And so the 2011 IATEFL conference in Brighton slides down over the horizon with the sun, which shone benignly and unmoved on us all.
A funny animal, the conference. Once a year, from all parts of the world, it draws its devotees: all with their own agendas and expectations, yet united in their wish to be there, to be part of this coming together. So what were my expectations? What was my agenda?
I had three main reasons for going:
1. to be part of the dogme symposium.
2. to attend my particular SIG PCE and
3. to learn.
The first two were incredible, amazing and massively affirming. What a rich mine of knowledge, experience and expertise was laid at my feet during those two things. And more of them later…..
And then the things I learnt. I learnt from those who have experienced it that the CELTA is almost without exception a miserable experience. “Bruised and battered”, “the hardest thing I’ve ever done”, “the most negative learning experience I’ve ever had”, “it nearly destroyed me” are just some of the comments I heard, from achingly sincere and highly motivated people.
I also learnt that professionalism is something near and dear to the hearts of many. With the unsolicited feedback about the CELTA that reverberated around the session rooms, I’m not sure how much more of an ordeal EFL teachers could withstand in order to try and catch this elusive “professional” status. Selling ourselves better, becoming savvy about our own expertise and knowledge, not shying away from the limelight are all ways to step put from under the yoke of overwork and underpay that seems to dog us all. During the BESIG PCE, I asked an uncomfortable question of the employers in the room. I asked them how much they paid their teachers, those people who go out day after day and deliver the goods. No one was prepared to tell me. This suggests the hourly rate is embarrassingly low, even to them. It really is now time to address this and make some changes. It is unconscionable that people with the skills, knowledge and expertise that we all have to be working for insulting hourly rates.
I also learnt there are some astonishingly gifted and inspiring young teachers out there: Dale Coulter, Mike Harrison, David Warr, Anthony Gaughan, Karenne Sylvester, Chia Suan Chong, Willy Cardoso among others. Lucky the students who walk into their classrooms. But how long will it be before we lose them to higher paying jobs? How many of these gifted, inspiring and dedicated teachers will have to leave a job they love because £15 an hour doesn’t pay the mortgage?
I also learnt that despite this, there are some incredible people who spend much of their free time organising, arranging and putting themselves and their families way way down their own agendas to make sure this conference was a success for me in particular. Carl Dowse, Marjorie Rosenberg, Andi White, Mike Hogan, Andrzej Stesik, Cornelia Kreis-Meyer, Tony Myers, Julia Waldner, Bethany Cagnol and the amazing |Mercedes Viola. You have to know that without people like you, this conference would not have happened
And I learnt that most of the people we all know and love – besides being learned and knowledgeable and deeply committed to their work – are also enormously generous and almost universally humble. You know who you are….
And as the immediate euphoria and sense of togetherness and bonhomie dissolves away with the tide, and we all go back to the routine of our normal lives, some things will be forgotten, some things will be remembered, but surely in some way we have all been changed?