Now, back from New Orleans, it’s hard to believe that this was my first TESOL conference. As much as I’m a true “prairie girl” as Ashley calls me, I loved the excitement of N.O. with its rich history and southern charm. Some highlights of the city:
—-The ghost tour in the French Quarter and visiting the voodoo shop with the signs: “Don’t touch the altar!” “Seriously, DON’T touch the altar!!” “REALLY, you will have very BAD luck if you touch the altar!!!”
—-A trolley ride through the Garden District with the lovely old homes, huge oak trees, and the remains of Mardi Gras beads still hanging from power lines.
—- Trying to ask the cute waiter at a British restaurant what “Spotted Dick Pudding” was. (O.K. this was after two free drinks at the hotel’s Happy Hour).
—-Knowing that teachers in the ELP had as much to offer as the presenters I saw.
Looking through the TESOL Convention Program Book was overwhelming, so I tended to only study the next half day in advance and choose from those presentations. It seemed that what caught my interest was in two main areas:
1.) very practical ideas for teaching the different skills of listening, pronunciation, and reading
2.) ways to raise social awareness in the classroom.
Some key ideas from this mixture:
—There are more basic rules about stress and intonation than I was aware of that can be taught to ESL students with simple and real life practice techniques.
—Going from an oral culture into a written culture affects so much of how some of our students write, beyond ways I had ever thought about.
—We no longer should have the designation of native or non-native English speaker (paraphrased from keynote speaker Alastair Pennycook).
—What excites teachers and students and motivates learning often has to do with our human need to be creative.
—Just because students seem uncomfortable talking about an issue doesn’t mean they aren’t inwardly longing to discuss it.
—Five elements one institution found necessary for a productive discussion group:
access to all information, rejection of hierarchy, common commitment to logic, free of coercion, and rule of law.
—Those of us who know English have a financial resource, while those who want to learn English face a financial burden (also paraphrased from Alastair Pennycook).
—-One of my favorite sessions was “Social Justice Language Teacher Education” and lasted two hours with six different presenters. For one of these, a university professor and a public school principal in Hong Kong read parts of e-mails to each other about establishing a classroom for high school children with special needs in a system that rarely had such a thing. In another one, a woman from South Africa read aloud some of her students’ poems. Many of these students were studying English as a third or even fourth language and some had no adult in the home, due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in that country. I was able to buy one of the poetry books that she sells in South Africa. There are brief bios of the students included and Ellen Conroy found this quote from Themba Kula, “I love those who are positive about life. I like this world and it is like a big classroom where experiences are your teachers and ideas are your test and the answers are up to you.”
A poem by Judge Love
Do I have to lie about my mother?
Tell me that when I was a small boy
I used to wait in a bus stop every weekday
wait for my mother and help her with
purchases and parcels.
And that on SUNDAY we used to get together as a family
and eat a Sunday meal.
and that before I go to school I fill my pocket bags with fruit?
Taken from: Thebuwa, Poems from Ndofaya Lamula Jubilee High School, Soweto
After the presentation, I spoke to Denise Newfield who helped compile this book. I told her that I also wrote poetry and was moved by the poems she read. She said she would convey this to her students, who would be very happy to hear this. (In 1984, during Apartheid, I briefly worked with a social worker in South Africa, teaching ESL to children who couldn’t go to school as their parents were illegal workers on farms.)
Another great highlight was watching a live readers’ theatre performance based on classroom research, “Queer as a Second Language.”
If you’d like to hear more about any of these topics, come see me. I’d love to discuss these ideas.
Above all else, being at the conference reminded me that what we bring to the students beyond what they could get from a book or a computer is a sense of our common humanity. As teachers in the 21st century, may we never forget that.