Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Teaching Conference and Meeting An Idol

The second half of July had one big highlight for me: the IATEFL Chile conference in Santiago.

For those who are not familiar with the acronym, IATEFL stands for the International Conference for the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language.  Every year they have a conference with workshops, speakers, vendors, and teachers from all over Chile and sometimes from other parts of Latin America.  The plenary speakers could come from all over the world, and it's always exciting to meet and hear from experts in English language teaching.

The conference was Friday the 18th and Saturday the 19th, and due to my work schedule I had to teach my Friday morning class.  Luckily my boss was able to give me the rest of Friday off.  I missed the opening ceremony and first plenary speaker, but I still got to attend most of Friday.

As with each conference I go to, there was an interesting mix of presentations.  A few were really useful, some were ok, and unfortunately some were not really that great.  Despite that, it was good seeing professional contacts that I hadn't seen since similar events last year.

There were three presentations that really stuck out to me.

The first one was by Gustavo Gonzalez.  He presented about small ways to incorporate technology into the classroom.  He showed some websites and tools we can use that we can prepare and use in class that don´t require an internet connection, and he gave really good examples of what he´s done in a variety of ways.  He was really enthusiastic, and it seemed like it rubbed off on everyone who attended.

Another one was by Paul Seligson.  His big thing is about being sure that we are teaching to the needs of our students (Spanish speakers as opposed to any other language) and to not feel boxed in or restricted by textbooks that dumb down what students are capable of understanding and communicating.  He also encourages teachers to use comparative strategies between English and Spanish to help students think about similarities and differences between the languages and help their learning.  His sociocultural approach really struck a chord with me, as I also like to draw upon what my students know to build a foundation for their learning.

I got to chat with him a bit after his presentation, and he was gracious enough to pose for a picture with me.

The last speaker was Stephen Krashen.  Yes, THE STEPHEN KRASHEN.

For those readers who aren't familiar with him, Stephen Krashen has been (in my opinion) the most influential researcher and contributor to language teaching and second language acquisition from the 20th century until now.  He has written over 450 scholarly articles about effective language learning and has traveled all over the world to speak to and inspire teachers.

I remember learning about his theories of comprehensible input, the affective filter, and the silent period (just to name a few) as an undergraduate at Occidental, and they formed the basis of my learning for effective language teaching.

He captivated me for two hours.  He's a real storyteller and used dramatic pauses, real life stories related to his research and that of others, and anecdotes about his family.  He came across as really down to earth, and after his presentation he made himself available to talk to people, sign autographs, and take pictures.

Seeing that I went to college in Los Angeles and he was an education professor at USC, you'd think that I would have had the chance to meet him.  That didn't happen during my 8 years in California, but it happened here in Santiago.

I was nervous as I approached him.  I shook his hand and thanked him for the presentation and told him about my undergraduate experience learning about languages and how much he has influenced my teaching career.  I then got a picture with him:

Meeting Stephen Krashen was something that was on my professional bucket list, and it was a really amazing experience to have met him.

The conference gave me a lot to think about in regards to my teaching style, how I and my students use Spanish in the classroom, and finding small ways to incorporate technology into my teaching.  I'm glad I went and I'm already looking forward to the next conference (TESOL Chile) in October.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Escaping the City

A few weekends ago I took my annual winter weekend trip to Viña del Mar.

This time I decided to find a place to stay in a different way.  I searched on, and after some searching I contacted a potential host.  She told me that the guest room in her apartment was available, and so I booked it for $30 a night.

The location was really nice.  It was a block from the beach, and the view from the balcony was amazing.  Aysa is from Russia and is living with her Chilean boyfriend, and they have a cat that is a bit on the crazy side.  I got to know them the night I arrived and over breakfast the following two mornings, and it was interesting hearing what they were doing with their lives.  She works as a translator, and he works with software development and translation.

It was cold at night, but the weather warmed up during the day.  I took the chance to walk along the beach, around the city, and eat some delicious food while writing in my blog and reflecting on what has happened in the first half of 2014.

So, what has happened in this first half of the year?

Professionaly, I started my new job teaching at the Chilean IRS.  The students are motivated, my classes almost never cancel, and my boss is great.  I'm developing teaching materials and my methods, and I'm growing professionally.  In order to pay back my student loans and save for the future I still need to teach some private classes in the evenings, but at least I have a steady paycheck.

Socially, I have ventured out and left my comfort zone a bit.  I've made some new friends and have made the effort to spend time with the friends that invite me out.  Sometimes I have gotten lazy and decided just to stay in and be lazy, and I'm finding the balance between social time and time to myself.

Despite the successes, I still struggle with the culture.  I've invited some friends out to do things or over to my apartment, and my invitations have been ignored from time to time.  Sometimes I'm told that they don't know what they are doing on that particular day yet, and it leaves me with the impression that they are waiting to see if something better comes along and that I'm only one of multiple available options to them.  Other times people make plans with me, we confirm them the day before, but they still cancel at the last minute without explanation or even apologizing.

I know that people in Chile think differently, and I also know that I tend to take things personally.  I also know that I'm very much the type that plans things in advance, while things here are more spontaneous.  Despite that, not responding to invitations and flaking at the last minute without explanation is downright rude.

Knowing all of this, the challenge for me is to figure out how much time and energy I invest into a friendship, how much I give people the benefit of the doubt, and at what point I decide to focus my energy elsewhere and not worry about them anymore.

On a more positive note, I have started some new, healthier habits.  Green cleaning is easy, and I much prefer the natural scents than those of harsh chemicals.  I've been cooking at home more, and doing so is helping me to eat healthier and save money to spend in other ways.

I'm still struggling with exercising, but I'm working to stay patient with myself and find ways to get exercise into my daily routine.

Change is also another thing that came up during my visit to Viña.  How so?

One of the things I was looking forward to was eating at Lime Fresh, a Mexican restaurant that I visited my last few times in Viña.  To my dismay, it has gone out of business.

I was disappointed and was left hungry and trying to figure out where to eat.  There was the TGI Friday's that I had eaten at before, but it was something familiar and also quite pricey for my budget.  I decided to check out some of the small restaurants and cafes in the area, and I settled on one a few blocks from where I was staying.  I got a nice meal with lentils, bread, a drink, spaghetti and meatballs, and a dessert for about $8.  

Stepping outside of my comfort zone (and being open to the idea of change) saved me some money and also showed me a new place that I can eat at the next time I'm back in town.

The situation was a nice reminder that change can be good and that I shouldn't fear it and avoid it as much as I have in the past.

To end this blog post, I leave you with some pictures of the weekend:

breakfast of bread, fresh fruit, juice, tea, and an omlette
Maya the crazy cat
Hot chocolate and a cinnamon roll, some nice comfort food
lentils with bread and butter to start the meal
spaghetti with meatballs
The view from the balcony of where I stayed

Another view from the balcony