Report from AMTESOL

At this year’s ESOL Educators Conference we gave away registration to the 2014 Alabama-Mississippi TESOL Conference in Oxford, MS. TLC ESOL tutor Stephanie Lyas won and below is an account of her experience.

Hello fellow tutors:

My name is Stephanie Lyas and I work with The Literacy Council’s Bessemer Library Adult ESOL program.  Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the 2014 AMTESOL Conference in Oxford, MS.   What a wonderful time of learning and sharing information!  This was my first AMTESOL Conference, so I really didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that I would come away with something useful for my students, fellow ESOL teachers and myself.  I looked at it as an adventure of sorts.  And I’m always ready for an adventure!

Upon arriving at the conference center, I was greeted by lots of enthusiastic guests and organizers.  Teachers and administrators from all over the place were gathered in the lobby—visiting vendor booths, mingling and enjoying the refreshments of coffee and pastries (which were greatly appreciated on that frosty afternoon).  Once they gave me my packet of materials and a cool tote bag, I was all set to attend the first afternoon workshop.  I found a place inside one of the meeting rooms and thumbed through the program, picking out the workshops that I planned to attend that afternoon.  I will admit, when I read the conference agenda, I wasn’t sure how much I would actually get out of it as a teacher to Adult English Language Learners (ELLs). The majority of the workshops seemed to target K-12 classroom teachers, or those who worked in other educational settings.  I began to wonder, “Where in the world do I fit in?  I teach adults. And their needs are quite different than those of kids.” Ironically, the conference theme was “Between Worlds:  Meeting the Needs of English Language Learners.”  At first, that’s how I felt, between worlds—but I knew that I would leave with something of value—and I did.  In fact, I got lots of tools that will make a huge difference in the lives of those I serve.  I was eager to gather as much information as possible that I could use with my very special group of learners.  Before long, I had taken page after page of notes of ideas and effective teaching tools that can easily be adapted to fit the needs of adults as well as children.  Hooray!  Mission accomplished!

One of the more interesting workshops was called “Bridging Worlds:  Classroom and Home Combined via Smartphone Apps.”  The presenter discussed ways to incorporate smartphone technology into the classroom as a way of allowing students unlimited access to learning wherever they go.   Since so many people these days have smartphones and tablets (despite their socioeconomic situation), it’s important to use that technology to their advantage.   We had a “crash course” on how to use a program called Appshed that helps students create and use various apps that will make learning more relevant and fun.  It allows them to incorporate everything from social media apps to listening apps into their mobile devices so they can have tools for success right at their fingertips—at home and in the classroom.

Later that afternoon I attended a workshop entitled, “Global Connections: Addressing Cultural Isolation through Social and Service Engagement.”  It was presented by a recent graduate of Ole Miss who works with the international student organization on campus.  Their goal is to help language learners take their learning beyond the classroom and connect with the community through various service projects.  The group is instrumental in bridging the gap between poverty and possibility for many individuals in their area. This workshop was one of my favorites because it reminded me that teaching and learning go far beyond lessons and curriculum.  As a teacher, I too, in many ways am a learner.  When we incorporate activities like the International Potluck Dinner that the students sponsored, we celebrate what each person brings to the table—our wonderful, unique cultures.  This past December, our Bessemer ESOL class had a similar potluck dinner before Christmas and it was a huge hit!  The food and fellowship was priceless.  And since our group is comprised of adult learners from four different countries, it was a wonderful way to bond and learn about each other.  The students, my co-teacher and I look forward to having another one at some point this year, perhaps even expanding it beyond our class.

Over the course of the two-day workshop I learned so much more than I expected.  I learned that, even though our roles in the ESOL and Basic Literacy fields are quite unique, our common bond is the same –we care about our students. If I could sum up my feelings about the conference in one word it would be impactful. Not only did I make valuable, lasting connections and gain tools to help others be successful, I also learned a lot about myself.  I challenged myself to answer the question that several people have asked me, “Why do you want to help English Language Learners?”  I once heard someone say that if you want to be successful in life and live out your purpose you have to answer the important “why” question.  So my “why” is because I genuinely care and have a desire to help others succeed.

I am convinced that is also why so many at The Literacy Council do what we do.  Simply put: We care.  We care about helping others be successful in achieving their goals. We care about making a difference in the lives of others.  I left the conference excited for every student—young or old— who will benefit from the outstanding individuals who invest in the lives of their learners.  In a way, the conference reinforced why it is truly more blessed to give than to receive.  I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to attend.

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