Three months ago I flew to Mexico City to attend my very first international conference (LABCI – Latin America British cultural Institutes) as a speaker. What I took with me was my 10-kilo luggage, a huge amount of good expectations and positive vibes, my inseparable innate passion for learning (which I tend to believe we teachers all have), a not so small dose of anxiety, and also all those famous butterflies in the stomach. I had been looking forward to this moment since I got to know that my paper had been accepted and I would be presenting and talking to teachers from different parts of the globe about one of the topics I am most fond of: reading. What a thrill!
Nonetheless, back to the moment when the news was broken, after a couple of days full of excitement I guess the penny really dropped and my soul was immediately taken by insecurity and fear of failure. I kept wondering whether that was the right moment and if I had developed enough as a professional in order to be able to deliver a talk or not. Although I knew deep inside I was given the chance to have such an enriching experience for professional development by networking with ELT professionals from everywhere, I wasn’t really sure whether attendees would really benefit from my contributions.
However, by putting all my internal questioning aside, I decided to venture myself and embark on this new journey. I faced the challenge and, honestly, it was one of the wisest decisions I’ve ever made since I started my career as a teacher! Therefore, this post aims at telling you why I think so, as well as encouraging you to do the very same.
If you ask me, I could start pointing out the benefits of presenting at a conference by resorting to a blog post on education published by The Guardian website in 2011, which I just came across recently. The author, Itir Toksöz, emphasizes the importance of taking part in conferences as speakers since “we are given feedback, especially a good critique of our work, or we meet people who can later provide us with such critique to make our work better. (…) conferences are where I have made most of my friends from within my field.”
Not only do I strongly agree with him from my own experience, but I also dare to replace all the “ORs” with “ANDs”. Unless you force yourself to hide, you don’t need to make too much effort to get in touch with people from different contexts and, even better, different perspectives which may positively challenge your beliefs. That alone would already pay off the time and sleepless nights invested when preparing your talk. But there is (much) more!
As I mentioned in my previous post, sharing is a key concept in the realm of education and that’s what conferences are mainly held for, I believe. Just like a nice huge classroom full of learners willing to get down to their studies, the majority of the audience in such events do look forward to having new insights and ideas of how to go about different things when they get back to the classroom. Therefore, they will genuinely listen to what you say and participate as much as you allow them to by asking questions or even sharing their own experiences. And this is exactly what I want you to keep in mind: we are all on the same boat. FEAR NOTHING! Nevertheless, we must not underestimate our audience. Doing the right amount of research and preparing ourselves for the talk is fundamental. It’s important that we feel comfortable enough to address the topic thoroughly and deal with possible questions that may pop up on the way.
All that being said, perhaps the time has come for you to jot down some ideas on what you’ve been successfully doing in class and write a paper to present at a conference. That will, doubtlessly, be one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences you will ever undergo in life, I swear. Most of the conferences (local chapter events, etc.) which are going to be held in 2018 have started or are just about to start their call for papers and this is your opportunity to grow both as a professional and a person.
One of my favorite songs from the Broadway Musical Wicked states that “There are bridges you cross you didn’t know you crossed until you’ve crossed”. In the ELT bridge, trespassing is definitely allowed.
Hope to see you soon, either here or at a conference.