'IATEFL 2019: New horizons & new perspectives' by Andreza Lago

10th May 2019

After nine years since my last IATEFL conference in Harrogate, I was glad to see that many changes have happened in the Conference. New SIGS have been set up, new scholarships have been offered and even online streaming sessions for the ones who could not attend the Conference have been made available.
This year was even more special to me as I was the LT123 Brazil State Sector scholarship winner and was able to give a presentation about my teaching practice in rural areas in the Amazon and share a little bit of what it is like to teach English to minorities.
To me,my presentation was the main area of focus at the conference just because it is a great accomplishment in a teacher’s professional life as I had the opportunity to listen and talk to other teachers from around the globe.Being able to share experiences and learn from successful stories are the greatest souvenirs teachers can take home and pass on to their teaching communities of practice.
As to the presentations in general, I can say that a lot has been said about diversity and inclusion, teacher empowerment and the importance of soft skills. Below are some highlights about the topics:

Teacher Empowerment

Since the very first plenary with Paula Rebolledo, we had the opportunity to see what teacher empowerment really is and that we, teachers, are the real ELT experts because we are the ones who struggle daily to teach our classes, to help students with learning problems, to conduct teacher research – although what we do may not be considered to be research by some experts – etc.
Paula also mentions, according to her research, that teachers’ empowerment is most circumscribed to their classrooms. But it should not be like that because empowerment encompasses many other aspects and it should not only involve the classrooms. Teacher empowerment should start with democratic decision-making about what to teach and how to do it. As a consequence, taking the risks of making those democratic decisions. Fighting for better working conditions and joining a Union or even creating one are other ways of empowerment. Last but not least, finding alternatives for teacher development such as engaging in teacher research is a way to allow teachers to look at their own way of teaching, to understand it and theorize about it as well as to inform the field about what goes on in real classrooms.

Diversity and Inclusion

Another topic that was highly mentioned was diversity and inclusion. Not only about learners with special needs but also gender and sexuality identities, seniors and other minority groups.
I can also say that I somehow touched the subject during my talk when I mentioned the indigenous groups I teach and the approach I use in the classroom.
Katherine Bilborough in the closing plenary mentioned that learners in general, but children in special, should be able to see themselves and the way their families are formed in the coursebooks. She emphasized that a lot more has to be done and that it has to be done quickly.
Another informative plenary speech about inclusive education was made by John Gray who mentioned that although teachers have an important role in LGBT inclusion in the classroom, in most countries according to UNESCO they lack adequate training and resources to help them understand and address sexual orientation and gender identity and expression and more specifically homophobic and transphobic violence. He also pointed out that a curriculum that allows proliferation of identification and LGBT representation is necessary.
As a way to address the issue, John suggests three inclusive education approaches that can be used by the teachers to raise awareness about LGBT erasure in the classroom; they are the counseling approach (focus on equality discourse and positive LGBT representation) controversies approach (discrimination against LGBT people aiming at developing awareness of rights and social justice), and discourse inquiry approach (engage with discourses of heteronormativity – framing questions and problem posing on every day heteronormativity).

Soft Skills

In the pre-conference day, I participated in the Business English and Teacher Educational and Training SIGs event and the topics were all related to Soft Skills.
As we all know, the demand for skills has changed over the years. Nowadays, we do not teach only grammar and vocabulary to our learners. The need to prepare them for the workplace and for life has emerged and dealing with soft skills, 21 century skills, also known as life skills has been made essential.
The soft skills that should be integrated in our classroom and that were mentioned in the PCE sessions were creative and critical thinking, learning to learn, communication, collaboration and social responsibilities. Those are the skills that will be needed to help learners to communicate better and to be prepared for the different future careers.

After all, being able to participate in such important event and be part of IATEFL is a great opportunity for teachers to engage in teacher development, to get to know different teaching contexts and get inspired by learning with peers from all over the world.

Andreza Lago, This year’s LT123 Brazil State Sector Scholarship winner ,holds an MA in TEFL. She is a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. She has been in ELT for over 20 years. She is the author of “Tasks that work” and “Jogos Divertidos para a sua aula de inglês Vol 1 and Vol 2.