IATEFL 2016 – Collecting stories

With the opening plenary given by David Crystal – a man who tells such wonderful stories about the English language (was it really 20 years ago I first saw him speak during my English A-Level?) and the closing plenary by Jan Blake – I’m so looking forward to her stunning storytelling (and if you haven’t seen her -though words never fail her they do me in my efforts to describe her! Prepare yourself for something very special), I feel the title of this blog a fitting theme for my #iatefl2016.

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Not forgetting, either, that this is the 50th IATEFL. I can’t imagine the incredible stories this amazing organisation has collected over that time span. Or the stories made and remembered by its delegates. When I think back to my first IATEFL and the impact it has had on my career I feel certain it has touched very many countless others too.
My first IATEFL was Harrogate 2006 (10 years!) and that location always holds a place close to my heart. By a stroke of extraordinary luck, almost as if by design, in 2005 I started lecturing alongside two incredible woman at Innsbruck University. Now, I was lecturing alongside lots of people in the Anglistik department there. But it just so happens that my office had an adjoining door to that of Carol Spöttl and Janice Schießtl.

If that adjoining door hadn’t existed, or if it had adjoined to another pairing of lecturers, my career may have looked a little more like this: native speaker does well in context due to fact of being native speaker (hmmm, makes me think of a plenary talk I’m looking forward to in a few days!). Bit of a cushy number that.  Little need for development! I’m a god in my classroom! No one knows English as well as I do, right?! Decades of lessons from a drawer, vindicated by the four walls within which I exist. I’d never have had to bother scrimping together my meager wage to self fund a trip to IATEFL. No need, as other lecturers of that time told me. I’d know my stuff without needing to venture outside. “IATEFL? Not my thing” I would say. Yup. As an English language practitioner, teacher and “researcher”, I’d still justify (to me self, somehow) an international conference about English language teaching wasn’t my thing (in the interest of storytelling, any resemblance in the above to any real & living character is pure coincidence).

That didn’t happen. Instead, the path walked through that adjoining door became a literal and metaphorical career path, opened up for me by two of the greatest mentors a 26 year old linguistics geek could wish for.

Carol & Janice started out teaching at Innsbruck University by virtue of being part of a handful of native speakers married to native Tyroleans. They had about 3 decades there behind them when I moved in to that office. Now, another entirely coincidental and fictional character I have just invented told me that after only two decades’ teaching you didn’t need further training or ideas. Yet Carol and Janice were talking animatedly about some conference they go to every year and was I interested? Sounds like fun, I thought. Can’t afford it, no funding, but really – can’t afford not to! Carol & Janice kindly offered to book a suite (in the Majestic!) so I could stay with them, saving the hotel costs, and I saved up the rest for travel & fees.

And I really haven’t looked back since! Following my mentors around, feeling very overwhelmed, I picked up a sense of their IATEFL stories. Though watching their interactions with IATEFL stalwarts (passionate and dedicated people who, while every delegate adds something, have contributed much to the progress, history, success and stories of the organisation), through starting to see links in their past attendance and the quality of their work then (not to mention their job satisfaction), and through hearing them and these other fascinating people share their stories over long and wordy evening dinners.

Carol & Janice would not have allowed me, even if I’d wanted to, to get my lessons out of a drawer for decades at a time. Though they didn’t need to drag me, kicking and screaming, to Harrogate 2006. Watching them push themselves to develop, searching for opportunities for training, reflecting and asking themselves uncomfortable questions about what works in the language classroom enough to convince me; simply inspirational. That was enough to show me the kind of practitioner I want to be. That’s what I want to share with my students, colleagues and the institutions I work for. That’s what I want to share with the local context I work in.

And you cannot do that alone. Nothing has changed since our ancestors shared their stories around a glowing fire, the older generation passing on valuable wisdom to the next as Carol & Janice did (and continue to do) with me. Stories are meant to be shared and for those in our field IATEFL is an incredible opportunity to get together and do just that (there are others, though – or just make them!).

Every IATEFL has touched me and my career. And, honestly, when I compare Carol & Janice’s stories over the years to those of the entirely fictional characters I made up above, they win hands down. Those are the kinds of stories I want to have in 3 decades!

Looking forward to creating and sharing stories of the great #iatefl2016! Who’s with me?!

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