Saturday, September 26, 2015

Confession of An Addict: Some Thoughts about Teachers PD

A great teacher inspires, so they say. So if you're a teacher and you want to be a great teacher, I think it means that what you really want is to be someone who inspires. The problem is that sometimes the teachers themselves are the ones who are in need of inspiration.

This is normal. Teachers are humans.

As much as I love teaching, I'm human and I have my bad days too. There are days when I find myself literally dragging my feet to go to work. There are mornings when getting out of bed seems the hardest thing. Sometimes I'm tired. Sometimes I'm sick. I'm human.

On days and mornings like that, I would find myself desperately in need of something, anything that can inspire me. It is very hard, even almost impossible, to be a great teacher who inspires when you yourself are uninspired, burned out and unmotivated.

It's an addiction?

I have friends and relatives who love to run. I know a few people who travel all over the world to participate in as many running events as they can. In one gathering, a close friend of mine explains that it's like an addiction. Once you try it, you would want more. And more. And then she adds:

"It's not that much different from your teacher conferences, Cindy. You're addicted to it."
"I am?"
"Of course you are," she chuckles. "You subscribe to conferences updates in the same way that I subscribe to running events. We constantly check out where and when the next conference or the next running event is going to be. We don't mind spending our own money to pay for the fee, the flight ticket, the accommodation. Other people would mind, you know." 

Maybe it's true. I'm hopelessly addicted to conferences in the same way that my friend is addicted to running.

So what is it all about?

Actually, attending conferences and other professional development events for teachers is one of the ways I keep myself inspired and motivated.

By participating in conferences and other professional development events for teachers, I can...

  • ...listen to talks or participate in workshops given by some of the biggest names in the ELT industry;
  • network with teachers and educators from all over Malaysia and all over the world;
  • ...gain new knowledge, information, ideas, resources and materials;
  • inspired by the sharing of other teachers, and sometimes if I'm lucky, I can get the chance to inspire others through my sharing too;
  • ...keep myself motivated. 
For me, conferences give me the chance to rejuvenate. I can give myself a break from the classroom for a few days, fill my brains with new ideas and inspirations, and refresh my memory of all the things that I may have already known and learned but have forgotten. 

In the end, it's all about getting myself in the best shape as a teacher so I can give the best to my students.

It IS fun!

Attending conferences gives me the excuse to travel. Travelling costs a lot, and knowing that I can kill two birds with one stone (professional development and going for a vacation) often makes me feel less guilty about spending all those money. I remember when I was attending the MELTA conference in Johor Bahru in 2013. I hadn't had any break for God knows how long. I travelled a lot for meetings and courses and work-related stuffs, but never for leisure. Right after the conference ended, I took a bus from JB to Malacca where I met a friend. We spent two nights visiting museums, art galleries and historical places in Malacca. Then, we took a bus to Penang where we spent another two nights. Since Penang is Malaysia's food heaven, we spent our whole time there stuffing ourselves with food (with little or no guilt at all). We stopped by at Kuala Lumpur before taking our flight back to Sabah - 100% guilt-free. Heheh!.

The furthest that I had travelled to for a conference was in 2014 for the IATEFL conference in Harrogate, United Kingdom. I got to see David Crystal, Scott Thornbury, Jeremy Harmer and Carol Read in person. I attended Sugata Mitra's inspiring (and controversial) talk. I chatted with Dick Allwright (the Exploratory Practise expert - I read his book!) I attended Macmillan's awesome Dance Party, and took a coach trip to Castle Howard in north England. I listened to Jackie Kay reciting her poems and reading from her book. And I got my first author-signed book after the event. It was the most memorable moment in my life so far. Best of all - it was all for free! I was the winner of Onestopenglish's Creativity in the Classroom IATEFL scholarship and they sponsored the trip for me.

(You can read about my experiences in Harrogate here, here and here).

(You can also read my report on IATEFL 2014 in Harrogate, published on Onestopenglish's website here: My IATEFL 2014 report)

Presenting at MELTA conference 2013 in Johor Bahru

Riding on a trishaw with my friend Felicity in Malacca, right after the conference

In front of Castle Howard, Yorkshire

With Jackie Kay at her book signing

You can do this at home

I don't always have to travel and pay a lot of money to do all these. There are a lot of free online professional development events that I can participate in without having to spend a single cent, and I can do it in the comfort of my own home. All I need is a good Internet connection, my laptop, and a nice hot cup of tea.

Here's a list of some ELT organisations / associations that offer free online conferences or webinars on a regular basis:

For longer courses and programs, I think these two websites are the best:

There are a lot others, but these are the ones that I follow. In order not to miss any updates on webinars and conferences, here's what I do:

  • Follow their Facebook and Twitter
  • Subscribe to their e-newsletters
  • Register as a member on their websites 
I've mentioned that I won the Onestopenglish Creativity in the Classroom IATEFL scholarship. How did I do it? I participated in a competition organised by Onestopenglish (under Macmillan Education). Very few teachers in Malaysia (well, in my area at least) knew about the competition. I knew about it because I read about it in their e-newsletters, on their Facebook, on their Twitter.
I subscribe to a lot of e-newsletters from a lot of ELT associations, organisations, publications and websites. It's true, they fill my inbox to the brim and I know that many people wouldn't like it when this happens. But I don't mind it at all. I read each and everyone of the e-newsletter (I do!). Checking my e-mails often takes hours. Because of this, I think, I often get to know about opportunities that a lot of teachers might not know. And miss.

Professional Development?

If you're a Malaysian teacher, you'll know the rule: at least 7 days of professional development in a year, or you would have to read an academic book and write a book report. I'm sorry, but this makes me laugh. (Hahaha!)

Well, I think it's funny and sad at the same time. I often feel that Malaysian teachers are not given enough support and encouragement to attend professional development events. MELTA conferences are always held during the semester break, so I don't have to apply for leave to attend them. However, last year it coincided with AsiaTEFL so they had to do it in August (not a school holiday). I was lucky to have a very supportive headmaster, but a few of my friends couldn't attend it - they were not allowed by their school admins (and this was despite there was a letter of endorsement from the Ministry, encouraging teachers to participate).

Everyone knows attending conferences can be costly, but very little support are provided for teachers to attend them. A great and inspiring headmaster (who also happens to be the chairperson of one of MELTA's chapters in Sabah) managed to get sponsorship for five teachers in her district to attend MELTA conference last year. With the help of my wonderful DELO in Kunak, I was able to submit a claim to my district education office to cover more than half of my conference expenses last year. The five teachers and I were lucky because we had people on our back, supporting us and helping us. 

But there are also a lot of Malaysian teachers out there who have never heard of MELTA, who don't know that there are conferences for English teachers, who might want to attend events like this but have no idea where to start. The Pro-ELT online conference was held in April this year - it was a great online event for English teachers and supposedly endorsed by the Ministry. And it was free! But I didn't see a lot of fuss being made about it from our side. The British Council (the organiser) was the one who did most of the advertising.

Every school and every district has an official Whatsapp group, or a Telegram group, or a Facebook group for teachers. Every once in a while I would see events like these being announced by someone through these channels. But most of the time people would focus on sending reminders about the deadlines for submitting a report or the final date for keying-in some data. This seems to be the main purpose for these groups to be set up. Just a few weeks ago I had to struggle to fight the temptation to leave one Telegram group because it was so annoying. Someone felt the need to post over ten reminders a day about how some teachers still had not completed their online data. I think she was at the verge of panicking. "I've just checked - some teachers still haven't completed it! Teachers, remember! The deadline is approaching! It's your duty!" She posted this once in every few hours. It was two days before the deadline. Two days. 48 hours. I took just five minutes to complete mine.

Let's imagine for a minute how it would be if professional developments for teachers are elevated to the same level of importance as deadlines for reports and keying-in of data on some websites. What do you think would happen to all these Whatsapp, Telegram, Facebook groups?

You can disagree with me of course, but I still want to say what I think.

I think right now, our focus is distorted a bit.

But teachers attend a lot of courses

Yep, it's true. A lot. Now, if you will, allow me to do this simple experiment with you. Just think about all the courses that you have attended this year. List them down on a piece of paper if you will.

Done? Now tick all of the courses that you think are inspiring and rejuvenating.

Done? Now tell yourself why those courses are inspiring and rejuvenating for you.

Done? Now look at the ones you don't tick. Now tell yourself why they are not ticked.

Done? Now make your own conclusion.

If you like, you can share the conclusion with me too. Just leave a comment below this post.

"Make sure..." speech

Sometime in the middle of this year, I attended a workshop for teachers. It was an interesting and informative workshop. I applauded the trainers for a job well done - it was inspiring, it was rejuvenating, it made me want to go back to school as soon as possible and do all those things they talked about right away.

Then we reached the end of the workshop and someone very important (not one of the trainers) was invited to give the closing speech. It was a long speech. He started with how much money the Ministry had spent to organise the workshop. Then he went on and on about how if things still don't change, we (the teachers) are the ones who should be held responsible. How it had always been like that in the past. A waste of Ministry's money. So remember teachers, when you go back, make sure you do this. Make sure you do that. Blah blah blah. My stomach was growling (it was way past lunch time) and I totally lost him after he uttered his first "Make sure..."

When you're having one of those 'bad days' and are desperately in need of some inspiration, the last thing you would want to hear is someone putting ALL the blame on you.

I think it was a bad idea making him wrap up such an inspiring and rejuvenating workshop with his "Make sure..." speech.

It just ruined everything.

We're on our own

Once in a while, there would be someone from up above who would care about teachers' well-being, teachers' motivations and teachers' need for inspiration. These wonderful people would organise talks, workshops and events that would inspire and rejuvenate us and help us get back on track again, especially during one of those 'bad days.'

These wonderful people would remember that teachers are humans.

They would remember that in order to be great teachers who inspire, teachers need to be inspired first.

But most of the time, we're on our own.

The good news is, we don't have to suffer alone.

We can find like-minded teachers. We can build network. We can talk to each other. We can lift each other up.

We can motivate and inspire one another.

They will be worth it

If you haven't already, you can start checking out those free online webinars and conferences.

(These pages are good places to start: Cambridge English Online Events , Macmillan English, TeachingEnglish British Council )

And if you haven't already, perhaps it's time to start saving some money to attend one of those conferences for English teachers.

(Here's an awesome one, coming up in October. And it's in beautiful Malacca! Check it out: International Conference on English Language Teaching (ICELT 2015))

(If October is too soon for you, keep an eye on updates from MELTA. Try joining their conference next year!)

Do these for yourself. Do these for your students.

They will be worth it, I promise.

Till the next post! -ccj


  1. Lovely post Cynthia! Your JB session was great and I'm so glad to see you're still out on a limb, inspiring teachers!

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post cynthia...well it makes me wanting to join n attend more ELT conferences... thanks for being so inspiring...

    1. Thanks for reading lily! I'm glad the post inspires you. :)

  3. thanks for this lovely post! i totally concur that malaysian teachers do not take their professional development seriously. i just returned from teflin bali to present a paper (self-sponsored). this is how important professional development is to me despite the fact i'm a senior teacher of 28 years. someone said to me yesterday, " why do you have to spend your own money to go bali when you're already a special grade c've reached the max!" To be honest i was speechless before i said, "i need to be intellectually challenged." Don't know if that's a good asnwer but that was all i could think of then :) i think we have the same passion but time is always a problem to blog about our passion. please do share more. i can see your dedication and commitment to your job. keep it up!

    1. That's one reason why you're my idol ma'am! You're inspiring and passionate and despite having reached the max, you're still going for more and more. Thanks for the inspiration! :)

    2. That's one reason why you're my idol ma'am! You're inspiring and passionate and despite having reached the max, you're still going for more and more. Thanks for the inspiration! :)

  4. Thank you! You really inspired me to do better in my English.. keep sharing your story as it really motivate me in many ways...


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