Cactus-to-Conference update from Fiona James

“When Cactus contacted me recently I couldn’t believe that another six months had passed since writing my first reflections on what Iatefl had done for me and my teaching. I asked that they bear with me until after the weekend when I go to our little country place to the north of Cordoba in the south of Spain. It is here, where I write now, that I am most able to switch off from teaching and professional commitments and relax in the gorgeous rural surroundings with my family. Yet funnily enough, detached from the world and my day to day reality, this is the place where I often find myself generating my most creative ideas. I put this down to creating the distance between ourselves and our routine responsibilities, which allows us, or at least me to see things from a bird’s eye view as it were, from a new angle, with a fresh perspective, (something I touched on in my first article) – and that is precisely what I tell myself I should offer in this follow-up article.

Sadly many of the wonderful ideas I wanted to put into practice on my return have fallen through the sieve and only a handful, in comparison to those that impressed me, have found themselves sprinkled into the classroom. I am learning that it is impossible to put everything into practice and that the most important thing is to prioritize with what we consider to be key areas that can serve us and our students well, depending on where we and they are at any one time. Needless to say there is no shortage of teaching ideas available to us within a few clicks of a mouse or from colleagues, friends and mentors. I am having to learn to balance such an intense input of ideas in relation to the immediate demands of the individuals who have trusted in me to assist them in their learning of English. Neither have I accessed writings, as I intended to do, from some of those who I found truly inspiring at Iatefl – but there is time for everything and at the appropriate moment I know I will seek out what I need. What truly makes a lasting impression, I believe is never lost, only put on standby until the time is ripe.

Despite my relatively short teaching experience, I have a clear vision of one day becoming involved in teacher training. Before going to Iatefl, I debated a great deal on whether or not to submit a speaker proposal as I thought that organizing a workshop, which could be of any real interest to others, was somewhat premature, and could even be perceived as over-zealous, bordering on presumptuous by others who have been in the profession for much longer. (I am still wondering if this is a “reality” and whether interested people would really question this, or whether it is a distortion based on my own self-limiting views….) For me, it was a daunting idea to think that I could hope to offer anything of any value alongside the great names we are all familiar with at such a prestigious event. 

However I was gratefully swayed in my final decision to go ahead by three very inspiring people:  the first was Bonnie Tsai, whom I met at Pilgrims in 2009; she told me that that she considered that being a teacher trainer is more about having the right attitude, regardless of the number of years of experience, (by no means underestimating having the necessary requirements of knowledge and skills for such an important undertaking). The second person was Chaz Pugliese, whom I met for the first time a few years ago at ACEIA, the yearly Andalusian teacher conference in Seville. He told me that if I was really interested in becoming involved in teacher training, the best way to start was to offer myself to give in-service teacher training workshops at the places I work and to give workshops at conferences. Last but not least was my dear friend Sylvia Velikova, teacher and teacher trainer, whom I met on an NLP course at Pilgrims. Sylvia professed to seeing me as a teacher trainer in the making. So, bang on the deadline I sent off my proposal, which, to my surprise and added boost to my self-confidence, was accepted and even included in the TDSig special day agenda.

Well before the event I set about developing a workshop based on the theme of “The Power of Choice in the Classroom” and the whole process, prior to the event, was one of constant reflection, research and experimentation. The element of choice has since become one of the pillars of my teaching. Although the outcome of the speaker proposal was to deliver the workshop, the fact is that the stages leading up to the conference served a much greater purpose, namely that of self-reflection of my teaching practice, which continues to propel me forward to constantly question what I am doing as a teacher and how I can achieve the best possible outcome for my students, to fine-tune what works best and reassessing what doesn’t. My subsequent participation as a speaker at the conference served to make my first Iatefl experience even more unforgettable in many ways and indeed inspired me to offer further workshops in the future. I consider that even if only one person gained a new insight from my perspective, all the efforts were more than worth it, not to mention the enormous personal benefit and deepened insight I gained from the experience.

Moreover the process seems to have marked the beginning of a self-fulfilling prophecy of becoming a teacher trainer. I was recently approached by a small group of private schools to organize teacher training sessions with both their non-native teachers and their management team for this academic year. This outcome strengthens my belief that when we believe we can do something and work towards achieving our goal, providence moves with us. It is with this positive note that I would like to encourage you to believe and follow your dreams, to freely share your ideas with those around you, however trivial they may sometimes seem. We are all unique and we can all offer something of value, no matter how small we may appear to ourselves. But a word of caution – “Be careful about what you want, you might get it” (Emerson).”

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