First of all, let me share the thrill – it was a ground-breaking experience to take part in such an event. As a Roving Reporter for the British Council, my role in the conference was in a way to ‘bridge the gap’ between some of the speakers (for there were too many of them to try and report on a lot) and teachers around the world who could not physically go to IATEFL Brighton 2011 but read/watch it online. I felt really important! A celebrity, to some extent. Of course, I was the only one feeling that. But it felt good, and I tried to live up to people’s expectations going to as many sessions as possible and reporting fairly on that.
Before travelling, my head was a helter-skelter. Family, work, kids, tickets, bags, dogs! Everything needed to be seen to so I could travel relatively free from worry. All things solved, after a 12-hour flight over the Atlantic, London it is! The last time I’d been to London was some ten years ago, I guess, and one of the things I missed most was Digestive biscuits. So, as you may well imagine, my first action when free from Immigration Control and Baggage Claim was find a shop and bite away a few Digestives right there. Total bliss! After that, a stroll in Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon was an irresistible idea. Lovely cherry blossoms, green grass and playful kids crowded the park to celebrate the arrival of spring. Welcome to London!
Four days later, I’m towing my heavy suitcase to Paddington to board the 10:15h train to Brighton. The weather has been on and off, totally confusing the mind of the tourist – should I wear short or long sleeves? Take a coat? Wrap a scarf around my neck? All or none of the above? … Brighton was literally under the weather on Thursday. Heavy gray skies and an equally misty gray sea looked uninviting and cranky. I don’t care. I’m a Roving Reporter, and this is the place I’m supposed to be: The Brighton Centre. At four o’clock there’s a solemn meeting for the whole Brighton Online team and I feel as significant as a pea in a banquet sitting beside all those important people I’d seen online doing a marvelous job in previous years. My mouth was kept shut and it all went well. Butterflies roamed free in my stomach.
The big day comes – Friday, 15th April. The reception area is a cacophony of voices and languages – I was later informed there were over 100 nationalities and around 2.200 delegates. Wow! People queued up to collect badges, ask for information and get their conference program, which turned out to be a volume in itself, absolutely complete with biodata of presenters, session abstracts and maps of the venue.
Auditorium 2, plenary, first day. There was this austere sensation of formality, of academicism, of culture. I was on cloud nine sitting there right on the second row, ready to pen down as much as I could to later transform into a post for the IATEFL blog. From that moment on, session after session, I realized how big a deal EFL is around the world, and it also soothed me to see that what worries me in a classroom in Brazil may be the same source of discomfort for a teacher in India. Small world, connected by the English language. The topics of discussion unfolded: pragmatics, literalism, translation, grammar, lesson observation, music in the classroom, reading, dogme, technology in the classroom, pronunciation, memorization, the list went on endlessly and one just kept learning.
What changed in my life after my first IATEFL was that I understood the scope of the job we, teachers of English, do in the world. Yes, in the world, because the teaching that is done in Iceland may be repeated in Nepal and adapted by someone in Rio. We influence and inspire people to learn. We may encourage or discourage them. They either love English or don’t care about it, according to the sparkle in the teacher’s eyes. As simple as that, and before this conference it actually hadn’t dawned on me that we are so much the same regardless of the whereabouts of the classroom. Despite the distance, we are all headed in the same direction, leading and inspiring students to learn a language which opens doors to the whole world, puts down all barriers of communication and unites peoples of different races, colours, religions and opinions, but intent on achieving this one goal: communication.
It was beautiful. The best part was to find out the twenty five years of my life I’ve put into teaching were no waste. The competent, passionate people I saw and met in Brighton in a way renewed my vows in teaching and made me believe more in a better future, with people communicating better despite their backgrounds, and even more people wanting to communicate.
I went, I saw, I reported and now I reflect. Life always holds a good surprise for those who have their eyes open and their hearts ready – to learn and share. I’m sharing here and ready to learn more each day.
Visit http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2011/ for surprises galore!