A life-changing experience (Saula Aguilar)

IATEFL and my dream

Going to the 51st International IATEFL Conference, in Glasgow, was one of the best things that could have happened to me personally as well as professionally. I will never forget all the wonderful things I witnessed and was a part of.

I joined and became a member of this global community of English teachers last year, which helped me make my dream of going to England come true.

Twenty-five years ago, my business partner and I decided to open our own language institute: Fine-tuned English. On the 4th of November, 1992, sixty enthusiastic students strode into our language institute and the teaching commenced. The number of students rapidly increased in a few-months’ time. We now have more than 3,000 students, with Fine-tuned English celebrating its 25th Anniversary! I was given this trip as a reward for all my hard work for and in FTE, not to mention the community.

Since I became an English teacher, I dreamt of traveling to England to witness different accents of English, experience Britain’s rich culture, and to learn and develop from the adventure. The first book I ever used to teach English had a reading exercise called “Flying over London” and every time I gave that activity to the students I wished I could fly to London. So as the plane was descending I felt pure joy, for I was finally fulfilling my dream!

The IATEFL Conference was amazing in a variety of ways. I enjoyed seeing the organization of a world-renowned international conference, receiving instruction from highly qualified teachers, and most of all meeting wonderful educators from around the world!

Margit Szestay and Saula

Margit Szestay and Saula

“…like a well-oiled machine.”

The entire conference was well-organized, and each detail was planned and carefully thought out. Throughout the entire conference I never felt rushed! One had plenty of time to socialize between how-to sessions, poster presentations, forums, talks and workshops. I could attend all the seminars I planned on going to. We didn’t have to rush from one room to the next. It was all wonderfully timed. I tip my hat to the organizers for creating such a lovely schedule.

The sponsors’ exhibits were also great. I could peruse new resources, and was inspired by new ideas.

The organizers not only thought of important topics for teachers to learn about, but also of entertaining sessions at night, in order to experience small aspects of certain cultures. I happily attended the Civic Welcome Reception, where I enjoyed meeting teachers from different countries and ended up dancing a Scottish folk dance. I was also able to attend some evening activities, such as “British Council networking” evening, “Meet the 16 IATEFL SIGS” and “Pecha Kucha”, which made for an amazing evening.

???, Beatrix and Saula with a Scottish piper

Csilla Jaray-Benn (President of TESOL France), Beatrix (President of IATEFL Hungary) and Saula with a Scottish piper

They even used user-friendly technology to make things easier. I found the phone application for the event quite handy. I could make more informed decisions after looking at presenters’ biographies, not to mention the floor plan and the electronic business cards, which couldn’t have been simpler and easier to use.

Making global connections

What I liked most about the conference is the fact that you could meet so many different teachers, educators, writers and trainers from all over the world. It was amazing to see JJ Wilson, who inspired me during a plenary about Professional Development in Ecuador, and I even rubbed shoulders with some other ELT stars like Jeremy Harmer and David Crystal.

Saula, David Crystal and Rakesh Bhanot

Saula, David Crystal and Rakesh Bhanot

Since I have been a member of TESOL for quite a while now, I had something to compare the Glasgow conference to. I found the IATEFL conference different, especially in the crowd it attracted. Most IATEFL attendees were from European countries that I haven’t been to. The conference was great for networking, and I gained relationships all over the world.

It was exciting to walk around, to talk to people, and to see that everyone’s common goal is to get their students to speak better English for the purpose of developing professionally and personally. During coffee breaks, I met so many interesting people, with whom I could exchange ideas.

Additionally, through a PLN (where I was included by a Brazilian friend), I met a wonderful person named Rakesh Bhanot. Through him, I had the chance to meet some very nice people from all over Europe, whose books we have used here in Ecuador for many years now.

Saula and her new-found IATEFL friends

Saula and her new-found IATEFL friends, including Rakesh (centre right)

The unexpected roommate

Through a series of events, I made a lovely new friend named Beatrix Price. Bea and I met because her reservation fell through, and with the help of a mutual friend, she ended up staying with me. As we attended seminars and went to dinner together, our acquaintanceship blossomed into a beautiful friendship.

Beatrix and Saula

Beatrix and Saula

When Marjorie Rosenberg, the IATEFL President, heard about our story she thought it was marvellous and wanted to interview us on how IATEFL is a great place to make international friendships. Right before the interview, I felt so anxious I wanted to cancel, but Beatrix was very supportive, which helped with my confidence and I did the interview after all. In hindsight, I would have regretted it if I hadn’t done that interview. IATEFL is one of the best ways to get international, professional and/or personal friendships, which you will be able to rely on. A little bit of the interview is in the IATEFL 2017 video:

Saula, Marjorie and Beatrix

Saula, Marjorie and Beatrix

Long-lasting effects

I wasn’t the only one to benefit from these great educators. Even before going to the conference, teachers and I watched webinars together which motivated us. For instance, we all learned applicable strategies from Chaz Pugliese´s book “Creating Motivation, Creating Learning.” Later, it was neat to attend Chaz´s workshop in person and I was able to ask him to sign a book during the conference. When I returned home, we completed an in-house training where all the teachers presented an activity from the book. Many of the 80 Fine-Tuned-English teachers continue using what they learned from the training even now.

Chaz Pugliese and Saula

Chaz Pugliese and Saula (sorry it’s a bit pink!)

Not only did we complete in-house training, we also organized a way to include all teachers in watching the main plenaries together. Each teacher watched three plenaries and we brainstormed ways to implement the ideas we heard. After watching Gabriel Diaz Maggioli’s “Professional Development” plenary, we created a CPD pilot plan tailored to our institutional needs. Now teachers complete peer-observations on a regular basis, and they meet twice a month to discuss new strategies. Also, if any teacher chooses to go to professional development conferences here in Ecuador the institute has offered to help with expenses. On top of that, Sarah Mercer’s talk about psychology resulted in our offering Zumba classes to help teachers with their stress management as whole people. Lastly, many teachers are interested in becoming IATEFL members themselves, for they can tell it’s a great investment!

On a personal level, my journey to Great Britain and the experiences I had at the conference continue to affect my daily life. Now, I attend an Air Yoga class which helps keep me relaxed. By attending the conference, I realized I needed to improve my English, so I am a student again by taking a teacher’s morning class in my own institute. Also, I recently attended Jeremy Harmer’s workshop in Quito.

I recommend joining IATEFL to other teachers. I had an unbelievable time at the 2017 conference and I can’t wait to go back in 2018!

Bio

Saula Aguilar

Saula Aguilar Jaramillo holds a Doctorate in Curriculum Design, a Masters in Educational Management and a B.A. in English Teaching. She has been the Academic Director of Fine-Tuned English Language Institute for 25 years, has taught English at BCA High School for 15 years and has been an instructor at the Language Institute of the U.N.L. (Universidad Nacional de Loja/National University of Loja). In addition, she has taught Spanish in North Carolina through the Visiting International Faculty Program and was nominated for the Cultural Educator of the Year Award in the U.S.A. as well as teaching English to immigrants in Davidson Community College. Furthermore in 2007, she was awarded the Professional Woman of the Year Award in Loja, Ecuador and she has been an academic consultant for Richmond Publishing since 2004.

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One Response to A life-changing experience (Saula Aguilar)

  1. Marjorie Rosenberg says:

    Lovely post, Saula. So glad I could help with the roommate situation, get to meet you and hold an interview.

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