It’s TESOL International Convention time again, and as an L2 teacher education blogger, I would be remiss if I did not discuss the largest professional development event in the TESOL field. According to tesol.org, the convention hosts about 6,500 participants in more than 1,000 educational sessions. With a group that large, it’s hard to explain exactly what a TESOL International Convention is like, but for me it’s always been a sort of whirlwind of great information, old friends, new contacts, and a LOT of books. If you are not going to TESOL 2016, this post might motivate you to attend next year or attend your local affiliate TESOL conference. If you are going to TESOL 2016, this post might give you some new perspectives on your conference experience.
To get the most out of your professional development experience at a large event like the TESOL International Convention, it’s important to consider why you’re there in the first place. To explore this, I looked at perspectives from TESOL authors in three different locations: Mexico, Brazil, and Korea.
The first reason they all stated they attended TESOL conferences was for professional development. Improving upon your pedagogical practices and continuing your “teacher-as-learner” trajectory is one of the key reasons professional associations hold conferences. Some sessions present cutting-edge research, policy concerns, or even ideological perspectives about the field as a whole—issues that go beyond our classrooms but are of paramount importance to our profession.
The second reason they shared was the importance of refreshing ideas for your classroom, via new resources, new strategies, and being exposed to current trends in English language teaching. These sessions can help you break out of teaching ruts, or give you new perspective on strategies you may already be using. Seeing other presenters may also give you ideas for how to return to your teaching context and prepare to share what you learned with colleagues.
The third reason they had in common was networking and interacting with other professionals in the TESOL field. Being able to exchange ideas, apply for job positions, or identify other professionals who are doing similar work to you is invaluable. One conversation I struck up with a colleague at a presentation resulted in a great friendship and a coauthored article, even though we work a few thousand miles away from each other!
Some of the other reasons to attend TESOL conventions are to experience international travel opportunities and cultural understanding, a benefit of conference travel that is particularly relevant to our internationally oriented field. The TESOL and TESOL-affiliate host cities are typically fascinating locations with a history and culture all their own, and are worth enjoying, since you’ve made the trip! Finally, I personally enjoy TESOL conferences to celebrate the field itself. I take away a sense of renewed energy from being around so many people with a common goal of providing engaging learning to students at all levels, as well as advocating for people worldwide, be they English learners in public school content areas, refugees and newcomers, or learners studying Global Englishes.
As a TESOL teacher educator, I encourage you to get involved with our interest section by attending the Teacher Education Interest Section meeting, and attending the sessions specifically marked as “teacher education” in the program book. In addition, using the online tools for the conference and attending the “How to TESOL” session for first-time attendees can be helpful as well. Last but not least, don’t underestimate the power of social media to advertise your own session or see which sessions might interest you. Follow @TESOL_assn and @TESOLconv for conference updates, and search the hashtag #TESOL2016 for sessions and updates, too. If you are presenting a teacher education–related session, tweet your session date, time, and location and tag me on your Twitter feed (@lindahl_tesol), and I’ll do my best to check it out! I’ll be featuring my own “Best of TESOL” teacher ed sessions on the blog when I return from the conference. See you in Baltimore!!