Tuesday, 11 March 2014

In defense of attending conferences

I've been asked by my colleagues and friends too many times to count why the hell would I want to spend my free time and money on going to conferences. I've always mumbled something about fun and shrugged my shoulders, being slightly embarrassed about having my priorities all wrong.

This post tries to explain my reasoning, such as it may be.

Contrary to the image people might get about me, I'm terribly shy and insecure, especially about my teaching. Conferences help me build my confidence inside and out of the classroom. How?

It started by me going to every. Possible. Workshop! At one point I've dashed to two workshops simultaneously, 20 minutes in one, 20 in another.

Fastest teacher in the universe!
After a while, I realised it might be okay to skip a slot to have a conversation with some interesting people.

It took me a while to realise I'm allowed to talk to the people who were giving the workshops. I'd like to take this chance to apologise to the wonderful people from whose workshops I dashed, you were close to deities to me and I didn't dare talk to you!
Plenary speakers are still a bit of a taboo, but on the last conference I talked to all the plenary speakers and they were super-nice.

I was a young teacher, just starting in my field and I was convinced I'd spend the rest of my career in Afternoon care Hell.

Yeah, I'm cute. And I will rub snot and germs on you.
Conferences helped me realise I can progress and I can change and it doesn't hurt at all! Thanks to my wonderful TA, IATEFL Slovenia and especially Sandra and Beti, my heroes, I was able to escape Afternoon Care Hell and get the job I've always wanted.

I was convinced at that point that I'll never give a workshop, simply because I never did anything special in my class. Until BESIG Summer Symposium in Dubrovnik happened and I met a wonderful and inspiring friend who told me this:
(I have recently talked to some wonderful people who would make great presenters, you know who you are, this is for you as well.)

  • Even the big ones, the famous names, just improved an already existing idea
  • Take five activities you do well and have teachers try them out, practice is the most important thing
  • You can do it

So I went and gave a workshop, I didn't die and several people said it was good.

Yes I can!
It did wonders for my enthusiasm, that. After that I felt confident enough to go and talk to more people, and connect to more people and get more ideas and, and, and...

Euphoria. And new ideas for workshops!

So, why conferences? Not because of workshops anymore, even though I have been to many and most of them good. Because I can sit down with people going through the same things in the class as me, like the same things as me, because I can bitch about the teaching profession and feel connected to the whole community.

I will probably never connect to any publishers that would want to employ my services, or language schools that would fly me to Neverland where milk and honey flows. It doesn't matter much to me. What matters is feeling like a member of a huge community that will help me grow as a professional. What matters is chatting to the early hours of the morning with wonderful people about literature and travels.

My last conference was a breaking point for me - I gave a terrible workshop! Right after, I wanted to die, but now I'm super-psyched about it. It taught me to manage better, to not make assumptions, to skip things that are self-explanatory and that failure is a learning tool as well. And it taught me humility, because I always silently tsk-ed at people who explained obvious things. No more!

So that is why I go to conferences. Because each of them makes me a better person.