KOTESOL conference 2009

The 17th annual KOTESOL conference, held last weekend at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul, was not precisely what you might call a tourist destination. For the serious English teachers or those in a more formal academic setting, conferences such as these are great chances to socialize and meet up with other serious teachers. It's the polar opposite of the chaotic drinking and partying of the Boryeong Mud Festival, and a great chance to meet a number of veteran expats.

The fall colors were nicely present on this campus - a nice respite between conference sessions.

At least a couple other bloggers were present - Brian from Jeollanam-do made the trip, and Stafford from the Chosun Bimbo carried a clipboard and walkie talkie working to keep things organized (thanks again for the free pass!). I'm sure there were others there, but this was easily the largest group of English teachers in one place - during the opening ceremony, one speaker mentioned over 1,000 pre-registered and another 800 or so registered on-site.

With standing room only, one of the more popular presentations was entitled "10 Minutes for Happiness (Positive Psychology in the Classroom)" by Marc Helgesen. Perhaps it helped that everyone got a cookie and a chance to win some teaching materials.

The crowd of teachers was generally foreign-born, but quite a few Koreans made it to the conference as well. Respect for the serious Korean English teachers who came out on a weekend.

After two sessions - which some people missed because of various registration snafus - it was time for an opening ceremony of sorts:

Another room with standing room only. A number of awards and presentations later, we finally got to hear one of the 'household names' in the ESL / ELT field:

David Nunan on supporting professional development - and showing off his Australian heritage before he got into his speech.

Oh yeah, about that speech... I'm sorry to say it, but it was boring. I left somewhere in the middle of the speech - along with quite a few others - and headed to lunch.

I'm not a member of KOTESOL, though I highly respect the ideals of taking teaching seriously and professionally. This conference seemed to take itself as seriously, however - as a result, it wasn't as interesting or helpful as I hoped it to be. Most of the commercial presentations seemed focused on selling one person's or one companies books, while the other presentations I attended on heard about didn't seem to add anything new I didn't already know. I ended up spending more time talking to other teachers about socializing / networking...

Although I was somewhat familiar with the details of the conference, I originally had no plans to go. Why? Too much 'academia' and not enough connection to the real world of teachers. Presentations like "On the Strength of L2 Lexical Knowledge" and "Finding the Middle Ground: Reconciling Constructivist and Traditional Approaches in a Content-based Class" do little to help someone keep a class of ten 7-year-olds attentive. Even working with adults means following the school's rules about how to work with your students.

For next year, I'd love to see a few less speakers, but speakers of a more interesting nature - in other words, choosing quality over quantity. Maps and directions were generally good, once you figured out the basement was common to most of the buildings. That it wasn't promoted by some schools - my girlfriend claims her public school never told her about the conference - isn't the fault of KOTESOL. Perhaps some promises of events or activities other than academic topics would encourage teachers to find more of a 'real-world' connection to their classrooms. I stand convinced that many English teachers want to do the best job they can, and organizations like KOTESOL aim to help in that endeavor.

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe - 2009