For many, coming over to live and work in a new country begins as a year’s experience. In Korea, that option (more often than not) begins in the classroom. Teaching students at kindergarten, elementary, all the way up to university is available all around the country. Before you know it, however, five years, ten years have flown by. And it’s time to start thinking more seriously about what you have been doing. And how you can make this your profession. Your career.
The first step is to identify what you have been doing in the classroom. The speaking game where the students pretend to be somebody else (role play), the task where the students write down things that you say (running dictation), the listening where the students tell you what they just heard (speed summaries) or the reading where the students have to write notes down the side of the text in front of them (annotations). It’s all been done before, and it probably has a name or a theory behind it.
Reading about these techniques is a sure way to educate yourself on what you have actually been doing all these years. However, shorter recognised qualifications are also available for both experienced and inexperienced teachers. Short courses can range from weekend online TEFL courses to the four-week Cambridge CELTA or Trinity Certificate in TESOL, which are really the only two starter certificates that are recognised in the TESOL field when applying for decent jobs. After that comes the larger commitment of the Cambridge DELTA or Trinity Diploma in TESOL – far more in-depth courses that cover a wide range of teaching approaches and methodology. Find yourself interested in what is uncovered here, and a master’s in TESOL is the next step, one that can almost guarantee a university job in Korea (once post-certificate experience has been gained).
As your level of qualifications improve, so do the opportunities. By the master’s stage, there’s a lot of action research taking place, possibly in your own classroom. For some, doing empirical research of any kind is a terrifying experience when a write-up and a grade is involved. For others, it’s another opportunity for sharing and to show what you have become good at. And it may just be time to present at a conference.
EFL conferences take place all around the world, with many countries establishing their own TESOL organisations. Regional organisations, including KOTESOL, JALT, and CamTESOL run established teaching conferences every year in different parts of their respective countries. The procedure is simple, and with the right submission, conference selection and material, you could be on the conference ladder by the end of the year. Here’s five useful tips for conferencing.
Research is key to a successful proposal. First, look around. Which organizations are holding conferences in your region soon? Bear in mind that if you want to present at a conference, you should be checking these dates a good six to nine months ahead, even more in some cases. Conference programs are organized way in advance, especially as travel and accommodation may need to be arranged.
Then check the theme. There is no point submitting a presentation topic on student behavior if the theme is contemporary materials. Check the suitability of your paper before submitting a proposal. You can also decide what type of talk you are going to give. Most conferences seek research-oriented presentations, poster presentations, workshops, forums, or meetings. Do your conference research and select the best format for you.
The proposal itself is quite straightforward and is either an online or email application. The structure varies from conference to conference, but generally speaking, you’d be expected to write a 200- to 500-word synopsis and a 100 to 200-word abstract outlining your idea. The proposal is key to being noticed. Remember, in some cases, submissions amount to four times the number of slots available, so competition is tough. Make your idea stand out from the rest. Explain it simply and in an interesting manner. And most importantly, show how the idea can practically help educators and students.
A short biography written in the third person is also mandatory and should be between 50-100 words detailing a very brief resume of your current position, research achievements and interest areas. Ensure you check the cost of the conference (yes, even presenters have to pay) and that you are free for most of the conference (some offer a “blackout” day that you can choose as one of the days not to present). It is also important to double check the text you have written for typos and word count as the proposal will not even be considered if these simple criteria are not met.
If you have all the necessary documents and the text is ready, complete the online form or write the accompanying email. Then it’s time to press send. Most organizers take up to three months after the submission deadline to reply, so be patient: the administration team will let you know if you have been successful or not.
So you’ve heard back and your proposal has been selected. Well done! Now it’s time to put that idea into presentation form. Dependent on the type of presentation that was selected, plan and create your materials to showcase that idea. Poster presentations should have a clear image, not be cluttered and be engaging. Research sessions should clearly outline the research that was conducted, including the context, instruments, findings and discussion points – remember, your audience does not know your teaching situation. For workshops, make them as practical as possible. Attendees are expecting to get involved so don’t hold back.
So now you have your idea and your plan, consider which slides you need to make to communicate your thoughts the best. Whether Prezzie or PowerPoint, use slides which are clear and simple. And ensure that every slide means something. There’s no need to have cute and ornate images for the sake of it. Also, remember to use a maximum of one slide per minute. Even this may be too much. The fewer slides you have, the more attentive your audience will be in listening to what you have to say.
Once the slides are made, take a look at the proposal again. Are all the points mentioned in the abstract included in the presentation? As there are several sessions on at the same time as yours, attendees will be choosing what to see based on your abstract text. Ensure that you deliver and include those points as those who are interested in your topic will be there – and this is where those precious networking opportunities come from.
The nuts and bolts have been ironed out but now the presentation needs to be checked – and timed. The first practice can be done on your own. Find an office, a classroom, or even your own apartment and let it out. Run through your notes, check through your PPT and ensure that you are hitting all the buzzwords and meanings. Does it make sense? Is it coherent enough? You are your own teacher now. Keep an eye on the time and if you have a handy copy of your PPT slides there, make a quick note of the time you should be starting a particular section. This can be a useful for script notes or time markers prior to the actual presentation.
Once you are happy with your own run through, round up a few colleagues and/or friends and conduct a mock conference. This provides a real-time run through and the advice and feedback that your “audience” can offer will prove invaluable on the actual day. Although it may feel a little strange at first, it’s a good idea to practice with those you know, to build confidence in both your material and your presentation of it. Practice really does make perfect.
Although you have already prepared for the conference with your script points, PPT slides and mock practices, the true preparation is conducted on the actual day of the conference. If you are attending the whole conference, register as early as possible. Even if you spend only an hour there on the first day, get your pass and explore the site. Look for your room and if possible, watch a presentation there. It will help you get a feel for the room and also think about the setup, the computer, the acoustics. Knowing your venue can help reduce the nerves during your own presentation.
If you only have a day pass, register as early as possible and do the same in exploring your room. Speak to the room assistant and see if you can get tech help or add your files to the room’s computer early or during a break. Many talks only have a ten-minute turnaround between them, so it’s a great idea to have everything in place a whole lot earlier.
Lastly, but most importantly, relax. Watch a few of the other talks but if possible, keep the session before your own free. Use this to have one last look through your notes and slides, be focused and think about what you are going to say. Bring your own handouts and materials and make your own copies before you get to the venue. If they have photocopy facilities, which not every venue has, it can be manic on conference days. Have a final check through any handouts or materials and get those business cards at the ready. It’s show time.
The last presentation has just finished and the frantic scramble to get between classrooms for the audience to watch their next chosen topic has begun. Ignore all of this. Go up to your own computer, set up the files, set up the screen and your pointer (if you have one). Make sure your script is in place and ensure that a bottle of water is within grabbing distance (in case that coughing fit decides to start up again).
The room assistant will give a clear indication of when it’s time to start and there will be many clocks around the room to ensure you finish when you are supposed to. Make sure that you announce that questions will be dealt with at the end and then begin. Remember, you have practiced this so many times: you know it – just go with the flow and share the information you know so well with the others that have chosen to be there, to find out about your ideas. Your presentation.
At the end have a final slide with your contact email and allow five minutes for questions. And as the last person leaves the room, take a deep breath and exhale. You did it. Welcome to the conference ladder.
Upcoming Regional Conferences:
October 15-October 16, 2016
Sookmyung Women’s University, Seoul, South Korea
November 25 – November 28, 2016
Aichi Industry and Labor Center, Nagoya, Japan
Hong Kong CAES Faces 2
June 1 – June 3, 2017
University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong