As I look forward to attending TESOL 2018 in Chicago, I thought I would share with you an insider’s guide to participating and getting the most out of the convention.
1. Comfortable shoes and layers are essential. Whether TESOL has been in New Orleans or Philadelphia, convention centers are big and most likely you will be walking from one end to the other to get to the sessions you want. Wearing walkable shoes cannot be overstated. So does wearing layers because one room may be chilly and the next may be standing room only and airless.
2. Get coffee outside of the convention center. Inside, the lines will be long, yet outside you’ll likely find a nice local café nearby to grab your cup of joe. You’ll get to enter the convention, breeze past the Starbucks line and head to your session.
3. Ditch that heavy program book. I admit I used to carry the tome around, highlight it carefully, and peruse it often to plan my day. Now I leave it in my hotel room, plan my day on the TESOL app (available in February), interact with the social media features, and access presenter’s slides and materials all at my fingertips (and my back doesn’t hurt from heavy lifting).
4. Put your name in the hat for all the raffles at the publisher’s booths in the Expo Hall. TESOL raffles off great books, and sometimes you can win technology and other equipment. You’ll know the drawings are happening when you see the crowds forming.
5. Don’t limit yourself to presentations that only match your students’ age, their level, or your interest. I teach college, but some of the best sessions I have attended were focused on elementary-level students. My passion is educational technology, but I got really excited about maker spaces and sketchnoting.
6. Don’t miss the Electronic Village. The Electronic Village is one of my favorite locations at the conference. Check it out early—follow the signage to find out where it’s been tucked away and sign up as needed. By the way, you get a big bang for your buck in the technology showcase because it offers multiple presenters at different stations at the same time.
7. Watch for some cool freebies. Last year I got a free professional headshot and some fun little Instagram photo printouts.
8. The poster sessions are a madhouse. I like to check out the poster sessions, but they’re not for the faint of heart. They are usually in the very back of the Expo Hall and yet all squished together. You’ll need to squeeze through the throng to get a good look, but many presenters now include a QR code or web link that you can refer to later for anything that catches your eye.
9. In sessions, be patient, but also be willing to leave. Are you in a session that doesn’t seem right for you in the first five minutes? Well, give it another five minutes before you bolt. However, if you realize that the topic really does not pertain to you, then don’t be afraid to discreetly exit. Just don’t be that annoying person who walks in, demands a handout (or two), takes it, and immediately leaves.
10. Have the books shipped. My first few years I was so excited that I grabbed as many teacher copies of textbooks as I could. The result? I ended up paying extra for the weight of my suitcase on the flight home. Publishers are happy to send them. Also, bring a stack of business cards and just staple them to the forms that all the publishers ask you to fill out. (Saves time and hand cramps!)
11. You can take a break. Sometimes the best learning and connections take place in the hallways and common areas. If you’re feeling overloaded, have a seat in the foyer or take a walk. You’ll likely find yourself striking up an interesting conversation, running into colleagues, or making a new connection.
12. Connect after the convention. Don’t be afraid to email a presenter after you get back to your campus. You’ll likely get more materials, examples, and helpful information than you could if you try to get a quick question answered right after they finish their presentation.
13. See something outside the convention. Even though we are in the city for the conference, don’t leave the city without doing at least one excursion, whether it’s to a tourist spot, a park nearby, a local restaurant, or flea market. If you’re not comfortable going alone, there are usually some TESOL-organized excursions.
Denise Maduli-Williams is an assistant professor at San Diego Miramar College. She has been teaching ESOL for the past two decades and attended her very first TESOL Convention in 2000. She has taught in a prison, the Peace Corps, New York City public high schools, and community colleges in Chicago, San Francisco, and San Diego. Her passion is educational technology.