'From checklist to reality check: The never-ending nature of professional development' by Wiktoria Parysek

5th August 2017

Last year, after completing the input portion of my CertIBET with Helen Strong (IATEFL BESIG’s Events Coordinator) I made an action plan for my future as an English instructor. If you’re a CELTA graduate or have completed any kind of additional ESL qualifications, this is probably a practice you’re quite familiar with.

While for some, the short- and long-term goals may be simply throwaway ideas to end the course on, for me they are a chance to reflect and look ahead: something I don’t often have time to do, especially as a freelance English trainer. The luxury of sitting down to think about what I truly wanted out of my career was wonderful. My short-term goals included the following:

  • become a member of IATEFL
  • subscribe to a teaching journal
  • continue work on my one-post blog
  • encourage more knowledge transfer among my colleagues

I became a card-carrying member of IATEFL (and BESIG and MAWSIG) at last year’s BESIG conference in Munich. Check. I realized that my local teachers association, ELTABB, already subscribes to the teaching journal I wanted to sign up for – English Teaching Professional. Check. At this next point I will humbly admit defeat. My blog is just as empty as it was at the end of last year. However, while browsing other blogs for inspiration (in this case Chia Suan Chong’s ETp blog), I learned about the fairly new ELT Ireland conference in Dublin. I did some research and discovered that their call for papers deadline for their annual conference was just 9 days away. After a frantic email to my CertIBET trainer and a gentle nudge from her to go for it, I submitted my proposal to talk about using podcasts in the classroom. A few short weeks later, my talk was accepted and—suddenly—check: the last point in my action plan was well under way.

Cue the panic. OK, at first there were celebrations, of course, and the excitement of looking for a hotel and booking my flights (maybe not so exciting for seasoned travelers). But then it actually hit me: I have to stand up in front of a room full of teachers (but what if no-one comes?!) and talk for 45 minutes (what if people leave half-way through?!) about a topic they expect me to be some kind of expert on (they’ll see right through me!). Major impostor syndrome kicks in. What do I do to deal with it? I procrastinate.

I put it off and the weeks fly by. Suddenly, conference weekend is barreling towards me and it’s time to get to work. I take what I’ve been teaching my business English students about presentations and finally put it into practice. In the weeks (OK, days) leading up to the conference, I work furiously, using every spare minute to make notes on the presentation, move slides around, check the timing.

Conference weekend arrives and I’m off to Dublin. I arrive at the hotel and force myself to power through, finish the presentation, AND do a run-through before I allow myself to see any of the city. Let me tell you: that’s pretty good motivation when you’re in Dublin for about 48 hours and, believe it or not, the sun is out. My nerves, even when speaking to my hotel room door, are through the roof. But I get through the presentation, the timing is fine, and it’s finally time for a walk through the city, followed by fish and chips and an ice-cold cider.

The rest of the conference was a blur. The organization by IATEFL Associate ELT Ireland was flawless, the hosts and local attendees lived up to the Irish stereotype and welcomed me with open arms and warm hearts, and—believe it or not—people did actually attend my talk! They even tweeted pics and gave me some great feedback afterwards. One participant and I chatted about transferring some of the things I talked about to task-based learning environments and I was flattered to hear from some that it was their favorite talk of the conference. Great! Job done! Or so I thought.

I went back to my original goal: “encourage more knowledge transfer among my colleagues.” Check? Not quite. This goal is ongoing, just like any type of learning. Rather than seeing this as a destination, a gold star to be won, I am starting to see it as an underlying motivation. The things we learn as teachers should not be kept secret; they should be shared with others through our local teaching organizations, local and international conferences, and online communities.

I had expected to leave Dublin thinking “Phew! Glad that’s done.” But instead I left thinking “Great! What’s next?”

Vicky has been teaching English since 2013. She is the Head of the Competence Centre for Teaching English at the University of Applied Sciences, Wildau in Germany. She holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, an MSc from the University of Edinburgh, a CELTA, and a CertIBET. Vicky’s professional interests include task-based learning and learner engagement. Her personal interests include cooking and playing rugby (much to her mother’s dismay). She tweets @vickyparysek.