I have been a member of several teacher associations for many years, and there is a wealth of experience to share with my colleagues around the globe. The first one was of course at school where I worked. Traditionally, all the teachers belong to what is called “a methodological association”, or department. There is one for every group of subjects: the local language and literature, mathematics and science, foreign languages... All the schools are members of their district, city and regional organizations,with various events held annually for each department. For instance when a British ELT specialist comes to our city to deliver lectures and conduct workshops or to take part in a conference, every school gets a notice and teachers are free to attend. It is not a rigorous system, one can participate in any event or not. It is always an individual decision but for a few occasions when teachers are informed that it is a must for some valid reasons. In such cases a school may simply send one representative who will later inform all their colleagues about the important news, changes and reforms.
Many cities have ELT associations which are called ELTA with part of the city name included, for instance NovELTA, Nov being an abbreviation for the city of Novosibirsk. They have been organized specifically for EL teachers who work at schools and universities. Our annual methodological conference attracts a large number of participants from the region and several guest speakers from other areas of the country as well as EL fellows from the USA. It is a great opportunity to meet and share, to establish contacts and to take part in various workshops. In 1987 IEARN, International Education and Resource Network, was formed thanks to the enthusiasm of the first two participating schools, one from New York and one from Moscow, Russia. The association grew in geometric progression. I started working on international projects via the Internet in the 1990s, learning on the fly so to speak. My first mentors were project coordinators from the USA, UK and Australia. In a couple years I became a coordinator myself, helping my colleagues from many countries. In the year 2000 teachers from 64 countries met in Beijing for the by-now annual conference. Now there are more countries, more teachers and students who benefit from the IEARN activities.
The European Network appeared by the end of the last century, with its own amazing projects and events. I went to the huge EUN conference in Brussels in 2003. I don’t think any of us even slept during those three days, so great was the desire to communicate and to share. Many of us met for the first time in real life at that memorable event, though we had known each other through the Internet. So what exactly does membership in a teacher association bring into your life?
• It is instant communication with colleagues around the globe. Visit the association site, choose a project or a discussion topic to your liking, connect with the coordinator, post your ideas and see the response. If you don’t feel confident or don’t know yet how to include a project into your own lesson plans, just check the news, see what others are doing, decide for yourself if you can and wish to be a member or a participant.
• Any such association is flexible. If you become a member, if you wish to take part in a project, try to gauge your own and your students’ potential. See if you can write essays with them, or make illustrations, or create a site, or simply engage in an email exchange. We did that with a Dutch school; our third-graders, aged 8-9, happily wrote tiny essays about their home towns, schools and families. Later on they exchanged homework in mathematics to compare how it was taught in their respective schools. And they did it all in English.
• While working on a small project with primary school children I once happened to make a discovery which I shared with my colleagues. I noticed that children wrote their messages using different colors for every letter of the alphabet, so that their writings looked like rainbows. A dyslexic child worked really hard laboriously picking out every letter in the keyboard and changing fonts. There were no mistakes in her composition! I began to use this “color-letter” method with other children who had learning disabilities, with very good results.
• Teenagers gradually grew into more sophisticated dialogues and group messages; they also created new sites for their schools. We continued our project with a German school via 5e Internet, and then managed to raise funds for several real-life meetings. The German high schoolers visited Siberia and our local groups went to Germany. They lived in the local families and attended lessons at school for two weeks, comparing their customs and traditions, their curricula and schedules. Needless to say such an exchange is beneficial for teachers and students alike.
For me, being a member of a teacher association, taking part in various projects, continuous communication and sharing means Windows into the Whole Wide World.