Coll. 2006 - Impressions by John Hession

Impressions of the TESOL France Colloquium 2006: Innovation

By John Hession

I had been planning to open these reflections with 'There was palpable buzz in the air when we walked into the Telecom ParisTech building on Saturday morning'. However this was not the case as everyone tried to shake off the tiredness of the week, perhaps shake off the effects of Friday night's cocktail gathering, and find their way to their respective courses. Coming out of William Yeago's Innovations in Legal English however, the anticipated buzz had arrived: trainers; teachers; publishers; innovators and researchers all mixing and exchanging greetings and news. Brian Brennan of IH Barcelona overheard me telling a colleague we needed to track down this Brennan guy. He promptly introduced himself and shared information on teacher training courses we had been looking at on the net. Less gloriously, we also took the opportunity to poach a young promising teacher for our own school - but failed. Who said there are no ethical people in ELT?

Now call me a conference rookie (and you'd be right), but I was amazed at the big names on the programme. Mario Rinvolucri, a staple name on any EFL certificate or diploma reading list around the world; Dave Allan of NILE fame; Dave and Jane Willis, names often mentioned in the development of a more lexical focus in our teaching; and a personal favourite, Tonya Trappe, whose coursebook New Insights I have used on a regular basis since starting business English in La Defense five years ago (she could probably demand much in royalties if she managed to track me down).

A huge thanks to the above speakers and all the other trainers who were so generous with their time, resources (I believe many paid their own travel expenses) and energy. I was overwhelmed by the willingness of all the speakers to travel so far and share their ideas, sometimes to a rather critical audience. Huge thanks also goes to Michael, Ros, the Exexutive Committee ('ExCom') and all the volunteers who gave so generously of their time and brains in the name of improving levels of English language teaching in France. The programme was especially attractive and useful and everything ran smoothly, including some last minute event shuffling to accommodate the delayed plenary speaker Mario.

The title of the colloquium was Innovation, the idea being to shake the sclerotic among us (the 'one year experienced ten times brigade') out of our habits and make us think about new possibilities. My colleagues (and I must admit myself) were at first surprised at how open-ended the lectures were - we are rather used to being spoon fed ready-to-use exercises. 'I kept asking myself how I could use this stuff on Monday morning' was one colleague's lunch time reflection. Once we had accepted it was a colloquium of ideas, and applications in process, we began to relax, enjoy ourselves and be more open to experimental ideas that we may one day use in the classroom. Thus we were in the right frame of mind to enjoy Dave Vale's Toys and Teaching English, Jean Remi Lapaire's Body Motion Conceptualization and Tonya Trappes Shakespeare in the Intelligent Business English Classroom. (I was impressed with my colleagues's corporate Macbeth and Lady Macbeth roleplay acting... though talk of Oscars might be premature).

Reviews of individual talks will be available to members through the Newsletter, with some also being posted to the web-site. But I would like to take this chance to ask a few questions on two points of the weekend I found partcularly interesting: 1. the demographics of EFL teachers in France and 2. the extent to which teachers themselves set a poor example when they themselves are in the position of students.

Firstly, the audience seemed to be dominated by well established teachers with fifteen, twenty or even twenty five years of teaching experience. There were fewer people in their thirties and even fewer in their twenties. Does this truly reflect the make-up of language teachers in France? I understand that the kids who come over to France for a couple of years and teach English will not be terribly interested in long term teaching development; but where are all the teachers who have ridden out the first few panicky years, know the basics, still have plenty of hours hacking away at the coal face and are thus in a real position to try out new ideas? Have they all fled to more lucrative climes? Answers on the back of a postcard to TESOL France please.

Secondly, don't you hate students who show up late, don't switch their phones off, and slump like inverterbrates over the desks? I found myself guilty of all three cardinal sins on Friday afternoon. It is a most excellent practice being put in the position of student from time to time, it bridges the gap, and I might just be a little more patient when that Nokia next rings in class. This lesson, combined with all of the factual tidbits and new ideas presented over the two days made for a very enriching experience which I hope you all enjoyed as much as me.

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