“What do you get out of it?”

02 Oct

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:

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?


Posted by on October 2, 2013 in Random reflections


Tags: , ,

3 responses to ““What do you get out of it?”

  1. Tom Ewens

    October 2, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Hi Christina

    I think that a lot of people, myself included, speak at conferences and write articles etc partly in order to further a career and get rewards further down the road. For example, my work with the round and with teachitworld will hopefully lead to more stuff in the future, if I keep plugging away at it. Of course, it’s not the only reason why I do it, I find writing very satisfying in and of itself. But it is a factor certainly.

    For younger writers/conference speakers like you and I, the rewards are not really as great as someone more experienced who, on the basis of a body of work developed over a number of years, gets invited by major publishers or the BC to speak around the world or consultant on new projects etc.

    What you’re doing now is just the start 😉 go for it!

    • RebuffetBroadus

      October 2, 2013 at 7:12 pm

      Indeed, Thomas, you’re right. There is an element of investment too, hoping that it will lead to bigger and better things in the future. But if that were the only reason, I think many of us would have given up quite some time ago. You really have to love the work for the work. But if you do, good things will come to you because people will see how much you care and how you aim for quality.

      Although I might have to disagree with you about the rewards not being as great. In terms of money, true. No major publishers are sponsoring me yet (although Macmillan, DELTA publishing, Pearson, and co., feel free to contact me 😉 ) and so most of what I do comes out of pocket. No financial rewards there.

      But in terms of professional development and renewed energy, I think young conference goers get more out of the experience. I recently heard a top figure in ELT say “If I’m going to come to a conference, I’m going to do a lot of presentations to make the trip worth my while. I’m not just going to attend sessions.” He or she has perhaps reached a point in their career where they have found their path and are more interested in sharing their experience than taking from others. I’m not sure people like this get as much out of conferences as we do. There seems to be a “been there done that” undertone there. Depends on what you mean by “getting more out of it” I suppose.

      Anyway thanks for the encouragement–you too! Hope to see you giving another talk some time in the near future!

  2. Martin Sketchley

    October 3, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    I love to attend conferences to hear from ‘real-life’ teachers rather than the famous giving their talks at conferences. I can relate more to those teachers that are currently sharing their experiences.

    However, there is a place for the famous ELT names at conferences but I do enjoy and appreciate those that make the effort to make their experiences heard. So a big thank you for deciding to attend conferences and network with other teachers. It is often an activity with little financial reward but with greater professional reward. 🙂


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