This week, we interview Marjorie Rosenberg, President of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) about the association’s events and activities.



Can you explain a little about the background, membership and aims of IATEFL?   

The original idea of creating an organisation to enable teachers to come together and share their experiences of teaching English as a foreign language came from Dr W.R. Lee, OBE, in 1967. At the time, Dr Lee was the editor of the English Language Teaching Journal and through his contacts was able to find a group of educators with the same goal. When the organisation was first conceived it was called ATEFL, the Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, the ‘I’ for international, being added as the organisation expanded.

The main activities at the beginning were to help set up a network between teachers and to organise conferences. The first conference was held in London in December 1967 with a total of 125 participants and the organization was proud to have a total of 517 members at the end of its first year. The membership has grown since then, reaching 4,022 members in 133 countries as of May 2015. In addition, IATEFL has associates around the world and at present is affiliated with 136 local Teaching Associations (TAs) in 100 countries. Over the years since it was founded, IATEFL has added a total of 15 Special Interest Groups (SIGs) which enable members to concentrate on specific areas of teaching, writing, management and social issues to name but a few.

IATEFL conferences have also become important annual events in the calendars of many ELT professionals around the world. IATEFL is now gearing up for the fiftieth annual conference which will take place from 13 – 16 April 2016 in Birmingham. The aims of IATEFL can be summed up in our mission statement which is to ‘link, develop and support English Language Teaching professionals around the world’.

What activities has the association been up to recently?

Under the leadership of the previous President, Carol Read, trustees embarked on a number of new initiatives. A scheme of International IATEFL Ambassadors to spread the word was created. A major initiative, IATEFL Projects, gives one of our Teaching Associations the opportunity to apply for a grant which they can use to develop a programme of sustainable professional development. This award is eligible to all TAs who also qualify for the Wider Membership Scheme (WMS). This scheme offers affordable memberships to teachers in the global south and is aimed at enabling teachers to access a global community. The first Projects grant was awarded to an associate in India, ELTAI, which started off by developing materials for and a then running a two-day workshop on incorporating technology into the English language classroom. The attendees at this event were regional representatives who then set up and ran further conferences in their local communities using the same set of materials and the process is still going on.

In order to support this development going forward IATEFL has begun fund-raising. At the recent conference in Manchester in April, 2014, two cyclists rode from Frankfurt, Germany, to Manchester raising money. They were supported by telc GmbH in this initiative who matched the funding raised by the cyclists. Several other fund-raising initiatives took place and more are planned.

Since this initial initiative other awards have begun to be offered; the first in partnership with International House Trust and a second with the St. Giles Education Trust. These are also designed for IATEFL TAs and cover the costs of sending teacher trainers to the local TA to run courses. These training sessions can cover areas such as language proficiency, language teaching practice, materials and curriculum development and assessment. Another award available to TAs is through the A.S. Hornby Educational Trust in partnership with IATEFL and the British Council. The goal of this award is again to make funding available to IATEFL TAs around the world for activities which will support teacher and teacher association development in practical, sustainable and contextually relevant ways. Applications for the awards are sent to the IATEFL Head Office and are then administered by the trusts. 

Information about these awards can be found at: http://www.iatefl.org/scholarships/iatefl-projects, http://www.iatefl.org/scholarships/international-houseiatefl-training-award, http://www.iatefl.org/scholarships/st-giles-educational-trustiatefl-training-award http://www.iatefl.org/scholarships/hornby-iatefl-associates-project-award

Other important recent developments have included the increased use of online tools to reach teachers around the world. In May 2013, the Membership Committee of IATEFL launched a free-of-charge webinar series beginning with an event by the IATEFL Patron, Professor David Crystal. Since then we have held 22 webinars with the 23rd planned for the end of May. These are free and open to all and the recordings are then archived in the members-area of the IATEFL website. In October 2014, IATEFL held its first Web Conference, an event which spanned two days and included 11 speakers in 10 sessions and two interactive sessions. Altogether 840 participants logged into the event and the next one is planned for October 2015.

You recently held the IATEFL 2015 Conference. How did that go?

The annual conferences have been growing year to year. There were a total of 2,642 delegates in Manchester from 110 countries representing 119 nationalities.  The morning plenary speakers – Donald Freeman, Joy Egbert, Ann Cotton and Harry Kucha – spanned the globe and covered a wide range of topics including fixed ideas and expectations teachers often have, engaging learners with technology, the reasons for making secondary education available to young women around the globe and teaching in difficult circumstances. The conference ended with a reading of her work by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. Altogether, there were 712 speakers in a total of 512 different sessions. All the SIGs ran Pre-Conference Events (PCEs), a full day of talks, workshops or poster presentations organised by the SIG and dedicated to topics of interest to their members; these were attended by some 700 delegates.

In addition, 70 different TAs sent representatives to the Associates’ Day, a full-day event designed to encourage networking possibilities among those affiliated with IATEFL as well as provide them with information to bring back home. This year included a special session by the IATEFL Patron, Professor David Crystal. In addition, there were nine key sponsors, four general sponsors and the ninth year of the British Council Online partnership which filmed over 100 sessions and interviews available to educators around the world.   

Two roving reporters also kept those watching live up-to-date on what was happening during the conference. Feedback has been excellent and the Conference Committee and the Trustees are reflecting on it in order to make use of suggestions and ideas for 2016.

Are there any particular issues facing your membership?

Like many other industries, ETL is impacted by global economic conditions. In order to help teachers with professional development, IATEFL has initiated the projects mentioned above and support as much free-of-charge online professional development as possible. Due to the fact that the world is becoming more and more of a global village, the possibilities for ‘linking, developing and supporting English language’ around the globe have begun to take on a new dimension. Both the webinars and the online conference not only attracted large numbers of participants, but have also been seen as a way to develop a learning community through tools such as the chat box available to participants enabling them to chat not only with the presenter, but with each other. Offering more of these events is part of our mission and IATEFL has also taken on board suggestions from members for webinar or online conference topics. Many of our members have formed what is called a ‘Personal Learning Network (PLN)‘ which they are able to get to know, stay in touch with and exchange ideas and knowledge with colleagues through various forms of social media or blogs. This trend towards increased communication outside of the conferences or face-to-face sessions has been growing. As a ‘PLN’ is open to all, many issues are addressed which earlier were only discussed in staff rooms, if at all.  Availability to the internet and the necessary devices to access it has increased widely over the years making the field more inclusive helping us, as an organisation, to pinpoint specific areas of concern, such as gender balance, equality in job adverts and opportunities, and other topics of interest to our members.

Our readership is mostly comprised of study travel agents that are sending students to study English (and other languages) around the world. Are there any IATEFL activities that might be useful for an agent?

The membership of IATEFL comprises 33 per cent teachers, 20 per cent academics and 19 per cent teacher trainers as well as writers, publishers, school managers and owners. The exhibition at the IATEFL Annual Conference is an excellent place to advertise programmes as it brings together these educators and ELT managers from around the world. It is also possible to place advertisements in the IATEFL newsletter, Voices, or any of the 15 SIG newsletters.. In addition, IATEFL runs a Jobs Market both online and at the annual conference. 

In order to keep up with trends in ELT, readers of the magazine are more than welcome to participate in the free IATEFL or IATEFL SIG webinars or the upcoming web conference in October 2015.  Information about the webinars can be found on the IATEFL website. Information and the programme for the web conference will be available on the IATEFL website closer to the date.

I gather that the association is celebrating 50 years in 2016? Do you have any special activities planned? I heard there will be an enhanced scholarship project?  

We are working on an enhanced scholarship programme and so far a number of new scholarships have been agreed and several long-standing scholarships have increased their awards. In addition, the previous president Carol Read, commissioned a ‘History of IATEFL’ to commemorate the 50th Anniversary which has been kindly supported by the British Council, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and IATEFL and will be sent to all members.

The Conference Committee is busy collecting ideas and looking into ways to make this a truly special event. More information will be made available in the coming months at. It is a very exciting time for IATEFL and plans are afoot to make this conference one to remember!

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