I’m very pleased that Emma Herrod has agreed to write this post for me, which contains some pertinent thoughts about attending your first ELT conference, and how twitter can help if you’re aiming to turn up alone. And much more.
I first ‘met’ Emma on twitter, where she has become a very individual and amusing presence. I met her in real life at her first conference, IATEFL Harrogate in April.
Herrod does Harrogate – a rookie conference-goer’s reflections
If you could attend just one ELT conference, which would it be? @EHerrod, Wed 14th Oct via Tweetdeck
About six month ago, I posted this question on Twitter to my network of ELT followers. My network was pretty small at the time. I received one response:
IATEFL! Next one is Harrogate April 2010 @kenwilsonlondon, Wed 14th Oct via Twitterrific
I took a look at the conference website, perused the programme from Cardiff 2009 and was a tad star-struck at the list of presenters I saw. Then there was the ticket price. I’m a self employed teacher at this moment in time. It’s not the ideal situation in terms of professional development perhaps, but it allows me to be at home with my son Thomas until he attends school on a full-time basis in September this year. The relevance of my situation here is that as I have no actual employer, and therefore all costs incurred from attending this conference would have to be paid for out of my own pocket. “Gulp”. That’s the ticket, hotel, train, and food/drink.
But I thought, if Ken thinks this is THE one to go to, I’ll give it a go and make the most of it. After all, I can just go to this one and say I did it. I don’t have to go to another one, do I??
Scott Thornbury is now following you on Twitter
Lindsay Clandfield is now following you on Twitter
Pete Sharma is now following you on Twitter
Barak Obama is now following you on Twitter
Until the Barak Obama follow-back, I was oblivious to the notion of ‘auto-follow’. My heart sank. So Obama doesn’t really want to be my friend? He doesn’t want to hear about my Starbucks-based escapades? Never mind – I was soon over the spurning and assured that my ELT VIPs weren’t involved in any ‘auto-following’, I proudly saw my follow list grow and grow over the next six months: 20, 50, 100, 300 … ” Where did 300 people come from who want to listen to what I have to say? – they’ll realise soon that I’m a big fraud” … and the numbers kept growing. So did the names: Jeremy Harmer, Scott Thornbury, Gavin Dudeney, Karenne Silvester, Sara Hannam.
“Oh s**t … now I’m done for … it’s just a matter of time before the truth of my inexperience comes out.”
As it happens, I wasn’t exposed. Rather to my surprise, this network of people was interacting with me; re-tweeting, laughing with/at me (I’m never 100% sure about this one), answering my questions, sharing their own experiences and supporting me when things didn’t go quite as I’d planned:
..of course email whenever you want. Sorry to hear the lesson didn’t go well. Let’s talk it through : )
A very lovely Tweeter – Greece
By the time IATEFL came around, I found myself with a supportive community of like-minded people, some of whom had become good friends, albeit in a virtual environment. Until my ‘virtual staffroom’ had realised itself, I had, if truth be told, been dreading attending the conference. There was the trek up there, not knowing anyone, traipsing from talk to talk like Billy-No-Mates.
As the tweets began to come in about where people were going to be staying, what they would be presenting and suggestions about when and where to have a tweet-up … oh – actually no, this wasn’t something to be dreaded. I would go so far as to say I was bloody excited! I didn’t feel I would be a solitary delegate. I had people to meet, talks I had promised to attend, if ‘merely’ for the moral support of my fellow Tweeters. And it felt good…
Waiting for my train to York. So looking forward to seeing everyone @EHerrod, Thurs 8th Apr via UberTwitter
So the day arrived. I can comment really only on two elements of the mind-numbing journey from Reading to Harrogate. Firstly the feeling of apprehension in the pit of my stomach and which Ken alluded to in his post. I can only liken it to a blind date – except my ‘date’ was about 30 people who weren’t buying me dinner. Secondly, upon boarding the train in York, bound for Harrogate, the train began to fill up with serious-looking people carrying suitcases and wearing A LOT of corduroy. I had thought that brown corduroy was an education generalisation. Alas no, it was alive and well and served to identify its clan of wearers all of whom were, I was sure, bound for this teaching conference.
On the bus to the conference centre now @EHerrod, Thurs 8th Apr via UberTwitter
Allow me to digress for a moment.
I appreciate that the word ‘volcano’ is not one we like to discuss right now, but (and I know it’s a long-shot) to anyone involved in town planning – who ever thought it was a good idea to build a town on a volcano? This causes weak and venerable city types (me) to have to climb muscle-tearing slopes just to go to the toilet. Please keep my plight in mind for your future projects. Thank-you.
If I could have arranged slow motion and Tchaikovsky Click here to play appropriate first-time-twitter-meeting music, I would have done so. However even without the atmospherics the moments I met each of my friends from Twitter will be moments I hope to always remember. There really isn’t anything like a Twitter hug and I highly recommend them if you get the opportunity.
Over the next four days, more slow-motion hugs followed, together with chats, drinks with good people, talks by good people and inspirational educators and tear-inducing funny and moving moments.
On reflection it really was quite exhausting! But I think reflection is important after an intense conference like IATEFL and I spent much of the nightmare (due to numerous train cancellations) journey home considering what I had heard and seen and how I might implement some of the suggestions in my teaching. I am still thinking about what I will take away with me a month on, but here is what I have come up with so far:
1. Cemented friendships
Virtual friendships are wonderful, wonderful things. I’m angered when I hear people say that friendships conducted online do not have as much worth or substance as face to face relationships. I believe them to merely have a different energy but to be equally as valuable and fulfilling. Add to this unique dynamic however, the opportunity to put a real face to a name and to interact face to face, and you have the makings of something truly extra-special. Perhaps it is a trust, a familiarity or something in the body language. I’m no social psychologist, but I know if I feel comfortable in people’s company, then it’s special. IATEFL was full of such ‘specials’ and I feel thankful that I had the opportunity to cement the friendships I knew already existed.
2. A greater understanding of my network’s areas of interest.
Seeing some of my virtual staffroom give presentations and workshops, I was frequently filled with a mixture of feelings: awe, fascination, pride, empathy. To be honest, in a couple of the smaller talks I went to, the overwhelming feeling was one of confusion – but that’s another story. I know a little more about who to contact in which areas, and equally who to pass information on to if I find something of interest in their field. Who knows, tomorrow I may professionally need that contact who works in Army English.
3. Sympathy for the rookie conference-goer
Perhaps one of the most constructive things I will take away from Harrogate 2010 is a sense of how tough it could have been for me as a first-time delegate and relatively new teacher. Had I not had a presence on Twitter, I fear my reflective journey home may have been quite different and certainly not as enthusiastic.
In her excellent plenary at the conference, Tessa Woodward referred to Hubermann’s study which identified a series of professional life-cycle stages, which most teachers seem to go through. Those teachers who in their first one to three years of teaching Hubermann suggests, are going through a difficult stage, characterised by such feelings as ‘survival’, ‘insecurity’, ‘sense of reality shock’ and ‘viewing of themselves as a fraud’.
Add to that the often long journey to a conference, the crowds of VIPs, the not knowing anyone, the eating breakfast, lunch and dinner on your own, and you can put together and very good case for recommending a new teacher never goes near an IATEFL conference venue in their first three years. I believe this would be a real shame and new teachers can do a lot to further themselves personally and professionally by attending.
But this left me thinking – you can only recommend something, you cannot force people to participate – so why am I so concerned by it? I don’t like that feeling. It normally means I have to do something about it (see point four).
4. What is the something I/we can do to help new teachers build their network so that ‘survival’ and ‘insecurity’ at such an event doesn’t have to be the norm? How can I/we support them in their first stage of the life-cycle?
I would like to simply list these thoughts below, as they are still just that, thoughts to be developed:
– Could new teachers be identifiable at IATEFL by a different coloured badge/lanyard? Would this encourage the more experienced teachers and VIPs to walk over and check on them, chat to them, find out what talks they are going to and engage with them?
– A buddy system. Buddies volunteer to ‘look after’ a new teacher for the duration of the conference. I’m not thinking hand-holding (unless mutually agreed by new teacher and buddy!) rather, advice on talks to attend, offer of attending dinner with the buddy’s PLN etc. Just so they don’t feel so on their own.
– Talks at the CELTA stage about the value of Twitter and social networking so that more teachers can attend from a position similar to mine. I am happy to be involved on a local level in the UK if anyone wants me too.
– A PLN just for new teachers (the promotion of which would be very much linked to point three). I would like to take my uncomfortable feeling and use it to set up a PLN which can help new teachers in those first couple of years. Is it overly wishful thinking to hope that a supportive network might go some way to seeing new teachers stay on longer in the profession, rather than merely thinking ‘I’m trying being a teacher’ as Tessa noted? Perhaps this new PLN could reserve a block of rooms so that all new teachers are in one hotel for IATEFL. A talk at the conference just for them with tips on how to ‘survive’?
All just thoughts, but I hope that by putting them out there, some suggestions and opinions will come back and they can begin to take on a life of their own.
So I leave you with those, my thoughts and reflections on a special time in Harrogate. Thank-you for hugging me, for making me feel welcome and part of your group. And, for those people I didn’t yet meet, I’m excited at the thought of spending time with you in Brighton, 2011!
I live in the UK, about 20 miles from London, with my little companion Thomas, aged four. I teach English to all kinds of people. Business professionals who are learning English for work, teenagers from abroad who have re-located here with their parents, students who moved to the UK for a few months, fell in love, and now need the language to live and argue with their new husband/wife. There are so many stories, no two students, or their English needs seem to be the same. That is why I love what I do.
Some other things you might care to know about me…
– I drink far too much coffee for my own good and frequent coffee shops on a regular basis.
– I own five pairs of red shoes.
– I knit a mean tea cosy.
– I am terrified of bugs/mini beasts of any kind
– Thomas and I love doing Origami (or Mr Garmi as he calls it)
– Worst job I ever had was cleaning toilets in an old people’s home – I think ELT is a little better!