Wherever we start is a good start
There is an old joke in English: what do you call 1000 lawyers chained together at the bottom of the sea? A good start.
While critical of the profession, the joke also suggests that colleagues reuniting for a common purpose is a good thing.
Colombia has a history of celebrating regional and national ELT conferences with the largest array of themes imaginable: from analyzing the role of technology within the legal framework for foreign language instruction to the relevance of English in the transition from armed conflict to peace accords.
Last September 20th, LEXICOM held its First ELT Conference Ciudad de Medellín “Crossing Classroom Borders: Using Global Tools to Meet Local Challenges” to celebrate its 35th anniversary. It was a dream that appeared at the beginning of 2019 and towards which we worked tirelessly until that magic Friday.
Having been in business in Medellín for 35 years now, LEXICOM wondered what we could give back and offer as new to the city that has given us everything. We have accompanied many companies in their growth through corporate classes; we have been evaluators for senior college students; we have participated in ambitious training projects hand in hand with the mayor’s office. So, what was the best way for us to say thank you and welcome at the same time?
In the beginning was the Word
Our first consideration was a clear north: it’s not about the money. We cannot forget that we, as English teaching institutions, are not after clients, we are after bilingualism; on that simple point we can all agree and that is where we took off. We called on universities, knocked doors at competing establishments to invite them to join us in this dream. However startled and wary at first, everyone opened their door, picked up their phones, read the emails, and listened. Then something magical happened: they called back.
Soon the Luis Amigó Catholic University offered everything they had to help us make this happen. So did San José de Las Vegas school and publishers Norma Greenwich. The LEXICOM ELT committee met weekly to go over checklists, update plans, reformulate strategies, and keywords began to buzz like background music in our everyday business. Inclusion. Polylanguaging. Literacies. Community. Change.
We had the bizarre of experience of turning down excellent proposals in order to create a coherent program for attendees and a clear outline became apparent. The city itself as literacy is at the fingertips of researchers. Accessible technology for teachers across the board is what innovators are specializing in. Pedagogies of place-based practice and autonomous structural learning has become the best way to integrate content and language in a demanding study agenda for learners everywhere.
How was your day, dear?
LEXICOM president Luz Vanegas declared the ELT open at eight-thirty and by eight-forty-five the opening plenary by professor Claudia María Uribe was reminding us that no teacher is ever alone, that we can ask for help, that there is no reason to be overzealous with our materials and resources, that it is ok to admit we don’t have an answer but we’d be glad to research, that we are –above all- a bunch of weirdos fascinated by language, and that we had come together this day because we want to infect our students and societies with our love for learning.
We had fifteen concurrent session divided in three slots for 150 teachers who made their way to El Escobero campus of San José de Las Vegas school early on a cold morning. Pre-service teachers, graduate school candidates, seasoned teachers, and teacher trainers were giving their all in their workshops.
UPB’s Raúl Mora showed respect for ancestral languages that preceded Spanish and English as trading instruments and what practices of theirs survive in our city nowadays. ELT Think Tank’s Tatiana Gómez helped attendees shake the fear of venturing into technology as an enhancement to otherwise excellent classes so as never to stay behind. Universidad de Antioquia’s Javier Rivera posed a humane question: what about teachers’ moral disposition?
Coffee came and went in the great hall during breaks and teachers networked around our commercial fair, in which ten different institutions, from Extudia and Norma Greenwich to the British Council, offered new material, resources, and opportunities to participants.
The expert panel brought together experts in blockchaining digital instruction tools and high-school teachers who are using free software in their high school classrooms to connect students with World War II survivors in a social studies class. What were the myths and realities of technology in classes? Common vocabulary, ingrained fear of change, lack of resources, open-mindedness, insufficient policies and budget. Plenty of food for thought.
The closing plenary was delivered by professor Ricardo Romero Medina, director of English at the British Council. With a vast experience in all areas of the ELT world, he talked to us about social responsibility, and how the Common European Framework has level descriptors not only for language proficiency, but also for social skills such as conflict mediation.
We can see the future, we see it 20/20
What were our takeaways? It was on everybody’s lips at the end of the day: Medellín needed this event. Teachers relished the possibility of spending a day with colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and market counterparts. We met, we laughed, we took pictures, and we all had a lot to think about and to apply in our lessons on the days to come. We discovered that the key to community starts in the classroom next door. We just have to knock.
LEXICOM is already preparing our ELT 2020. This time it will be stronger and more complete, because as an aftermath of September 20th, a Medellín ELT Society (MELTS) is being born, and we want all of you in it for the benefit of our students and bilingualism at large.
So, what do you call 150 English teachers getting together? You call it community. A good start.
FEDERICO ARTEAGA C.
Academic Director at LEXICOM and Conference Chair