A few days before the conference, a colleague of mine posted a photo on Facebook and wrote: “Presenting at a conference abroad for the first time.” I was barely able to comment “Bravo” and applaud with a sticker, when a certain unpleasant fluttery feeling coming from my tummy began to work its way towards the head making one hidden fact perfectly clear – I, too, am presenting at a conference abroad in just four days! WOW! Breathe deeply, breathe deeply, do not panic, everything is going to be all right. Phew… okay, I’m not panicking. Yet.
Shortly after, I was already on a bus to Ljubljana (a joyful 12-hour ride) when another colleague posted on Facebook (no, I’m not addicted to FB, it’s just means of getting some useful info): “Silently packing another suitcase for the conference with 6 pairs of trousers, 54 T-shirts, some lovely skirts, a fancy T-shirt.” Oooo! Have I packed all those things? What will I wear for four days? Breathe deeply, breathe deeply, I travel light, and besides, I’ve got everything I need. Phew... okay, I’m not panicking. Still.
Photo: Jelena Spasić
Eventually, I did get to the conference with one suitcase (my workshop safely tucked on a USB flash drive) and still a fluttery feeling in my belly. A bit later than I had planned, but what can you do when you live 803 km away from the venue and still firmly believe in continuing professional development?! A quick shower and I was ready for the international evening on the first day of the conference. Naturally, I had no idea what that might be, otherwise, I wouldn’t have brought two dried red peppers to represent the town I came from. Luckily, my knowledgeable colleagues brought some Najlepše želje chocolate, Smoki, Plazma, some pear and plum brandy and most importantly, home-made vanilice (a huge gratitude goes to Božica’s mum for saving the day for all Serbian conference participants). Amidst the Austrian gugelhupf, Bosnian cheese and meat pies, Slovenian sausages, all kinds of bread and cheese from Croatia, a variety of sweets and snacks from Hungary, Macedonian peanuts and wine and a photo of the beloved Queen of England, the conference had officially begun. And it immediately accomplished its mission – the differences were put aside and all the nationalities were brought together, making closer and stronger relationships and achieving the conference motto “I teach, therefore I learn” to, among other things, overcome the differences and be tolerant, compassionate and human. The following two social evenings were only the added value – the Irish dancing lessons had us spinning and running and gasping for breath. Although we did not move much further from the first basic clumsy steps, we had so much fun. And the lip sync battles – well, let me just say that there is a very thin line between teachers and world famous performers.
However, the fun was not only reserved for the evening. From early morning to late afternoon, there were plenary speakers, talks, presentations and workshops to suit different tastes and give some serious food for thought. The opening plenary on the issues for education technology and continuing professional development in an online environment was given by Huw Jarvis who briefly argued that computer assisted language learning is obsolete and that we need to go beyond. Mark Almond talked about the art of language teaching and power of rapport, but he went beyond the mainstream language teaching methodology and discussed some other practices and theories giving insight into a more multi-disciplinary approach in the classroom. The closing plenary was given by Steven Lever who talked about the 21st century teachers who provide a skill set for the learners that would enable them to meet the constantly changing demands of modern life. A complete revelation for me was Peter Medgyes who gave another plenary talk in a soft and very personal, narrative tone and made us all wonder what category of teachers we belong to – the strict and scary, the firm, but fun, or the soft and shaky one. Really – what category of teachers do you belong to? No in-betweeners, please.
As for the workshops, numerous fellow teachers were more than willing to share their own ideas on how to create a fun, inspiring learning atmosphere in the classroom, ideas on how to pass on the knowledge and sparkle creativity and diversity, ideas on how to acquire the skills necessary not only for language acquisition, but for everyday life as well. You could pick between online learning and the old fashioned vocabulary and grammar games, you could learn how to develop super minds thinking skills and use art, videos and pictures in an ELT classroom, you could hear how stories, drama and poetry enhance language learning, or find out how to create your own books and theatres together with your students, you could play with Lego bricks or smartphones in the classroom, you could learn how to overcome lack of confidence and improve communicative competence, create imaginary islands in the classroom, have science experiments, or start your own language camps – the choice is yours, and obviously, the sky is the limit for both teachers and learners.
The 24th International IATEFL Slovenia Conference once again confirmed that it is indeed “the coziest conference in Central and Eastern Europe.” The facts that the participants were so close and connected with each other, be it in the speakers’ halls, or by the pool, that the food was delicious, the hotel comfortable and the weather fantastic, only contributed to it, helping me along the way to completely forget the fluttery feeling and uneasiness from the beginning of this amazing journey.