As we were driving back home from the Lyon airport, my husband asked me “What do you get out of it? Why do you do all this?” He was talking about conferences: spending hours researching and rehearsing a 45-minute talk, sacrificing entire days to traveling for a 3-day conference in a faraway country, and forking out hundreds of my own euros to do so. It’s a legitimate question. Why does one do such a thing? Madness, some may argue…
And I thought about it. My first reaction was “It’s just part of the job.” But no. It’s not. Think about all the teachers you know in your school, in your city, in your area. How many others do it? Teaching is part of the job. Doing a bit of admin is part of the job. Professional development should be part of the job, but sadly it’s a bit like going to the gym. You really mean to, but somehow time always runs short. So it gets pushed into the endless string of tomorrows.
So I thought some more. “Because I like it.” I also like devouring plate-fulls of good tiramisu, but that doesn’t mean I do it regularly. Sure, there is a fun element to conferences—you get to hang out with colleague-friends (other than on Facebook), see a bit of the local landscape, and maybe even pull an all-nighter at a club somewhere. The perks of the profession, perhaps.
“What do you get out of it?” After scratching the proverbial surface, here’s how I answered that question.
I do it because conferences offer the chance to join a big international family who love what they do in life. We are all for sharing ideas. We help each other grow professionally in the classroom and on the conference stage. We come away feeling like we’re on a journey to becoming better teachers and, yes, better people.
Then there are the opportunities to grow your career, more like a tree than like a ladder. Teaching can branch out to (course)book writing, article writing, publishing work, teacher training, speaking gigs, creating your own company, and whatever you want to connect it to as long as you find a way. This in turn feeds back into your teaching practice, each activity fueling the other for fresh ideas, engagement, and interest. I realized a few years back that I could either stay on the hamster wheel at my last company or add variety and excitement to my career. Let’s just say I never really cared for hamsters…
Also, I thought back to the people I’ve met since I started “conferencing,” just a few years ago. I know that if I need help, have a question, or just want to strike up a good debate these people are there. I have found my Personal Learning Network, my PLN. Ela Wassel, in her talk (which I unfortunately missed, but heard LOTS of people rave about) at the 2013 IATEFL Poland conference demonstrated the strength of a PLN:
Holding up a single pencil, she started to bend it. The pencil represented the teacher; the force she exerted, the pressures of teaching life. The pencil snapped and splinters flew into the air. Then, she held up a bundle of pencils. “This is you and your PLN. Just try to break this!” And tears were shed in the audience.
And if you’re looking to grow your own PLN, Ela’s blog has some great resources: http://elawassell.wordpress.com/
So what do I get out of it? All of the above and so much more.
And you. What do you get out of it? Why do you do all this?