It’s one of the most important foundations of a shrinking world. Teaching English as an additional language is vital to commerce, community and creating conversations between cultures.
This October, BC Teachers of an Additional Language (BC TEAL) will hold its 2014 Interior Regional Conference at the Selkirk College Tenth Street Campus. More than 100 teachers, administrators and community leaders will take in the one-day event at Mary Hall.
“People are always going to want to learn English. That’s the bottom line,” said Tyler Ballam, the Selkirk College instructor who is heading up the organization of the conference. “How that’s delivered is where there is the dialogue.”
The theme for the conference is “Interior Designs: Building Teaching and Learning Communities.”
The idea of building connections throughout communities is central to the conference concept considering most in attendance work in areas far removed from the Lower Mainland.
Though immigration is more pronounced in the larger urban centres, Ballam says his colleagues face similar challenges and put forward similar goals.
“You are not just a teacher,” he said. “For many of these students you are their first point of contact when they come to Canada.
“You are representing Canada and the place you live because they are dealing with culture shock. That adds to the stress because you are not just teaching a language, you are important to their lives, their success and their happiness.”
An Unforgettable Experience
Ballam knows what it feels like to experience culture shock. When he graduated from the University of Victoria, he headed to Asia where he took a job teaching English to elementary school students near Seoul, South Korea.
“It’s a culture shock going from Victoria to Seoul in a matter of weeks,” he said. “There is no intermediary period where you are eased into it. It’s night and day.”
Armed with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree and no specialized training in how to actually teach English as a second language, Ballam says it was a struggle.
“I walked into class and there were 12 little Korean kids looking at me,” he says. “I thought: what I am going to do? In retrospect, I didn’t really know what I was doing… I was pretending to be a teacher. But I survived and learned.”
Ballam adapted and ended up spending 10 years in South Korea, eventually taking a job teaching at a university and in his spare time earning a Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language.
Looking to return to Canada, four years ago Ballam accepted a job at Okanagan College teaching English to a cohort of Saudi Arabian students.
He started in the Selkirk College International Department almost three years ago and currently teaches in both the English Language Program (ELP) and the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Program (TESOL).
“There were points when I was in South Korea where it was just too much, it was overwhelming at times,” says Ballam. “That’s why I like being part of the TESOL Program so I can advise these future instructors on what they are getting themselves into. Every situation is different, but you have to be prepared.”
Dr. Scott Douglas — a University of British Columbia instructor and author — will be the plenary speaker at the BC TEAL conference in Nelson.
There will also be a number of other presentations and group discussions involved during the day-long event.
Ballam says it’s important to bring together a group of people who are working towards the same goal of helping improve communication across borders and cultures.
The conference takes place on October 4 at Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus. Registration is now open at bcteal.org.