At the registration desk I received a large booklet listing the sessions being offered that resembled more of a Sears wish catalogue than any conference program I’ve ever seen. Sessions varied providing full day, key note and 45 minute sessions to poster sessions and special interest group roundtable discussions. It was TESOL’s 50th year celebration and my first time attending.
Excited! I packed my two full days with sessions and came away with some great ideas and gems to share with my colleagues.
The opening keynote address was an excellent way to begin! Aziz Abu Sarah, a cultural educator and peace-maker took to the stage where he shared his story- the journey from his childhood to where he is now- as well as adding in some of his possible future directions. One teacher inspired him to change his response to life from violently building protective and vengeful walls to one of building understanding and bridges.
Abu Sarah presents the importance of challenging our own stereotypes, building our understanding of others and engaging in experiential learning as not just nice but necessary steps toward building intercultural bridges and cross cultural understandings. He shared some vignettes from his experiences that illustrated each of these and how these actions cast a very different direction than one would- and at times even he- would have expected.
The final metaphor he left the audience with was this: Our world at this moment in time is like a building that is on fire. We all are presented with three choices. 1: We can run away from the fire. 2: We can form a committee to discuss who is responsible for the fire. 3: We can get a bucket of water and pour it on the fire. We may feel that as one person our bucket may not do much good; we may feel that we don’t have a bucket only a cup or a spoon to fill with water. Abu Sarah stresses that as educators we AT LEAST have a spoon! As educators we have the ability and means to connect with students and impact their lives and learning as one of his teachers did for him. That student, in turn, would go on to impact others and thus the cycle continues. Collectively, as a profession, we are committed to doing something! I may have a spoon, you a cup, a colleague a bucket. Together our efforts work to douse the flames of insecurity, misunderstanding, violence and fear.
You can read more about his work as a National Geographic explorer, cultural educator and peace-maker, more about his story and the teacher who inspired him through his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/azizabusarah or website at www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/bios/aziz-sarah.