In September 2014, I had the great honor of being invited to speak at the 30th anniversary of the Society of Pakistan English Language Teachers (SPELT) conference in Karachi, where I spent 4 days interacting with local teachers and researchers. I was hosted by Professor Zakia Sarwar, along with two other international speakers at the conference: Professor Anne Burns, from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, and Les Kirkham, from IATEFL.
What a wonderful experience it was to meet such energetic, motivated, and spirited teachers. Their zest for life, sense of humor, and warmth stood in sharp contrast to the somber and unsafe climate portrayed by the media. Following is a series of vignettes and reflections that I recorded during my trip.
Prior to the conference, my colleagues and I enjoyed a lovely day and evening with the SPELT team members. Dinner took place at BBQ Tonight on the top floor of a tower, overlooking the city. Food was colorful, spicy at will, and delicious! The restaurant was packed. You could easily imagine yourself in Paris or New York City!
Under the theme Stringing ELT Pearls, the 30th SPELT Conference began on 5 September with an opening ceremony honoring the glorious history of the organization and its founders. In her opening plenary, titled “Reflecting on Your Classroom Practice Through Action Research,” Professor Burns encouraged teachers to engage in their own research and offered some useful guidelines as a prelude to her more in-depth workshop the following day.
See photos from the 2014 SPELT Conference
My keynote presentation was the next morning, and I called it “The Age of Nonnative English Speakers.” In it, I examined a number of global trends in the field of ELT and the need for teachers to participate in education policy development. I attended a fascinating workshop titled “Be the Dream Teacher” by Batool Ishaque, a young teacher in Karachi. Batool displayed exceptional skill as a presenter, as well as expertise in her topic. She used the memoir by Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie, as an introduction to her presentation. She then asked participants to close their eyes and imagine they were on their deathbed. Yes, really! “What,” she asked, “do you wish you had done better as a teacher?”
She asked participants to write down their answers, and a lively discussion ensued. She used the same technique to elicit illustrations of good teaching. What a creative way to invite participation!
On Sunday, Les Kirkham gave a keynote presentation called “The Effective Language Teacher: What Makes the Most Difference?” I also completed my final assignment: a workshop on challenges in the classroom and self-generated solutions. I had approximately 60 very lively participants, who generated a long list of challenges and solutions. At times, the conversation turned into a debate, and I had a hard time “controlling my students”! But it was fascinating to hear these mostly young teachers readily acknowledging that a problem first needs to be analyzed and understood before judgment can be passed and solutions developed. Their enthusiasm is unmatched in our jaded context. And the best part was that I only facilitated the conversation.
The conference in Karachi ended with a keynote presentation by Zakia Sarwar, titled “Empowering Learners to Enter the Golden Gates of English with Confidence,” in which the speaker discussed the notion of project-based learning in large classrooms. The closing ceremony included a traditional puppet show and a musical performance by Asif Sinan, a very talented rising star in Pakistan. It was the perfect closing!
On Monday, waiting on the runway at Jinnah airport, I looked out the window and recalled with fondness the last few days. I am inspired by the strength, courage, and zest for life displayed by the teachers I have had the privilege to meet in Karachi. Don’t believe what you hear in the media. I never felt threatened, unwelcome, or excluded. The teachers of SPELT are hard-working, highly capable professionals, who work incessantly to strengthen the ELT profession in their country. They deserve our highest respect.
Rich of this unforgettable experience, I wondered: What would happen if we would put English language teachers in charge of world affairs?
We would seek to understand rather than judge one another.
We would show compassion and sympathy for others rather than suspicion.
We would collaborate rather than compete.
We would share rather than fight.
We would communicate rather than argue.
We would focus on building a brighter future.
Now that’s an agenda many of us can treasure!
In times of violence, intolerance, and injustice, English language teachers may well be the true Peacemakers of the world.