TESOL sessions attended and Kazakhstan’s education

Starting early at my first 7:30 a.m. session, which feels like mid-day to me in my jet-lagged state, I learned more about a new tool called Lexile.  The session was titled “Using TOEFL Reading Scores to Differentiate Instruction.” I’ll learn more about this at the Technology Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall sponsored by ETS and the TOEFL Assessment “U.”  Knowing more about this will help with improving our Kazakh students reading scores.

Next session from 8:30-9:30 were three “luminary speakers” in the Grand Ballroom discussing “TESOL: Past, Present and Future.” Funny, especially Andy Curtis, but the other two Kathi Bailey and David Nunan were mildly entertaining.  They could have left off their political commentary going back to the 1960s when TESOL first started.  They depicted in their powerpoint, my Cold War heroes, President Ronald Reagan as a two-bit actor and Margaret Thatcher as a shop-keeper’s daughter.  They mimicked a lot from Obama, so clearly the presenters thoughts were that all smart people voted for Obama and the other side were idiots. Not too luminary in their thinking on that score.

From 10:00 to 10:45 I went to the Westin hotel next to the HUGE convention center to see my friend from the University of Minnesota who has made a name for herself working in the ITA (intl. teaching assistants) program I started out teaching once I got my Masters degree in 1990.  The title was intriguing “What ITAs should know about U.S. Nonverbal Classroom communication.” Colleen wasn’t there so I hope to catch up with her today.  I went to the Publishers Hall and bought some things like textbooks and other gift items.

The best session I attended with 50 people in the room was titled “Where’s the Money!!” Achieving Program Financial Stability” by Dr. Jim Pettersson. He explained in 45 minutes how their Language Center went from being state-appropriated funded to being self-funded. He explained the reasons for the change and the advantages and disadvantages.  He had a very thorough handout that discussed his business plan, the marketing used, enrollment and tuition compared to the competition.  Very informative.

Then at 12:30 I attended the poster sessions and wanted to find out more about how one person from New Orleans used movies in the ESL classroom.  That interest also coincides with my going to the ETS booth and getting another YouTube video done of me where I talk about using video clips in the classroom to encourage students to write.  Especially those clips that have surprise endings, the students WANT to express themselves.  Other good sessions were represented in one big room with handouts galore.

At 1:00 to 1:45 I attended a Discussion group session that was very appropriate for my situation in my new job in Astana, Kazakhstan “How ESL Teachers Become ESL Managers.”  I especially liked when one of the three talked about the hardest part of her job as a manager was to dismiss people because of budget cuts but then also the advantage of her position was that she enjoyed bringing four fellow teachers that she was mentoring to the TESOL conference.  All three told it like it is, very refreshing to hear and see their openness about their positions as administrators.  A lot of time commitment to answering e-mails and yet juggling their roles with their family responsibilities.

From 2:00-3:00 I attended a workshop titled “Educational Cultures in Conflict” and there were about 35 people in attendance. We discussed “culture bumps” and did a “Forced Choice Ladder activity”  I especially liked a quote that was on the handout written by Steven Simpson in 2008.

“The first misinterpretation Western teachers’ face is with the country and/or school; are you being asked to bring your pedagogical expertise or simply your linguistic expertise? “  Simpson goes on to write about three stages of acculturation:

1)   Baggage Brought – prior experience and expectations of the Westerner

2)   Hand Dealt – awakening stage in which EFL teachers start to understand the reality and constraints of the local context

3)   Fertile Soil – emerging, personal and professional issues in which the Western teacher begins to negotiate decisions in a more culturally sensitive and professionally productive way.”

Yes, this needs to be sorted out once our new university receives the western teachers to Astana.  I believe there are more layers of complexity than what Simpson describes but this was just a teaser.  My blog the last several years attests to what I have been struggling with as far as conflicts in educational cultures, West meets Kazakh/Soviet.

From 3:00 to 3:45 there was “The Role of the Administrator in a Learning Organization” – the abstract explains what our current situation is in Astana “Managing educational institutions is about articulating countless variables amidst constant change…What do institutions need to succeed? What can administrators do to ensure it?”  More on that topic later…

By 4:00 p.m. I was fairly tired and ready for a long winter’s nap even though it had been sunny most of the day in Boston.  I was fortunate to run into a graduate school friend of mine from U of Minnesota who had asked me to take an anthropology class with him.  Thom Upton went on to get his Ph.D. and because of that lousy class we took together, (misery loves company), I was able to finish my M.A. within two years.  But I’ll also be forever indebted to Thom for telling me about the TEFL trainer job opening in Kazakhstan back in April 1993 when one month later I found myself in Almaty, training Peace Corps volunteers and I met my husband at that time in Kazakhstan.  Ah, such romance with my dear Dr. Ken Gray!

Also in that same era of May 1993 I met Elizabeth Macdonald in Washington D.C. before we pushed off for Central Asia and she has been in and out of my life ever since. She was the skilled TEFL trainer in Bishkek Kyrgyzstan and then we lived blocks from each other in the Washington D.C. area after I got married to Ken.  I ran into her after meeting with Thom at the conference and we had coffee together catching up.  Meeting Thom and Elizabeth capped off an already good day. I look forward to what is in store for me today with learning more about TOEFL all day at the Technology Pavilion.

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