Monday, 30 November 2015

My first International JALT Conference

English Central with Charles Browne
I had the great privilege of attending the International JALT Conference in Shizuoka from November 20-23. Nothing could have prepared me for a hectic weekend filled to the brim with presentations, workshops, talking to publishers, networking, hands on learning, sharing ideas, socializing and this list goes on. It was such an amazing opportunity to be surrounded by fellow peers, soaking in the wealth of knowledge and experience available. The weekend changed my outlook on the kind of educator I aspire to be, and armed me with the tools in order to succeed.

I have never attended a conference of this scale before, over 1800 attendants over the course of 4 days, from all sorts of teaching backgrounds. There is so much to see and do, people to meet that there doesn’t seem to be enough time for everything. There were many presentations and workshops I missed out on due to clashes or being preoccupied with something else.  My mind didn’t even have to chance to wander as there was always something that required my full attention.

A huge crowd gathers for Paul Nation
The theme of the conference was: Focus on the Learner, perhaps something that can be, but never should, be overlooked. A lot of the presentations I attended had an emphasis on the importance of needs analysis; who are the stakeholders and what do they want? Are we truly fulfilling our role as a teacher if we fail to meet this single requirement?

With needs analysis also comes the task of identifying problems and solving them: what is not working, why not and how to go about fixing it. Not every problem has a simple solution and you have to be equipped with the suitable knowledge and tools. A major point to keep in mind when it comes to self evaluation and expanding your teaching skills, something I will be keeping at the forefront when it comes to lesson planning.

Publicity Officers' meeting
Another thing that often cropped up, which is something I find myself guilty of at times, is the
teacher taking a step back and doing nothing. Let students do the work and let them figure out for themselves. The less time the teacher spends talking the better. I’m sure all my students would agree! I have a tendency to offer assistance prematurely and it is something that I need to work and improve on.

It was fascinating to get a glimpse of educators from across the globe sharing their insights, ideas and experiences. There was so much to take in that I was furiously scribbling in my notebook the entire time. I came away from the whole experience with a better understanding of how to cater to my student’s needs, my own pitfalls and weaknesses plus a host of ideas and techniques to implement in my classroom.

Research  results on show at a Poster Session
But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, I had to share a hotel room with Jim after all! One of the main grumps was that Shizuoka did not lend itself to a good “after-event”. There was a lack of venues to continue the conference into the evening in a much more social manner, gathering ideas together over a couple of beverages and exchanging personal experiences. I guess you cannot have your cake and eat it too.

But in no way did that take anything away from my first International JALT conference. I feel as though I have come a long way since my first day on the job, but this conference has made me realize I still have a long way to go. I am looking forward to every single step of that journey. A massive thank you to all the organizers of the event, the staff involved and everyone who contributed to such a fantastic event.

A special mention to Jim for driving me all the way to and from Shizuoka, (even though I was a lousy navigator!), and introducing me to so many brilliant people. I cannot wait for the next one!