How I Used My Time Wisely at TESOL 2019, USA

By Anthony Matthews, Assistant Director of Studies at ACE


Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be chosen to attend the TESOL 2019 conference in Atlanta, USA, from 12-15 March. ACE regularly sponsors teachers to attend international conferences, which gives us excellent opportunities for professional development. With about 6000 delegates, the TESOL conference is one of the largest ELT conferences in the world, and is held annually in a different US city. TESOL 2020 will be held in Denver, Colorado. You should definitely apply!



The application process is reasonably straightforward: you are required to submit an abstract and describe how your attendance at the conference would help your teaching in relation to your work at ACE. The key is to go to the TESOL conference website and ensure that you understand the submission guidelines and conference theme. Give some thought to the kind of presentation you want to deliver: a formal presentation, workshop or poster presentation. The website has clear requirements and advice for these submissions. The application is then blind-rated by suitably qualified IDP/ACE personnel. I focused on one aspect of my teaching that I wanted to improve, and I really think this is the best way to go. It leads to a clearer submission and a more thoughtful and useful presentation.

Once I received notification of the acceptance of my application, I went to the conference website to gather as much information as I could. Like most conferences these days, TESOL also has an app, which I immediately downloaded. One problem that most first-time conference delegates often face is feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of presentations. So, it is important to have clear goals about what you want to get out of the conference, and stick to a few conference streams. Give some thought to how you are going to manage, record and organise the huge amount of information to which you will be exposed. I took my tablet and organised my notes on Microsoft OneNote, which worked brilliantly. Other factors to consider are the facilities at the conference venue, such as public transport and restaurants, and the weather. Atlanta was quite cold, so I was glad to have a warm jacket! Finally, before you go, get some business cards to exchange.

As soon as you arrive at the conference, get the conference book, find a cafe, order a coffee and go through the rather large volume. Make a plan for each day the night before. TESOL 2019 was in both a convention centre and a hotel, so there was a lot of walking and racing between presentations. In the presentations, I made an effort to ask questions at the end, which often resulted in useful chats later. The best decision I made, however, was to schedule breaks: I wandered around the exhibitions, IT centre and poster presentations. These allowed me to enjoy what was on offer at a leisurely pace and talk to people one-on-one. I got a lot of incredible ideas and contacts, while being able to chill out and avoid presentation burnout.

So, what exactly did I gain from the conference? First, a long list of apps and websites for developing materials and classroom use. I also gained a deeper understanding of all the possibilities for giving feedback on writing tasks, which I have already implemented in my IELTS classes and shared with other teachers. More broadly, I now have a more extensive knowledge of emerging options in course design that I hope to apply to my work at ACE. Attending an international ELT conference can be career-changing and inspire you to take your teaching to a higher level.

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