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Beyond the Booth at Boston TESOL 2010

March 29, 2010

When Ben Buckwold of Red River Press invited me to join him at the TESOL conference, I was excited and nervous about the opportunity. Writers like me often end up behind the scenes. We get caught up in deadlines, revisions, and blogs and start to doubt our own ability to interact with the real world. My friends and family are often shocked to hear that I've worked with managers, editors, and writers for years at a time without ever meeting these people face-to-face. Tools like email, chat, and even the good old telephone have made it possible for writers to do business without shaking hands or looking real humans in the eye. While I couldn't do my job without the Internet, I have Boston to thank for reminding me of the importance of real humans.

7 Things I learned at the Boston TESOL Conference

1. New Friends are a Wealth of Inspiration

As a writer I rely heavily on inspiration for my materials. I think this is something teachers and writers have in common. New friends bring new stories, and without stories your well can run dry. Whether they come from a passenger beside you on the airplane or a colleague from across the miles, new stories can renew your creativity. When is the last time you took the time to make a new friend? A teacher's conference or workshop may be just what you need!

2. Facebook Can Stand In for Face-to-Face

Facebook came in handy this week when an international phone call (just to Canada) rang in at 18 dollars a minute. While saying good night to my six year old via her father's Facebook page was not the same as reading her a bedtime story, it certainly was better than nothing! ESL Library has recently joined the Facebook world in order to connect with teachers from around the world. If you use materials from the library, please join us on Facebook so that we can get to know each other and discuss educational trends and needs. Next time we're at a conference together we can arrange to meet face-to-face!

3. One Creature's Criticism is another Person's Praise

While subscription based websites sometimes get criticized by the online community, I was pleased by the number of teachers I met this week who called ESL Library's $60/per year membership fair, reasonable, and affordable. A representative from one of the larger publishers questioned what right RRP had to practically 'give teaching materials away'. While a few teachers admitted they didn't have room in their budget for another subscription, not one suggested that all flashcards and lessons should be free. Teachers from Egypt, Mexico, and Korea expressed excitement in being able to access the content on a trial basis before joining from across the globe. One American teacher had concerns about Canadianisms that occasionally crop up in our materials, and another international teacher thanked us heartily for the range of content and themes.

4. Teachers Rarely have just One Job

Asking a teacher at a TESOL conference what she does for a living is a dangerous question! I expected teachers to share information about the level or age or skill they taught. Instead many teachers spoke heavily of their multifaceted jobs as administrators, volunteers, board members, teacher-trainers, and examiners. With their heavy bags of books and manuals, teachers at the conference were relieved to find sites like ESL Library, Brain Pop, and English Central to offer a helping hand.

5. Tweechers are Celebrities

In the twittersphere we sometimes forget that not all tweechers are teachers. As I tried to find new teachers to follow at the conference I was shocked to learn that there are far more twitter skeptics than believers in the TEFL industry. Meeting @JudieHaynes and @NadiaNassif felt a bit like meeting a famous person! We also found some new tweeters like @TeachingIdeas while following the #TESOL and #tesol2010 tags. Thank you to all of the tweeters like @NemaVeze who were tweeting from the sessions.

 6. The Best Conversations are Overheard

As I sat back to relax on my plane back to Canada, I listened in on a conversation between two teachers behind me sharing impressions about the conference. They discussed their travels in Boston, including a trip to Harvard and a hunt for Betty Azar. Later in the customs line up I heard teachers saying how choosing the right session was 'the luck of the draw' and how their presentations had gone better than planned. It confirmed our team's plan to participate in the sessions next year and take a break from the exhibition hall.

7. Adventures Don't Need Backup Plans

Do Bostonians have a secret plan to send tourists in the wrong direction? Maybe! We covered a lot more of the city than we would have with just a map. My trip to Boston reminded me that you don't always need a backup plan. You can bring a phone, but you can't expect it to work. You can rent a table, or you can improvise with a box. Your USB flash drive might not survive the turbulence, but hopefully you have a husband who can keep you calm. Mine just rescued all of the work I completed in Boston as I wrote this blog! Even if your airplane turns around before you reach your destination, you'll still find your way. I did!

A special thank you to all of the teachers and administrators who stopped by Red River Press at the TESOL conference. Some of you came by to say hello and tell us you are already satisfied members. Others took a few moments to try out one of our new language learning apps or offer suggestions. It was great chatting with each one of you. See you in New Orleans! 

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