Where Few Men Have Gone Before

Where Few Men Have Gone Before

LATE

Membership!

This is just a quick post (which has now dragged on for days) to let you know that I am now a card-carrying member of LATE (pronounced like latte (which is not pronounced like matte)). I attended the 25th annual Latvian Association of Teachers of English conference last Thursday and Friday. It was a special week for the organization being the 25th year and all, so that was pretty special.

I don’t have a lot of time to write because I have to catch the Red Bus to get to Riga to rent a car (yup, trying one more time) to go to some village to eventually see the highest “mountain” in all of Latvia. So my apologies for these quick highlights. (This was written several days ago, so it is all a lie now… full disclosure)

Day 1:

On the Daugava

The day began early, with the Red Bus to the MTS station, and then a Taxify trip to the actual building where the conference was held. I had no idea where I was going, but a walk around the block helped me find the front of the building. You can always find a conference by following the teacher-dressed people. The conference was right on the Daugava River, so I had a wonderful view of the bridge.

Sylvija, who is the head of LATE, started the conference off with announcements and acknowledgements, and then there were some presentations.

 

I got to watch a video on American Culture made by students. It was interesting, and accurate because at the end they pointed out that America is so diverse and large that there really isn’t just one culture. My take away (because this is how my brain works) was wondering why we have to have all these ethnic restaurants in America. If you go to Mexico and go to a restaurant, it is just a restaurant, but put it across the border, and it gets the label “Mexican.” I want to live in a world where food is judged by the quality and quantity of itself rather than the culture or heritage that it proclaims to represent! And I want to know what a Latvian restaurant in America would look like. Probably a lot like Lido.

Pearson…

I then had to sit through a presentation by Pearson, the textbook rulers of the universe. At NCTE last year, there were active protests going on against Pearson. Here, it was just a nice lady telling us what was new. It didn’t feel like some kind of overarching corporate power controlling all of education policy. But maybe that is part of their power? They did give me a cool apple.

Then I got really tired because I do not sleep as much as I should, so I went home. I also had a phone interview for a job as an English customer service person. I have a face-to-face interview on Tuesday, so watch for an update. I may be a working-class slob after all! (Update to come!)

Day 2:

25 Years

I was pumped for Day 2 because my social anxiety was much lower (now that I knew some people) and I was also doing my own presentation on Writing Marathons.

I got there early because that is how the Red Bus works. You do not have a lot of choices. I helped Sylvija set up the apple juice box on the table with the giant LATE 25 cake and about 6 boxes of wine and several bottles of champagne. We had a champagne breakfast and she recommended that everyone try making their own mimosas. Fun!

 

 

Then I got to watch a presentation on the curriculum changes in Latvian education… apparently, the European Union has an initiative to improve education throughout all of the member nations. Latvia used some EU grant money to reformulate the entire curriculum. As I understand it, the public schools all follow a national curriculum, and it is pretty rigid. I look forward to learning more.

So the leaders of this movement unveiled a brand new chart for all these English teachers to look over, scrutinize and question. During one of the breaks, I asked a female teacher how she felt about the changes, and she was pretty much just resigned to go along with it. I told her how some American teachers might respond to all these changes being revealed a week before the start of school… I don’t think it would be pretty. One teacher tried to take a photo of the chart, but photography was not allowed. These changes had not been made public yet. I felt very special to be there seeing all of this. The slideshow was all in Latvian, but the speakers all spoke English, so it was the best of both worlds.

After some good Q&A, I watched an UK speaker from Pearson do a presentation on changes in the English language. It was fun and fascinating.

Then I had my presentation. The room was full, which was new for me. I have done many presentations at difference conferences, but the groups are always very small. I will never forget being at NETA in this giant room, and having only about 7 people show up. Most of them were Nebraska Writing Project people, just there to give support. I told them who I was and then I did a presentation on Writing Marathons. They were incredibly interested, and at the end, I had lots of accolades with offers to come to other conferences and speak on other topics. I felt, for a moment, like a star.

Then I had lunch with Santa and another teacher at Lido, the ubiquitous Latvian restaurant that serves in a buffet style. After lunch, we went back, I broke a chair in the computer lab and watched a presentation on Google docs that felt like something from NETA circa 2002. (Doing a google search for NETA brings up lots of results that are not the NETA I was looking for… just FYI).

Big Room

All-in-all, it was a wonderful experience. The biggest takeaway from the LATE conference 2017 is that 99% of Latvian English teachers seem to be women. There was only one other male teacher at the conference. After my presentation, Sylvija gave me some good feedback, but prefaced it by saying something to the effect that of course they liked my presentation… “You are a man!” We both laughed about it, but I wonder how true that is?

 

 

 

I look forward to doing more presentations throughout Latvian schools. I feel like an ambassador for the writing project, writing marathons, and other American educational institutions! Exciting!

Photos!

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