Sunday, November 5, 2017

Thoughts on the 2017 TESL Ontario Conference

For the second year in a row, my employer has somehow found the funds to send all of us teachers and teaching assistants to the annual conference in Toronto (though not all were able to come for other reasons). For this I am grateful. I wonder how we can do it while most other agencies are still limited to 20% of their staff per year getting funding to attend.
Mary Ritter - More than Hearing

This year I discovered that many teachers who have used my stuff without leaving a comment on the blog will not hesitate to let me know in person that they appreciate what I do. Naveen thanked me before sprinting through closing elevator doors at her floor. Ben from Kitchener approached me at the end of a workshop we'd both attended. Christine from Kingston had nice things to say, and I embarrassed myself by not recognizing her again minutes later in the foyer. Sheesh. Maria and other teachers at our London branches acknowledged the many worksheets of mine that they adapt and use in their literacy classes. And one woman whose name I don't remember was nice enough to speak up when 'helpful websites' was being projected onto a screen to say to everyone, "And Kelly's website!" This resulted in my running out of MOO cards and resorting to scribbling the URL on the back of a few of the webinar flyers I'd had printed up at the Staples on University Ave.


The change in lodging pleased me. I found the smaller Marriott to be cosier and its staff warmer, able to give more personal attention to guests than folks at the Sheraton, where several conferences might be taking place simultaneously, bringing with them a lot of hustle and bustle. I also thought the food on site was better than that offered at the in-house restaurant at the Sheraton. Although I don't really want to be caught dead eating at a hotel restaurant, food court, or chain while in one of the culinary capitals of the world, I will settle when I'm exhausted after a flight or lengthy train ride that deposits me in the city late at night.


One unexpected perk of this new location is its proximity to a lovely public labyrinth, a fact that I shared with others attending Lisa Manary's "Self-care for Empathic Instructors" after we had enjoyed a sampling of stretches, breathing exercises, and a guided meditation to help the more empathic among us deal with the psychological and emotional demands of our increasingly stressful jobs.


As for the conference itself, I'm of course appreciative of all the work that goes into it, as I am of all the volunteers--from door monitors to presenters. I'm pleased that dedicated ELT professionals who go above and beyond the call of duty are singled out for recognition, such as this year's Sparks of Excellence recipient, Diane Ramanathan. Congrats, Diane!

I'm sad, though, to see how much the conference has shrunk in size since my first years in the field. What is happening? Even the Twitter feed seemed unusually quiet compared to prior years, with @TESLOntario, @JenArtan, and @StanzaSL (Svetlana Lupasco) doing the lion's share. I remember when the publishers' exhibit was enormous. There were years when our registration fee included a luncheon catered on the premises. Also, I never appreciated our past ability to pre-register for workshops because it never occurred to me that this convenience might ever be taken away.

Another thing I appreciate this year is that there were 20-minute gaps between sessions, meaning that I could put my bag and coat on a chair in the room of my next session and still have time for a washroom break. However, on two occasions I was still not able to get into my workshop of choice due to the fact that the room was way too small to accommodate everyone who wanted in. In one case I had even darted immediately from the room right next door the minute my prior session ended and STILL was not fast enough to get a seat in that session. I am baffled as to why we were told that break-out sessions were being held in larger capacity rooms this year. Clearly that was not the case at all. Note to organizers: sessions about teaching listening will always be popular. Perhaps organizers could use a polling tool such as Google Forms or Survey Monkey next year to better predict which sessions need to take place in rooms with lots and lots and lots of chairs.

The sessions I did get into, with only two exceptions, proved to be very valuable to me. I am planning to dedicate another whole blog post to discussing two of them in more depth, both of them tied to the topic of PBLA. So stay tuned for that.

My partner drove up on Thursday to join me. Chuck and I are both very comfortable navigating the city using subway and streetcar. A native of Detroit, he has been coming to Toronto since he was a young adult in love with Canadian society and TO's jazz scene.  I'm so happy that I learned my way around several neighbourhoods while getting my OCELT at CCLCS and living in a homestay. Saturday was 'two ride for one' day if you get a day pass, so we did that.


We love to dine and poke around in Chinatown, and he always buys a big box of Chinese pastries for me to take back to the seniors.




After Chinatown, we explored Kensington Market, too. One of these days I'm going to bring a nice dress for the opera house or to see a show. I would like to have made time to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a Mirvish production.

How about you? Did you attend your area's annual conference this year, or will you next time? I'd love to hear why you do or do not value such an experience, or whether your attitude has changed of late.

12 comments:

  1. Hi Kelly,
    I wish that I had more nerve and could post with my name but I can't. My employer is the one that had everyone baffled at the TESL O conference. Tara Holmes couldn't believe the baloney that is being passed off as requirements of the funder. It is so sad to see the ridiculous lengths my employer is going to to control its employees. Strange but true. When will the insanity end? When everyone is sick? And when will teacher autonomy return? When all experienced teachers are embarrassed? The funders should be informed but how? Does anyone know how?

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    1. Dear Conference Anonymous,
      Thank you for taking the time to share this with us. Yes, the TtT model is one of the grossest missteps of this entire mess. One of my colleagues returned from the conference to inform our lead (who did not attend) that the person who co-wrote the reference book she uses to execute PBLA in her class told her straight out which elements of PBLA are inappropriate for foundation literacy learners. And yet our lead insists that she is not exempt from doing full-blown PBLA with these refugees who are learning to hold a pencil. As for how...
      Keep connecting with and communicating with others in the same boat. The back channel eventually surfaces. We have to continue to amplify the voices of sanity, such as that of Norm Friesen. Share his video.https://vimeo.com/220251988 Share Yuliya's contact info so that LINC teachers across Canada have a chance to participate in her study. https://joyofesl.blogspot.ca/2017/06/u-of-t-phd-student-seeks-pbla-research.html

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  2. I BELIEVE THE "FUNDERS" ALREADY KNOW THAT THIS MOST AWFUL AMATEURISH EXPERIMENT TO ACHIEVE STANDARDISATION IN ESL DELIVERY ACROSS CANADA IS A DUD. THEY KNOW THAT THE HORRIBLE (QUASI MILITARISTIC?) STRATEGY TO TRY TO ENSURE GRAND SCALE TRAINING AND UTILIZATION/APPLICATION OF THE ($$$) CANADIAN LANGUAGE BENCHMARKS MODEL (2012 Document, never peer reviewed) ACROSS CANADA IN THE CHEAPEST WAY (THE DIVISIVE AND INAPPROPRIATE TRAIN THE TRAINER MODEL ) IS A FLOP. IN SPITE OF THE DRACONIAN AND PUNITIVE MEASURES TO BLOCK CRITICISM (no negative feedback allowed) THEY KNOW ABOUT THE IMPACT OF PBLA ON TEACHER'S LIVES. THE PROPONENTS MINIMIZE THE EXTENT OF THE SCEPTICISM, DESPERATION, FRUSTRATION AND ANGER AND BLAME THE TEACHERS (bad, incompetent, laggards, resisters, anxious, nervous, bullies) INSTEAD OF THE PROCESS. THEY WILL COUNTER BY "MANY TEACHERS LOVE IT". THAT'S NOT A SATISFACTORY ANSWER. (I am allowing myself a wry smile. I have said before I am not blaming those that took on Trainer positions - I blame the process - but we are aware of the need of some Leads/Trainers to curry favour and that there are some who are gunning for managerial positions. Benevolent mentors? Don't make me laugh.)!

    I AM SURE BY NOW THE FUNDERS KNOW THIS HAS NOT ENHANCED NEWCOMERS' ACQUISITION OF ENGLISH AND ABILITY TO INTEGRATE INTO CANADIAN SOCIETY. IF THEY DO NOT KNOW ABOUT THE STUDENTS' CRITICISM AND REJECTION OF PORTFOLIO BASED LEASRNING ASSESSMENT (abandoned binders anyone?) THEY SHOULD! THAT IS THEIR JOB AND RESPONSIBILITY.

    Yes, I was shouting. I care about my profession, my colleagues, and the newcomers, Canadians of the future (I too was one.)

    "PBLA" - seriously what is this? Where does it appear in the academic literature as a full fledged prescription for SLA for adult immigrants? It is a fiction. (I like Professor Norman Friesen's post on "My PBLA Triumps and Tribulations" on this blog. Go read it if you haven't yet.

    Anonymous, I'm sorry I can't answer your question. Can anyone identify exactly WHO is driving this out of control bus? I tried to engage a fairly highly placed Integration IRCC official in discussion. At first he seemed open to discussion - but then wanted to direct me to talk to two PBLA Leads. Thanks, but no thanks.

    Kelly, thank you again for your courage in making this forum available -and your forbearance!

    On Sunday I attended the first session of the online course from @iTDiPro - Learning to Teach (Better) with the great humanistic Master Teacher Penny Ur ( yes, I am a veteran teacher (18 years!) but I'm always looking to improve. ) Penny mentioned the principle "Don't ask the students to do what you would not do yourself. So I ask all ESL professionals (well - anyone involved w PBLA - policy analysts, education managers, information officers, administrators) - would YOU chose/like/enjoy learning a language through a Portfolio Based Learning Assessment language learning delivery mode? YES/NO?

    It is not too late to join the itdi course!
    Yours in TESL.
    Claudie Graner




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    1. I think the funders are catching on. Recently our IRCC overseer visited for the sole purpose of asking how PBLA is going. He did not inspect a single binder. He asked questions, especially about perceived effectiveness, work load, and stress.
      As always, Claudie, thank you for articulating all these concerns so well. --K

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    2. Hi Kelly,

      Were you able to share that people are replying to your blog anonymously because they fear their employers and leads and colleagues?

      What a nasty thing this has become.

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    3. Hi, Anonymous 4:47 a.m.,
      You and I have similar sleep patterns. Lol. Yes, that was the most salient and most reiterated point of what I wrote. We have to put a stop to this culture of intimidation NOW. We need open, honest, healthy, two-way communication NOW. How this is being done is a perfect model of how NOT to institute change--even if the change being introduced were grounded in good research, which of course this experiment is not. But even if it were, the way this is being handled would make for a text book example for future authors of books on change within groups on how to fail. --K

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  3. It was great to meet you, Kelly, and to be able to thank you in person for your great work and your kindness in sharing. I really appreciated being able to attend the conference along with my co-workers. I came away with some new ideas and strategies, but for me, the main benefit of the conference was that it affirmed that we ARE on the right track and that at our organization, we have it pretty good!

    I'm looking forward to your webinar in December!

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    1. Christine,
      That's great to hear. --K

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  4. Thank you Kelly. I'm in good company :)

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    1. Hi Diane,

      Do you know if PBLA allows True/False, Yes/No and multiple choice questions in PBLA assessments? What about teachers being able to interview their own students during Speaking assessments? And do you know anything about teachers being able to create their own listening sound bites?

      There seems to be some interesting tactics taken at a certain SPO that seems extraordinarily onerous. Do you know if there is a vetting process to allow rubrics and lesson plans onto TUTELA?

      How about any information about the requirements for 5 hours of PBLA lead time per week? How many hours per week is allowed and how many leads are there supposed to be for every 10 teachers? There seems to be less consistency across the country than the funder sought. Who is monitoring how well the teachers are being treated by the SPO organizations? There must be some information on TUTELA that teachers can access to help their case. PBLA has plowed down several excellent teachers and SPOs are laughing about it. Glib and unrepentant harassment is openly exhibited daily. The anxiety is reaching a breaking point. Do we have to wait until someone ends their life over this failed experiment? When will the funders demand that confused SPOs stop it.

      PS How many hours a week are lead PBLA teachers supposed to teach each week? Some lead PBLA teachers are not in the classroom. Does the funder know this?

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    2. Hi, Anonymous. I'm not sure Diane is the one who can answer all these questions, though she may know about the Tutela upload guidelines. For the other ones, would you consider asking them on the PBLA FB page? They are good questions. https://www.facebook.com/PettisPBLA/?fref=ts

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  5. Dear Anonymous,
    The perverse reality is that instead of creating a useful tool to allow for a pan Canadian Language Strategy the overreaching, poorly thought out Portfolio Based Language Assessment experimental project has resulted in confusion and chaos. I am not surprised that SPOs are trying to adapty "tweak" the process requurements to improve it, make the process "less painles" (isn't that telling) and make teacher created assessment more realistic, reliable, and valid than they are at present. As one teacher put it "Everyone is doing something different". Joanne Pettis (the moderator/owner of the PBLA FB page) herself says "your PBLA is not my PBLA." (paraphrasing from the TESLCanada conference presentation).

    There are many reports of SPOs doing the best they can to adapt the requirements to lessen the burden - and it seems in those SPOs teacher will tell us "We have learned to live with it". As I see a major role of a manager is to protect their employees from harm - not add to, or cause harm themselves. In instances where managers zealously adhere to the protocols (more PBLA than PBLA itself) teachers have been harmed. The problem is that there is no one to whom to address questions such as yours. There is no one who can control the excesses. In a research study (which in effect this is - experiment) there is usually an Ethics Board that has to approve the "study". The study itself and any subsequent "changes" to the original proposal have to be approved by an Ethics Board. This government policy shift under the Integration Department, managed by the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks and applied through theinappropriate Train the Trainer model is not subject to such oversight.

    The psychological effects of the constant stress on teachers must not be minimised by "change is scary" anodynes. I also wonder if it will take the first PBLA suicide for those managing this ill begotten exleriment to take resoonsibility for the harm caused and to seriosly review the process.

    To those of us suffering hurt, despair, depression from the stringent requirements - follow the protocol to a T, no negative feedback, no questions and who have been accused of bullying the trainer (as I have) I can only say stay strong, do not become a victim, try to be detached, get help. And know you are not alone. For anyone who ever feels they need to talk to someone my Twitter handle is @thespreadingoak (DM me) and my email is eslclaudie@gmail.com. Stay strong. This too shall pass.
    (ps Before I became an ESL practioner I was a psychiatric social worker. When I came to Canada the process of certification and licencing was so complicated that I did not continue. I posted this reply as I think it very important that those in charge realise the psychological effects of all the stress are real - and for some, devastating. Employers - please protect your employees.)

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