'Me, myself, and I…ATEFL' by James Egerton

8th July 2017

Teachers’ associations. 5 years ago. Say what you see: dull, pointless, port, tweed.

The ‘hindsight revisionist’ in me would love to say that I was just setting off on my teaching career at this point, but the raw reality is that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my French and Spanish degree, and heading to Spain to teach seemed like an excellent year-long stopgap while I worked it out. So from that point, how did I get into IATEFL and why do I recommend it today?

Well fast forward to August 2015 and the final day of the six-week Delta Module 2 course at International House London. There was a crossroads about a year earlier: commit to teaching or find something you can commit to. Module 2 was my last of the three modules, and we were given a short talk about what you could do to make the most of the Delta qualification. It was the most fruitful hour of the entire 6 weeks, and I followed most of the pointers: blog like Sandy Millin (I’m not being an editor’s pet; Sandy was the example given), enter academic management, join IATEFL.

Finding out about the 2016 conference when I joined, I signed up immediately. Again, the ‘hindsight revisionist’ says that it was because I was brimming with enthusiasm at the professional development opportunities. Alas! It was because my best friend now lives in Birmingham, so I could spend the week at his house then skip the Saturday sessions to travel up to Liverpool to watch a football match with him. This isn’t just anecdotal; the point is that I was never fully committed to the conference, and without putting much in, I didn’t receive much back either. It was far from a waste of time, though. It was the first time I fully appreciated that I was part of a global community of English teachers, and that people like Scott Thornbury and Jeremy Harmer are not just names on books and bibliographies, but walk and talk too (among many other activities, I’m sure). But I certainly didn’t make the most of it. I didn’t have specific objectives to get out of the four days. I didn’t plan the presentations I would attend, but rather wandered around to see where there were seats. I didn’t enjoy the extra-curricular activities, instead I hopped back on the train to Solihull as soon as possible to spend the evenings with Aaron. I didn’t really network, as I was too overwhelmed with information and really not feeling chatty. I was lost! I sat next to well-known coursebook writer Herbert Puchta in one presentation, for instance, but not knowing who he was at that time, I asked him “What do you do?” when we were making small talk. His face was a picture. He probably didn’t get asked that very often during the conference.

So back I went to Albacete, Spain, went through my notes from the conference, and realised that there was little I could implement in my lessons or in teacher training sessions with the other seven teachers. I’d been to too many research-based talks out of my sphere or teacher trainer talks about CELTA which was out of reach at that point. I grumbled to myself, bitter towards the conference when really it was all down to me, and questioned the point of joining for another year. But the IATEFL magazine Voices kept arriving in my emails every other month, and I kept clicking (not flicking) through it, finding great ideas, putting them into practice. After blogging for several months, I wondered if I could ever get an article published in Voices, so I found the editor’s contact details and sent her an email. After several edits and several months in the queue, I had an article published in the November-December 2016 issue on my favourite topic: feedback and mindset. Every teacher has a unique perspective, so I’d recommend that everyone sit down to write about something they really believe in. Voices editor Alison Schwetlick does an incredible job of pushing you to mould and remould the first draft into something worthy of column inches too, if getting something into print is a motivation like it was for me.

So that’s the extent of my 1 year 8 months as an IATEFL member so far. It’s been useful, sure, but I feel that I really haven’t scratched the surface of the membership benefits yet. Much like I’ve been seeing since joining the International House fold last September, it’s a vast network of teachers who can motivate and teach each other: a genuine rocket boost! As with anything, the more you put in, the more you get out, so I’m set on putting a lot more into the organisation from now on. It starts here on this blog, which I hope to make a regular contribution to. Next is getting involved and active in a SIG, whether it be through webinars, papers or communicating with like-minded professionals. And of course I’ll have to right the wrongs of the 2016 conference. Although I wasn’t able to attend Glasgow this year, I won’t miss 2018, armed with objectives and a plan and hopefully presenting too. So five years later on, I’d throw back the following as a ‘say what you see’ on IATEFL: opportunities, ideas, sharing, development.

James is a Delta-qualified teacher and rookie teacher trainer currently working at International House Riga-Satva in Latvia. His extra pedagogical activities include working as a writing and speaking examiner, and integrating basic psychological principles into TEFL to help learners and teachers. He blogs on his reflections of learning and teaching English at www.jamesegerton.wordpress.com.