By Shaeley Santiago
I recently spent four full days in Baltimore, Maryland, at the TESOL 2016 International Convention. Since returning home, I have struggled to summarize the convention so I can share with colleagues what it was like. So, I have selected four adjectives that capture the highlights of my experience this year.
- Educated – One of the best parts about the TESOL Convention is the wide variety of session types and topics. Whether you want to expand your horizons in new areas, delve into research or linguistics theory, experience technology in a hands-on setting, watch a demonstration of a product, or learn practical tips from other educators, TESOL has it all.
I think the highlight for me personally was the opening keynote by Aziz Abu Sarah. Sarah spoke of how conversations in English language class can break down the walls of fear, ignorance, and hatred. Teachers can open students’ minds to what is different, even in areas like politics and religion. Sarah’s three ways to make this happen are learning about the “other,” challenging stereotypes, and experiential education. Each of us should ask ourselves, “What can I do?” even if it is something small (like sharing my reflections via this article). I challenge you to watch the video of Sarah’s presentation and reflect on what you can do.
- Connected – Another one of my favorite parts of attending a convention is meeting up with people whether they are fellow MIDTESOL members, affiliate leaders, exhibitors, people I have met previously at conferences, friends from Twitter, new friends, or TESOL presenters, authors, and celebrities. While some of these connections are forged during sessions, it is often the social events, social media interactions, and unexpected times like waiting in line for lunch or coffee where the best networking occurs.
Personal connections with other educators adds a dimension to the convention that cannot be replicated. That bond and camaraderie feeds the invigorating, euphoric feeling of convention attendance.
- Validated – Teaching ESL in a context where fewer than 5% of students are identified as English Language Learners (ELLs) means I occasionally feel isolated from my colleagues who do not encounter some of the unique issues I face. Attending a large convention with others who share these frustrations as well as their ideas of how to overcome the challenges is validating. I am not the only one who wonders how to collaborate with classroom teachers, best help students dealing with traumatic experiences, or advocate for ELLs and their families.
I experienced this in the Secondary Schools Interest Section meeting as others brought up concerns and ideas for future convention topics. It was also evident from the response of the audience when Jamie Cardwell and I presented on The Changing Role of the ESL Teacher. It was validating to me to see how many others found this to be a topic of interest and were looking for solutions to some of the same problems I have been facing.
- Revitalized – The sum of the convention for me was being inspired, invigorated, and revitalized by my participation. As the spring semester quickly draws to a close, my challenge is to remember what I learned and continue working to implement new ideas in my practice so that the time, energy, and money invested for me to attend the convention yields tangible results for the benefit of the teachers I work with and the students they teach.
Shaeley Santiago, ESL Instructional Coach for Ames Community Schools in Ames, Iowa, is an avid user of technology for professional development. In addition to her duties for Ames schools, Shaeley also teaches classes for Drake University’s teacher education program.