[Writing this post began in late March 2016]
Thanks to reminiscing apps like TimeHop and Facebook’s ‘memory’ feature, I know that it was about this time last year that I was really finding my feet in the wonderful online world of ELT. I was coming to the end of just over a year working as a Digital Product Manager at Routledge/Taylor & Francis (an academic publishing company) and was therefore tying up lots of loose ends with projects and handover documentation for my successor. I was spending a lot of my free time reading books about ELT in preparation for my CELTA, as well as working through the pre-course material I’d been sent from the Berlin School of English. (Posts about which can be found on my Berlingo blog here.) I had also discovered #ELTchat and was trying to participate every week in these fascinating Twitter chats about topics I often barely understood at the beginning. I was even brave enough to suggest my own topic once, and we ended up talking about how newbie teachers can best prepare themselves for life in the ELT classroom.
Needless to say, I was learning an awful lot about this brave new world I was about to enter.
And one particular acronym kept cropping up, time and time again. That acronym was of course IATEFL, which, for those outside of ELT reading this (probably because I’m their daughter or girlfriend!) stands for the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. IATEFL describes itself on its website as follows:
With over 4,000 members IATEFL is one of the most thriving communities of ELT teachers in the world.
Our mission to “Link, develop and support English Language Teaching professionals” worldwide is achieved through:
Regular publications, including six copies of our magazine IATEFL Voices and a free conference selections publication.
The Annual International Conference with an extensive programme of talks and workshops, which attracts over 2,000 delegates.
Fifteen Special Interest Groups to help teachers develop their own lines of interest.
Reduced rates on a number of selected professional journals.
Funding support through Scholarships so that deserving teachers can get involved in our Annual Conference, SIG events and online courses.
Links with Teachers’ Associations in other countries for teachers to share knowledge and experience.
Assistance in helping new groups to establish their own a local Teachers’ Association, including advice on how they can make the most of support and funding benefits.
Since it was March when my CELTA preparation activities were really ramping up, so too was the anticipation in the ELT world for the Annual International Conference mentioned above. In 2015, this took place in Manchester in early April and I followed it with great interest. Thanks to the blogging superheroes that are Sandy Millin and Lizzie Pinard, along with many others, I was able to read synopses of many of the sessions, watch others on the live streams and follow a few more on Twitter. The online world of #ELT and #ELTchat was electric at this time, with everyone really enthused by the whole buzz of IATEFL – there were blog posts flying left, right and centre to such an extent that I could hardly keep up, especially as I was jetlagged from a dream holiday to Malaysia and frantically packing for my move to Berlin in the same week!
[writing continued early April]
The weekend that IATEFL ended was, rather aptly, the weekend I moved my life in one giant holdall and one overstuffed rucksack to Berlin, my favourite place in the world. I flew on Sunday 12th March and started the CELTA at the Berlin School of English on Monday 13th. Then followed four intense, but incredibly fun and interesting weeks, during which I’m pretty sure I made up my mind that my decision to pursue ELT and perhaps later ELT publishing was the correct one. (I also documented the whole course on my old blog if you’re interested!)
I perhaps shouldn’t have done, but I spent a lot of my not-so-free time during my CELTA reading all the blog posts and reviews and Twitter comments about IATEFL and, full of the joys of everyone’s ELT enthusiasm, was already determined to try and attend myself the following year. I wanted to meet these people whose fingers must steam off their keyboards with all the blogging and tweeting; I wanted to experience the famous buzz, and I wanted to hear some of the most prominent figures from the ELT world talk about their craft. I even got so excited that I reserved my hotel room essentially a year in advance, as I’d seen all the frantic tweets last year about people leaving accommodation to the last minute and then having to pay a fortune! (It was a free cancellation room!)
As you can read on my blog, I then spent a delightful 10 months or so teaching English in my favourite city in the world. I joined the local affiliate organisation of IATEFL, ELTABB (the ‘English Language Teachers’ Association of Berlin and Brandenburg) and got involved with tweeting and helping arrange events for them. Then, around December time, I somehow ended up being offered more or less my dream job working in the ELT division at Oxford University Press, so the Berlin dream came to an end and I started as a Digital Project Manager in Oxford in mid-January. I was positively delighted to be told that I’d be able to attend IATEFL for professional development, so I cancelled my hotel room and waited for further instructions from the head of my department – you can probably see where this is going!
Alas, as is common in my experience of working in publishing, a ‘restriction on non-essential spending’ was introduced as the financial year came to a close, and I was told that our attendance at IATEFL was off the cards. I was pretty gutted because I’d got so excited at the prospect of being able to attend the conference and not having to pay the few hundred pounds for it myself. I made my peace with my disappointment for a while, but then as it got closer and closer to the online booking deadline, I started to see more and more hype about the conference across social media. I also happened to receive an unexpected tax rebate because I’d been on an emergency tax code for the first month of my new job, so I was refunded the extra tax I’d paid by mistake. I then came into work on the last Monday before the booking deadline closed, and just decided to do it.
I have therefore booked to attend the Materials Writing Special Interest Group Pre-Conference Event (mainly because I enjoyed their single day conference in February so much) and then the first day of the main conference. I managed to find a fairly cheap room in an Air BnB close to the conference location with parking, so I saved some money on the train by driving, but those 2 days alone came to £300 with the accommodation included. I decided it’s a worthwhile investment though: both for my career in ELT publishing, and personally, to enable me to meet some of the wonderful people who so kindly helped me throughout my year as a teacher.
I’m sad to not be able to attend the whole conference, as I’ve been skimming through the programme and there are so many great talks on the other days. I also think some of my colleagues think it’s a bit tragic that I’ve paid for myself, but I’m really looking forward to it! Now I just need to decide which of the many talks on the Wednesday I’d like to attend! At least it’s easy for the Pre-Conference Event – just turn up!
Let me know if you’re heading to IATEFL too, and if you have any interesting conference stories from conferences been and gone!