The memory of IATEFL 2019 may be fading, but TDSIG still have something to share with you! We were very happy to welcome the winner of our Michael Berman Scholarship Adi Rajan at the 53rd annual conference in Liverpool. Here are his reflections on the week.

I have to start this post with a small confession. IATEFL sometimes doesn’t feel real to me. It’s all tweets, posts, and webinars. Paradoxically, these online connections have played a key role in my teacher development journey because I haven’t been able to find my PD tribe in my local context. And yet there’s an illusory, distant quality to digital communities underscored by fuzzy profile pictures and fleeting bursts of virtual camaraderie. But what could be more real than winning the Michael Berman scholarship and attending the IATEFL Annual Conference in Liverpool?

Steve Brown IATEFL TDSIG PCE plenary

Steve Brown during his PCE plenary

The reality didn’t, in fact, strike me until Steve Brown stood up at the TDSIG PCE to talk about social justice. I watched the livestream of Steve’s talk on Exploring ELT Emancipatory Practice in 2018 and here he was just a few feet away from me, delivering the sequel to that talk. The TDSIG and GISIG joint pre-conference event on exploring social justice in our practice was particularly relevant to me in light of some of the work I’ve been involved in recently. I actually worked on a project last year with one of the GISIG coordinators, focusing on empowering learners from marginalised communities. It was interesting that Steve, in his PCE plenary, suggested that we shouldn’t merely be aiming to empower (which he says is about succeeding within the existing system) but to emancipate. He framed this as moving away from education for maintaining the status quo to education as giving people the skills to make the world a better place.

Steve’s plenary was followed by a number of interesting talks. I was particularly interested in Lizzi Milligan’s talk on the inequity of EMI and Aymen Elsheikh’s possible solution to the challenges of EMI. There’s a proliferation of EMI across India with low-cost, low-quality schools poaching students from the state sector by offering the seductive carrot of English education to parents. Lizzi’s examples of confused students and a deterioration in learning from Rwanda could be true about schools in my own neighbourhood. Aymen’s suggestion of localizing EMI practices at the tertiary level to make them contextually relevant seemed practical. His example of medical students in Qatar learning in English and then going into hospital to treat patients who don’t speak English mirrors my own observations of the gap between higher education and workplace needs in South Asia.

I’d flown into the UK a couple days before the PCE from Australia and still hadn’t come to terms with the 11-hour time difference. Unfortunately, I was feeling a bit woozy that afternoon and missed Rose Aylett’s talk on bringing critical thinking and pedagogy into initial teacher-training courses. That’s a talk I regret missing because I may have been able to channel some insights into the CELTA courses I tutor on.

The actual conference was a great opportunity to catch up with people I’ve known online for yonks, go on a book buying binge, attend some interesting sessions and eat some dodgy curry-pie combos. I found all the plenaries enlightening and memorable. I loved Paula Rebolledo’s engaging style and incisive questions about how we perceive empowerment. John Gray’s erudite eye-opener on gender and sexuality in ELT got me reflecting on my own inaction in this area. It took me back to Steve who in his PCE plenary quoted Friere on the myth of neutrality: “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” With my own often ‘breathless optimism’ for technology, Lindsay Clandfield’s plenary on the language we use to talk about edtech was a much-needed wake-up call.

Lindsay Clandfield IATEFL plenary

Lindsay Clandfield during his plenary

It was brilliant to see Tessa Woodward, Brian Tomlinson and Scott Thornbury in person. They were as entertaining and informative as I imagined they would be. But the standout session in my opinion was David Nunan and Julie Choi’s workshop on co-constructing teaching and learning through multi-modal tasks, incidentally a part of the TDSIG showcase. They shared three types of tasks (language trajectory grids, language portraits and language mapping) for encouraging learners to reflect metacognitively and develop a deeper connection with the language they’re learning.

I have recently moved from India to Australia. Although it’s a country I’m familiar with because I used to live there, I am naturally apprehensive about finding meaningful work and getting involved in projects that contribute to my development as a teacher educator. The Michael Berman Scholarship couldn’t have come at a better time because meeting people from around the world at the conference reminded me about the diverse range of professional opportunities and possibilities that exist within our field. I feel a renewed sense of optimism about the new and interesting challenges I may have to tackle and I’m grateful to TDSIG for giving me this opportunity explore and reflect on how I can continue to develop as a teacher.

So, you want to apply for the TDSIG scholarship?

If you’re a TDSIG member and you’d like the chance to attend the IATEFL conference – next taking place in Manchester from 18 to 21 April 2020 – full details about the award and applying can be found on the IATEFL website (note that details of all 22 scholarship awards can be found on this webpage, if you want to get straight to the info on our TDSIG award, then click here)