November 7, 2010

TESL Ontario Conference 2010

Recently I spent a few days in Toronto for the annual TESL Ontario Conference. It’s a great opportunity for some professional development and spend time with your peers from across the province. The Honey made the trip with me and he hung out doing whatever he wanted while I attended workshops and seminars.

One of the keys to this TESL conference is to register early. If registration opens on the 15th, register on the 15th, and as early as you can. In past years I’ve always left it late and been disappointed with what I experienced so this year I registered by noon. And believe it or not, I still had trouble getting into some. Oh well, a Friday morning to sleep an extra hour or so and have breakfast out with the Honey; can’t complain too much about that.

Whenever we’re in T.O we try to get to Wayne Gretzky’s down on Blue Jay Way. We’ve been doing this since the restaurant opened oh so many years ago and we’ve always enjoyed ourselves. The Honey is an Oiler’s and Gretzky fan, and that’s the only time I saw hockey growing up (Mom: ‘Come on girls! Wayne’s on T.V!’ supporting the boy from next-door Brantford). As a vegetarian I always found something to eat and at Gretzky’s, the pierogies tasted homemade. This was the first time making the trip since going gluten-free.

First things first: The wait staff was very patient and helpful in making decisions and happily asked the kitchen questions if needed. It was very much appreciated; especially after realizing finding something wasn’t going to be easy. My first two choices (I always pick two things because I figure one of them is bound to be safe) were ixnayed – the bison burger (with breadcrumbs) and the Thai chicken stir-fry (flour in the sauce). One of the sympathetic waiters went through the menu with me and I finally reluctantly decided on a salad (It was October; who wants a salad?!) with seared flank steak. It seemed the most filling, substantial, and warmest salad. The salad dressing was out; there was flour in it (again, appreciated the update). The suggested plain-old oil and balsamic vinegar ended up being what the salad needed. With the nice roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, cheese, and steak the lighter dressing allowed me to taste the salad for what it was. I was happy. Like old times at Gretzky’s, we had good service and food and that made the evening enjoyable (the company was good too Honey!). We realized though, our return trips may be for drinks instead since the menu is quite limiting. Drinks at Gretzky’s… that’s still not half-bad.

We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel at the Roger’s Centre and were lucky enough to have a room overlooking the stadium. Thursday night we went to bed after seeing workers putting lines on the field below. We opened up the curtains Friday morning to this:

It was the perfect vantage point to see my first CFL game.

The Honey had picked me up some cider and we ordered some gluten-free pizza from Magic Oven on Jefferson St. It was fabulous. It’s how thin crust pizza should be done!


About the conference itself: I attended some great workshops and seminars; met some really nice people, had some good laughs, and of course, picked up some awesome materials. The publishers always attend and it’s a great way to flip through books (textbooks, resource material, audio guides, whatever) and decide what you like and don’t like. You can visit their websites to see what they have in their catalogues, but to hold them and flip through the pages gives you a better idea of what you like and if the material is worth it or not. The reps are pretty helpful too, making suggestions or steering you towards something more practical. Of course, the publisher’s have seminars too, but I find they are always pumping up a certain book, and often it’s not what I’m looking for or need. I’d rather spend my time elsewhere.

Another key to the conference is to take some snacks with you. If you’re going from room to room, there may not be time to grab a bite somewhere or the lines may be too long. And if you’re gluten-free, good luck. I had cinnamon raisin bagels from Natural Pantry in my bag so I ate those whenever the munchies hit. There are water stations throughout the conference and it’s nice to stay hydrated. Always take a drink into the room with you; you never know when you’ll get thirsty and if you leave you might miss something. There’s a tea/coffee service mid-morning so take advantage of it. Having something warm (with or without caffeine) is a nice pick-me-up mid-morning. Also, by day three you may really need that boost.

Since I pay for this conference myself (unlike a friend who receives funding because she teaches LINC) I try and squeeze in as much as possible. This is never recommended because it’s a sure-fire way to tire yourself out. However, I want to get my money’s worth and learn/experience as much as I can. To balance it out I go to seminars that interest me and benefit me and my teaching. If the session blurb says ‘lecture’ or ‘paper’, I take a pass. I find them exhausting. I also take breaks here and there. Often there will be ½ to 1 hour between sessions so I relax in the many chairs throughout the conference or in the hotel lobby. I’ll have a book or magazine to shift my mind to something else. Or I’ll wander through the exhibitors; flipping through the materials relaxes my mind a bit while putting ideas in there. Lastly, if you can’t get into a seminar, don’t fret. Every seminar has a last-minute-line so if there is room, you can get a seat. Sometimes if there are only a few people in the secondary line, they can all be squeezed in. However, don’t use this to get into every seminar as it can be frustrating if you can’t get in.

The weather was nice. You know, the typical warm Toronto; the urban heat island effect under full swing. Even though we would have liked to spend a few more hours out and about, we decided to head back to Ottawa. It was a good thing too because this is what we came home to:

The first snowfall of the season (and it wasn’t pretty on the roads).

Stay tuned to Part 2 where I’ll post some thoughts on the seminars I attended.


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