConference/FiveFabulousReasons.aspx. Though her tips were written specifically for the 14th BT International conference, they are ageless and as such still as fresh as ever.
From time to time I like to look at the stack of certificates I’ve received for attending seminars and conferences all these years. They remind me of great people, wonderful stories, treasured moments, fun times and so much learning. The paper in a lot of them has started to yellow, naturally. The enthusiasm I have to keep increasing my collection is never-ending.