Last week was a very exciting week for me. Not only was it the first time I visited Belfast, but it was my first attendance at a conference since the pandemic. The conference, IATEFL 2022 didn't disappoint.
There was a buzz like I had not experienced at a conference before. Not only was it so enjoyable to be in an environment surrounded by so many English teachers from all parts of the world and hearing so many different languages. But also getting the chance to share so many experiences of teaching in a lockdown, a common teaching experience the likes of which English teachers from each corner of the globe have never shared before. What was evident though was just how pleased everyone was to be meeting face-to-face. No one seemed to mind that for some their journeys to the conference were long. The fact that we could communicate face to face, such an important thing for language teachers and linguists among us there, was everything.
The conference, workshops and exhibition didn't disappoint of course. There really was a workshop for everyone. Four days of back to back workshops, keynote speakers, and even early morning practical sessions for the super keen among us.
I had the pleasure of presenting at the Associates Day on 16th May. When asked to chose a subject for my presentation that would be engaging but also reflected relevant, timely issues experienced by the sector. So, I chose to talk about ESOL tutor Wellbeing.
When the pandemic hit back in 2020, NATECLA decided to put on a series of webinars to support ESOL tutors in what was fast becoming a challenging time for teaching ESOL, especially for those teaching very low level classes online. Our first webinar, two years almost to the day of my presentation in Belfast was Wellbeing for ESOL tutors. The webinar topic went on to become the most requested webinar the following two years, a fact indicative I feel of just how under pressure tutors in our sector have been. ESOL teaching presenting challenges with lower levels of language skills as well as digital skills, and higher rates of digital and data poverty. Put that together with tutors' wariness of teaching a language in an online environment (as of course their own digital skills) led to high stress and anxiety levels.
With all the challenges, the sector did as the sector always does of course; it triumphed. It was so wonderful to hear other associate representatives present their talks on what they had achieved during the pandemic, especially as we were given the chance to do small group activities and get to the nitty gritty of what went well and what could have been better if with their 'pandemic provision'.
What was especially enjoyable for me was the opportunity to meet NATECLA colleagues that I have spent many hours with online over the last two years, but never met face-to-face. Committee members of our newest branch, the Island of Ireland were of course there, so lucky to have such a fantastic conference on their doorstep.
The Branch Chair, Arthur McKeown MBE from Burc was the first to welcome me. At this point I must mention that during that very week Arthur had collected his MBE, awarded in recognition of his tireless efforts supporting the refugee and asylum seeker community in Norther Ireland. Huge congratulations Arthur! 🎉
I also had the chance to meet Aisling O'Boyle from Belfast University, Claudia Belloni, also from BURC and Ligia Patrizi from Belfast Metropolitan College, all having had their own part in setting up and contributing to NATECLA Island of Ireland's new branch. With thanks to them all for their hard work .🙏
Of course, there was another familiar face I got to see 'in the flesh', the wonderful Emily Bryson, ESOL tutor, writer and graphic facilitator extraordinaire! Emily of course delighted the IATEFL delegates with her session 'Graphic Facilitation for ELT: using simple drawings to engage learners'. The buzz on Twitter after the session proved it was very popular indeed, something we are used to as Emily is a regular presenter at NATECLA webinars and events.
So, I am well and truly in conference mode now and looking forward to the next big date in the conference calendar. I am talking of course of the NATECLA National Conference! We are of course delighted to to holding this face-to-face in Birmingham on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th June.
We have a superb line up of workshops and some fabulous keynote guests, including
Zaina Aljumma, a Syrian refugee, award winning podcaster & ESOL professional. Plus an expert panel of Mary Osmaston, Jennie Turner and Keeley Donati on what the new Ofsted framework means for ESOL. Read more here :https://natecla.org.uk/content/718/Gu.
If you haven't booked your place yet, here is the link to do so: https://www.natecla.org.uk/content/468/NATECLA-Conferences. We really are looking forward to seeing you there.
My blog wouldn't be complete without saying a few words about Belfast itself, as well as showing you some photos of my late afternoon sightseeing around the city. From the Titanic Quarter to the Fish of Knowledge, there are plenty of wonderful things to see and photograph, but as a huge Game of Thornes fan, I did enjoy the glass artwork celebrating this famous series filmed not so far away.
I will leave you with some shots from Belfast...