Reflections on a Conference

One of the things that my school does for its new teachers is to encourage them to go out and see the wider world of English Teacherdom. In this case, it meant sending me to the JALT 2010 Conference here in Nagoya. For those who don’t know, JALT is the Japan Association for Language Teaching, one of the biggest such groups in Japan, and its national conference draws tons of people as presenters and participants. There are companies selling books and resources, professionals peddling their wares and their curricula, and lots of people trying to steal ideas from each other. Good fun.

Having more or less finished with the conference (there’s still a half day to go tomorrow), I am of two minds.

There were certainly a lot of creative ideas around, many of which I will be taking back with me. I went to workshops and talks on error correction, writing, the use of humor in the classroom, and the use of logic puzzles. I saw a production of Henry IV which gave me some ideas for my drama class, and picked up some books which, while they may not be entirely helpful right now, should definitely be an advantage in planning for next year. So, from the practical side, it was a worthwhile event.

But there’s a social side to it as well, one that I’m less comfortable with. Lot of people seemed to know each other, and I knew barely anyone. Two other teachers from my school went, but one stayed only for Saturday and the other had to go back today. So by the time the big old wine-and-cheese, backslapping, Irish pub music hootenanny started in the evening, I knew basically no one. And all I could think about was getting out of there, away from the camaraderie and the shop talk and the forced cheerfulness.

I’m sure they’re all nice people and all, but overlaid on top of my natural dislike of socializing and meeting new people there is a general feeling that I’m not really one of them, despite having spent over a decade teaching English in Japan. These are people who can use phrases like, “establishing the pedagogical effectiveness of negotiated interaction” without skipping a beat or, as I wanted to do, giggling at the ridiculous level of buzzwording going on. Speakers threw out names and the titles of articles as though it were a given that I should know who B. Laufer was and why his work on passive and active vocabulary would be valuable to know. They passionately debated the benefits and drawbacks of student evaluations as though that argument would decide the issue once and for all.

I just wanted a few new tricks to use in the classroom.

So, it’s 8:30 in the evening on a Sunday night, and I’m where I was last night and Friday night – in my hotel room. Because despite being one of them, I don’t feel like One Of Them, and the idea of trying to infiltrate my way into that crowd just strikes me as futile and desperate.

It’s not you, JALT. It’s me.

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