It’s been more than 15 years now since the Romanian teachers of English became accustomed to attending the ELT conferences organized by the national or regional teachers’ associations (TAs) and by the different publishing houses involved in the educational business.
Whilst the national or regional TAs organize yearly conferences as a means to call for an annual general meeting of the members and an opportunity to meet colleagues, share ideas and make new acquaintances and friends, the main goals of the publishing houses’ conferences are to introduce, promote and sell their new coursebooks, methodology and resource books. In both these types of conferences, the number of participants is likely to increase if famous methodology authors, coursebook writers and teacher trainers are invited to give plenary presentations. No wonder, right? Show me the Romanian English teacher who wouldn’t want to see authors “in the flesh” and listen to their presentations? The topics of the plenaries are interesting, the language flows smoothly and effortlessly, the visuals capture the essence of the material, the interaction with the audience creates a bond and stirs the latter’s imagination, the jokes make it all a lot more enjoyable. And if, on top of all these, the speakers make use of their charisma (which they never fail to do), the success of the plenaries is complete.
There are around 10,000 teachers of English in Romania and, lately, a maximum of 500 of them are likely to meet at one conference or another happening over the year, with an average of 100-150 participants in one conference at a time. It’s sad and I can’t help remembering that there was a time when only one Macmillan conference would gather more than 500 teachers… Mind you, I’m not speaking only about the conferences in 2009 but about those in the last 4-5 years.
What contributed to the drastic decrease in the number of participants? For 2009, I guess we could blame the world financial and economic recess which affected Romanian teachers as well, but who’s there to blame for the previous years?
The organizers? No, definitely not the organizers! They put the same interest and dedication and hard work in making these events happen as they always did, they wouldn’t do with less than passion when planning their conference!
The guest speakers? Again definitely not! They are just as passionate as always about what they’re doing, they are the first to keep up with whatever is new in the world of ELT and they’re still motivated enough to share everything with us! What’s more, some of the speakers have fallen in love with Romania and the Romanian English teachers and they keep returning here whenever they’re invited. The more pessimistic among us would argue that the authors and teacher trainers keep coming back here because of various reasons: they’re paid to do it, they’re interested in promoting and ensuring their books and courses sell, they need to do it in order to give us, the participants, a sense of being important, or – who knows – maybe because a three-day conference in Romania is, to them, like a short vacation away from home.
On the brighter side, let me reassure everyone: native speakers keep coming to conferences in Romania mainly because they admire the Romanian teachers who, over the years, have kept showing interest and proving that they have really benefitted from listening to those plenaries, have kept or even increased the level of their enthusiasm in their profession and have demonstrated that they are worth their (i.e. the speakers’) effort of leaving families, personal problems and work behind and just come here, to enjoy once again the company of the best non-native English speakers in Europe!
Who’s left to take the blame? The Romanian teachers of English? Why blame them for their limited financial situation when the teacher’s salary is incredibly and offensively low? Why blame them when, after a conference, feeling so full of new ideas, so enthusiastic about the newly discovered resources, they return to their schools and discover the same old, ragged and soiled textbooks in the school library (no use ordering new ones, there’s no money to pay for them) or the same head-master who thinks the English class is a real mess (because the teacher allows the pupils to move around and speak freely)? Why blame them when the conference, the speakers and their presentations raise their hopes by showing them how interesting and enjoyable teaching English can be and then the reality of their job wakes them up with a cold shower: the commuting, the curriculum, the inspections, the exams for the teaching degrees, the loads of paperwork, the lack of materials and resources…
A sad but true reality: much as they might like to participate at conferences by the hundreds, enjoy the distinguished guest speakers’ presentations, discover all those amazing materials and resources and dream of how wonderful the world of ELT can be, more and more Romanian teachers (of English included) feel overwhelmed and demotivated by the ever-lasting reform of the educational system, the ever-changing laws and regulations and by the ever-humiliating indifference with which governmental authorities keep treating those who are made responsible for the education of their children and grandchildren, the future generations!