The TESOL International Convention is always an enormous event with thousands of participants and presenters from all over the world. While at times overwhelming, it can be a thrilling and invigorating few days surrounded by some of the biggest names in our profession. The convention was held in Toronto a few years ago and it gave many the opportunity to go the conference for the first time. This year, the conference was held in Seattle, Washington from March 21st to 24th, and I was lucky enough to attend. The conference serves as an excellent way to discover some of the most current research, teaching ideas, and new resources in the field, but also, discuss and reflect on the most pressing issues in our field.
Without a doubt, one dominating theme throughout the conference was the current political situation both in the United States and around the world, and how this impacts us as (English) language teachers. In a world of increasing isolationism, xenophobia, and even racism (both implicit and at times explicit), the question of how we as English language teachers (re)affirm our values of inclusiveness, multiculturalism, multilingualism and diversity was consistently posed. For many of the plenary speakers, this was part of, or the dominating element, of their talks. The past U.S. election, BREXIT, and the recent U.S. travel ban served to push these issues to the forefront.
There was a sombre acknowledgement that some people simply could not attend the conference because of the travel ban. By show of hands in one plenary talk, some teachers working in the U.S. noted a feeling of unease as the political situation in their own country left them in a potentially perilous position where the travel ban, and also the general climate, will likely affect how many students go to the United States to study. If there are no students, who will they teach?
The presidential keynote, given by Dudley Reynolds, truly drove the message home. He noted that his initial plan for the keynote address had drastically changed over the past year as he saw the need for both the TESOL organization, and all (English) language teachers, to reaffirm our values. We need to ‘profess our profession’ as he eloquently put it. In times of intolerance and heightened xenophobia, it is now more important than ever to reaffirm what it means to be an (English) language teacher. Our profession embraces diversity, difference, multilingualism and multiculturalism. This brings the political and the professional together, and while perhaps discomforting, it is how it must be. As professionals, we have our professional values, and we must stand for these. Now, more than ever.
It was a whirlwind few days, but as always, I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you were at the convention, feel free to add your own impressions/experiences below. I’d love hear about them.