TESOL 2015: What Keeps a Long-Time TESOLer Coming Back


TESOL 2015 Convention Blog Post

Toronto TESOL will be my 23rd TESOL convention, and, of course, I’ve experienced just about everything the conference offers. I’ve attended sessions, volunteered, browsed the exhibition area, and networked at receptions. I’ve presented, but received more rejections than acceptances; I’ve attended interest section meetings, but never held an office of any significance; I’ve interviewed for teaching positions, but didn’t get the “dream job”; I’ve had my conference expenses funded some years, but other years I’ve paid my own way. In short, I represent the typical TESOL convention attendee. What makes me atypical, however, is that I keep coming back. Here’s why:

People: Making Connections

TESOL conventions help me connect with PEOPLE, renew professional relationships, and meet up with old friends. After so many conventions, I even recognize names in the program—presenters whose sessions I particularly liked, authors of textbooks I’ve used, TESOL office holders I’ve voted for. I don’t know them personally, but I’ve established a familiarity that’s similar to the background knowledge so important for our English language learners. I also seem to have a family member or friend outside of our profession in almost every TESOL convention city. The chance to visit people like my college roommate in Portland, my aunt in Denver, and my former special education colleague in New York (three times!) has been icing on my TESOL cake, ending a professional week on a personal note.

Place: Meeting Face-to-Face

TESOL conventions give me a PLACE to meet other professionals. Even though technology allows us to communicate easily from anywhere, a tangible place to gather is still important. I used Betty Azar’s grammar books throughout much of my career, but hearing her speak in person at TESOL made a big impression. Yes, I could email my question to Roger Rosenthal from the Migrant Legal Action Program, but it’s even more useful to hear him patiently answer everybody else’s legal questions, too. Even now when we can learn so much from each other through blogs, tweets, and texts, we still need real faces, not just Facebook.

Purpose: Completing a Learning Mission

Finally, TESOL conventions give me a PURPOSE. I’ve had a different learning mission for every convention I’ve attended, often because my teaching position had changed. It’s quite likely this will happen in your career, too, and TESOL conventions are a great way to move your development in a new direction.

My early years were spent in sessions about intensive English programs in higher education. Later, as I studied for an MBA and did private language training, the convention provided professional development in business English. More recently, as the lone ESOL teacher in my elementary school, the convention gives me a valuable opportunity to share with other ESOL teachers from all over the country. I’ve lived in five different states plus Japan and held numerous teaching positions.

Throughout all of this change, the one constant in my career has been attending TESOL conventions. Perhaps this is the real reason I keep coming back. Fellow attendees, I hope you do, too!

Why do you keep coming back to convention?

About Barbara Gottschalk

Barbara Gottschalk
Barbara Gottschalk is a veteran educator. She has taught English language learners from first graders to graduate students in five states in three very different parts of the United States plus Japan. Gottschalk has written many successful grants and served as a grant reviewer for TESOL, the National Education Association, and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of English Language Acquisition. She is the author of "Get Money for Your Classroom: Easy Grant Writing Ideas That Work" and "Dispelling Misconceptions About English Language Learners: Research-Based Ways to Improve Instruction."
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