A conversation about conferences
The following is a conversation between present day Michael Griffin (MGN, as in MG now) and Michael Griffin circa 1999 (MGT or MG then). This is, of course, a fictional conversation because I don’t own a time machine and even if I did I wouldn’t risk messing up the space time continuum by talking with myself. No offense to any humans or groups is intentional. I also would like to emphasize my aim and hope for there to be no hint of the aroma of sour grapes here either.
MGN: Hi buddy how are you doing?
MGT: Hey. ‘Sup? What is going on?
MGN: Not too much. One thing on my mind is how I am so gutted because I am not going to either IATEFL or TESOL for yet another year.
MGT: What does “gutted” mean? And what are IATEFL and TESOL?
MGN: Oh, right, sorry. IATEFL and TESOL are professional organizations in the field of English teaching. This is, by the way, your future career.
MGT: Wild. Really wild stuff. There’s more than one organization? OK.
MGN: There are tons of them. Regional ones and country specific and interest specific and probably lots I don’t even know about.
MGT: Wow. Weird. And how often are these conferences?
MGN: The really big ones are yearly but there are regional meetings and all sorts of other events all the time.
MGT: You mean to tell me that there is so much happening in English teaching you need to have major conferences every year? What can change? It is not like English changes all that much, is it? Are there radical changes in teaching styles every year? What could possibly be so new and important that you need to have a new conference so damn often? That sounds bizarre to me. You didn’t answer about the meaning of “gutted” bee tea double you.
MGN: Ahh, sorry, it means sad or hurt or something like that. It is British English. Many of my mates from the Irish Isles use it. MGT: You really *shouldn’t use such words. It sounds like an affectation and makes you sound like a wanker or a jerk or something. Don’t do that. Seriously. Anyway, why are you so bothered about missing conferences?
MGN: Nice question. I think you are onto something with this word “missing” as I think it sort of feels like I am missing something. You know that thing about how you can’t go to bed until you are sure that all the possible fun has been sucked out of the evening? This is sort of similar. It is like a feeling that all the fun and excitement is going on without me. While on the subject, I can report that this feeling of not being able to go to bed while there might still be fun to be had dissipates as you get older.
MGT: I see. I guess that is pretty good news about “Griffin’s Disease.” And as for the conferences., well, what exactly is so fun? MGN: I think part of the fun is meeting like-minded people. I am pretty geeky about this stuff and it is really to find people who share the same interest. It kind of reminds me of a baseball card show or a comic convention. Oh yea, while i am thinking of it, believe it or not, a friend you are going to make in the next 18 months actually attended a Star Trek convention one time.
MGT: I keep learning crazy things from you. So what goes on at these English teaching conferences? Do people seek autographs? If so from who?
MGN: I guess I have seen some autograph hunting but not all that much. It is sometimes fun and interesting to see people freaking out about authors and big names in the field.
MGT: I hope that I..you…we never engage in such nonsense.
MGN: It might be too late. Anyway, your question here got me thinking a bit about the nature of celebrity in this field. I guess it is sort of a peculiar thing.
MGT: It sounds like it. I still don’t really have a clear idea on what goes on at these conferences.
MGN: Presentations and workshops and things like this. It is a chance for networking and learning and sharing.
MGT: I guess I had an idea already. Thanks. Why can’t you go this year?
MGN: Time and money mostly. Those are always key factors with most things as you surely already know. It is also tough to fly out of Korea and get to the US or UK in time to really do much without missing too many classes.
MGT: Wait, what? You live in Korea.
South Korea, right? That is something else. Wow. So, it must be hard for people from around the world to get to these big conferences.
MGT: Aside from the fact that such a conference is all these nerds getting together to talk about teaching English and god knows what else related to it something seems strange to me that in 2014 you’d need to get together in an actual physical place to talk about this. Can’t you meet online? Don’t they have video conferencing, in the future? And yea, what about flying cars?
MGN: Video conferencing is common enough but being at the venue is a special buzz. Nothing on the flying cars yet.
MGT: I can’t help but wonder about the teachers that can’t afford to make it to the US or UK. Surely that is most English teachers in the world, right? I have only heard about this stuff for the last few minutes but I am wondering who is served by these conferences. Who exactly benefits and how? Is it for teachers? All teachers? Or teachers with access to money and time? Teachers from certain places? What is the main purpose of such conferences? Is it for students in the end? Are there other ways to disseminate knowledge? Is it about disseminating knowledge? What is it about, ultimately? You mentioned networking and buzz a few times. Is there more?
MGN: Those are some good questions to consider. I am not sure I really have the answers to them now. Maybe I need to think about them some more. But again, I do think conferences can be a valuable chance for teachers to learn what others are doing and to connect with like-minded people. It can also be inspiring and motivating. I also don’t think you are saying anything that couldn’t be said about any sort of conference in any field.
MGT: Yeah.. OK but somehow it seems different to me when related to something like teaching English. Another thing, while you are wondering about conferences it you might also want to consider things like carbon footprints.
MGN: I never thought of you as the party-pooper type. Gosh. But at the same time, I do thank you for the fresh and outside perspective.
Possibly related links:
James Taylor on attending conferences.
A post on “Not Conferencing” from Mike Harrison.
A post from Rachael Fionda (aka @SwanDOS) about how (and why) to attend conferences. ”
The Cult of Celebrity in ELT” by Nicola Prentis.
Yitza Sarwono reflects on her experience at JALT in 2012.
Kevin Stein shares some experiences and gratitude from JALT 2013. Note: This post comes with a dust warning.
Anna Loseva’s post after that same JALT conference which she describes as not so interesting and bizarre. I will let you be the judge.