So here I am. Sat on the train to Manchester feeling alone. Perhaps, more alone than I have felt for a long time. I have just experienced something that I feel is going to be very hard to put into words, but an experience that I don’ t think I will ever forget.
This blog post is about my IATEFL conference experience. If you’re expecting a breakdown of the sessions I went to and a summary of the conference content, I suggest you stop reading now.
This was my first ever IATEFL conference and I was also co presenting there, my second presentation in as many weeks. This was a huge event for me. Nervous, excited and not really knowing what to expect, I arrived in Glasgow unaware of what I was about to experience.
The first sign of what was to come happened on the Saturday night before the conference. I had the pleasure of meeting Chia Suan Chong, Mike Hogan, ceciELT and Bruno Andrade for drinks. I had never met any of these people and only knew Chia through twitter, yet from the beginning I felt instantly comfortable and at ease. I’ m usually not that good at meeting people. Shy and reluctant to open up through fear of simply not being that interesting I found myself opening up and warming to these relative strangers, who at the end of the week I would feel privileged to call friends.
On Sunday I was exchanging texts with Jemma Gardner, again someone who I had never met, yet we had regularly read and commented on each others blogs for the last 6 months or so. On the Monday, after registering at the conference, we met face to face for the first time. We walked and talked, we drank coffee and talked, we searched Glasgow for a portable phone charger and talked. We met Willy Cardoso, who I had the pleasure of meeting the previous weekend in Bilbao, and we continued to talk. The reason I mention the word talk so much is because I simply don’t do it a lot. If you ask my parents, my brother or any of my close friends they would say the same. I prefer to listen, I learn more that way. I always feel as though I don’t have the right to comment on things as I don’t have the experience or knowledge to do so. Yet, I felt a new sense of connection with the people I was meeting. I was talking freely and with confidence, creating or maybe discovering some sort of new identity.
That same night, Gemma and I met with Willy, Luke Meddings, Lindsay Clanfield and Candy Van Olst. I had briefly met Luke at the TDSIG unplugged conference and swapped messages on Twitter. This might have been the ultimate opportunity to bend his ear about Dogme and other teaching matters. But instead, we talked about football, politics and father son relationships. It was an incredible experience. To sit down and open up like that with someone was a rarity for me and somewhat profound.
We moved on to the Karaoke night and I was introduced to more and more people who I followed through twitter. We talked and we joked. We were establishing a connection that would be maintained throughout the rest of the conference. That same night I had the great pleasure of meeting Shelley Terrell for the very first time, who insisted on calling me Kevin for the entire night. I found out that I was the only person at the whole conference not following her on twitter. I discovered that she wrote beautiful poetry and worked nonstop around the world promoting the use of technology in teaching. I met Adam Simpson, Hakan “the man that can”, Hugo and many others that night. And , on returning home in the early hours, I knew that this was going to be something special.
The next day, all the people I had met went out of their way to stop and say hello, not out of politeness but because they were generally interested and wanted to maintain the connection from the previous night. This continued throughout the conference. You never really felt alone, there was always someone to talk to or meet for the first time and share ideas with.
The conference continued and we attended presentations on all sorts of areas. Taking notes, blogging and tweeting what was happening. As good as some of the presentations were, I couldn’t help but think that I was actually learning more from the dialogues I was having with the teachers in between the presentations and at the social functions, than from the sessions I was going to. In his presentation, Willy Cardoso talked about the need for more feedback between teachers and (this was my personal take on it) he said that we only really learn about ourselves and the world around us from engaging in a dialogue with somebody else. This couldn’t be more true, and was exactly what I was experiencing at the conference. These thoughts were echoed by other teachers I met. Theteacherjames and I talked about this and many other issues and I regret not introducing myself earlier. From the short, but intense time we spent together I again felt a common connection. I was also lucky enough to spend time with Anthony Gaughn, who I think I could sit and listen to about a whole array of subjects, yet no matter what it was he would do it with the same equalled passion.
I could go on and on about the people I met. If I haven’t mentioned you in this blog post it’s nothing personal, I just don’t think I would stop writing.
My experience of the conference was an emotional one, sparked by the people I met and the dialogues we had. I felt as though I belonged. A feeling I have never really felt, despite Spending 6 years in the British Army where your life depends on that of the people you work with. For once I felt like I was on the inside, instead of on the edge looking in. I have left the conference with a feeling of inspiration, an inspiration to go on and be a better teacher and even a better person.
To all the people I met, thank you.