From superhero to trainee teacher and IATEFL steward

19th March 2020

After attending a few smaller conferences and developing a real taste for them, I seized the opportunity to go international, and applied for a stewarding role at the 2019 conference in Liverpool. How did I get to stewarding and what have superheroes got to do with it?  

Once upon a time 

In preschool, I was often asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and my answer was always the same: “I want to be a superhero! Or, a vet”. But things don't always turn out as expected, and despite my firm belief as a child that superpowers exist, I did not become a superhero. Neither did I go to veterinary school. Instead, 20 years later, I am about to complete a Master’s degree in ELT.

Thinking about it now, I feel that I have always had a profound passion for languages and linguistics. I swallowed foreign books like candy. Be it fiction or non-fiction, I read everything I could get my hands on. Graded readers soon gave way to full-length novels, and once I felt comfortable enough with academic language, books on teaching English and linguistics were my go-to resource. This is how I realized working in ELT is my calling.  

Lifelong learning 

Similarly, the years I spent in class as a student shaped my attitude towards the teaching profession. In a way, all young teachers use these early experiences to form the image of an ideal teacher and then aspire to become one. Little by little, we learn that teaching isn’t just about giving a lecture; teaching it is an art. It’s a professional performance forcing us to be on our toes all the time. It’s a calling with the need of lifelong learning.

In other words, teachers have to be up-to-date with the latest and the greatest trends in ELT as these help us to employ the most promising methods, techniques, and materials that facilitate learning. And since the area of ELT is never truly stagnant, the need for professional development is even greater.  

Cold feet 

However, when the opportunity to attend the main IATEFL conference back in 2019 presented itself, I found myself hesitant. As a teacher who is only at the very beginning of her career, I did not think myself experienced enough to make a contribution to the melting pot of ELT professionals that is IATEFL. My paranoid self even came up with several worst-case scenarios, which at the time seemed quite plausible to happen once I had set my foot in Liverpool.  

In reality, there was nothing to worry about. The actual IATEFL experience was outstanding, and most definitely unique. I felt I ‘belonged’ the minute I walked through the venue door. Everyone was immensely supportive and eager to help; a great springboard for the conference to come. 

The IATEFL 2019 Conference: Liverpool’s linguistic wonderland

The following days were packed with first-class opportunities for professional development and networking with some of the gurus of the ELT world. Workshops, how-to's in the morning, plenary sessions, careers market, and social events in the evenings perfectly fit into a larger linguistic wonderland. It was truly amazing to start the day by listening to phenomenal plenaries, which were often followed by constructive discussions with other teachers in the conference corridors. 

Moments like these reminded me that I shared spaces with like-minded professionals who didn’t shy away from a conversation about prosody or syntax. They didn’t give me weird looks when I mentioned I’m interested in applied linguistics and materials development but reacted with reciprocal excitement about the subject.  

Such social interactions do not only broaden professional knowledge but also contribute to the understanding of other cultures and social circumstances around the globe. It is because of IATEFL that I now know what it’s like to work in refugee camps or under strict censorship; what the education system in Turkey is like, and what the difference is between China English, Chinese English, and Chinglish. 

Stewarding – a rewarding experience

Apart from wonderful workshops, exhibitions, and social events, IATEFL offers a wide array of possibilities which enable anyone interested to get involved not only as a delegate but also as a volunteer, member, or steward. It was the latter that caught my attention in 2019, and shortly after sending in the application, I found myself flying to Liverpool to become one of the venue stewards.  

Despite the fact that I was no stranger to the role that I had to perform as a steward (I’d already done something similar at some national IATEFL conferences), the steward briefing on day one was more than welcome. We were led around the conference venue in order to familiarize ourselves with the layout of the site, received special T-shirts, delegate badges, and listened to instructions about our respective assignments.   

These included reminding presenters to finish on time, keeping a record of the number of delegates in every session, checking delegates’ badges and directing them around the venue. Needless to say, the job offered a lot of opportunities to interact with presenters and others alike, and everybody contributed something new and different. When I wasn’t on duty, I attended workshops, presentations, visited the exhibition, and tried to enjoy the conference to the fullest.   


The main IATEFL conference is, in comparison to other similar events organized by national teachers' associations, much more difficult to navigate simply because it’s impossible to be physically present at two equally interesting sessions at the same time – but this is the beauty of it. The conference covers so many ELT sub-categories that it is impossible not to find something of interest. This means that a delegate is usually left deciding between two (if not more) compelling sessions, or, in the worst-case scenario, two special interest groups when deciding which pre-conference events to attend.  

Nevertheless, by the end of the week, I had realized that it was more than worth it. I left the conference with fresh knowledge, new friends, and a pile of books that forced me to repack two or three times until I finally gave in and bought an additional suitcase – a price I had to pay because I couldn’t decide which books to select at the exhibition and then ended up buying them all.

And the future?

As of right now, I don’t think I’m hooked on IATEFL and the professional development it offers for just a year or two. I have a feeling this addiction is going to stay with me much longer.  

About Tjaša Čuček

Tjaša Čuček is a student member of IATEFL, who is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in ELT at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia. As a holder of a Degree in English Language and Comparative Literature, she is interested in Shakespeare, applied linguistics, and materials development.


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