An Interview with a Conference First-Timer

This week, we're pleased to bring you another interview with a little perspective from a former first-timer. Take note of Pranjali Mardhekar's insight and practical advice, and share your own questions and impressions of our conference below!

Last year was your first time attending the Literacy Texas Conference. What was it that first piqued your interest in the event?

PM: The Literacy Texas Conference came highly recommended by my colleagues at Harris County Public Library and Literacy Advance of Houston. The decision to attend was an easy one to make after having looked at the program and there being a possibility of receiving a scholarship. The topics for the sessions were indisputably interesting and a lot of them were relevant to me as a volunteer tutor for refugees and low-income population. I found that there was something in it for everyone in the field of adult education. Moreover, it seemed like a great opportunity to interact with some of the laudable people and organisations who are at the forefront of shaping adult literacy in Texas. I learned a lot from the sessions I attended and I must say the conference exceeded my expectations.

You’ve attended both the annual conference and one of our regional symposiums. How did each of the experiences differ for you? What do you think makes the conference valuable for those that have already attended a symposium?

PM: I attended the Gulf Coast Literacy Symposium earlier this year. It was an enjoyable and intimate gathering of peers from in and around the Houston area. It allowed a lot of interaction among the attendees which was wonderful while being as informative as it could be in a day. The annual three-day conference, however, gives the attendees access to a much larger pool of information and an opportunity to learn from some of the most experienced adult education professionals. Another aspect that sets the conference apart from the symposiums is the presence of several publications and organisations that set up their information desks. I was introduced to a myriad of useful resources (some that are given out free of cost!) available to tutors that I was not aware of before. The keynote speakers and award recipients at the conference were a source of inspiration and motivation, which I think is important for us as volunteer tutors – to be reminded that we are indeed making a difference. For me, personally, it was incredible to see the various admirable things people do and the creative ways in which they are resolving issues in the field of adult education.

What are you most excited for at this year’s conference?

PM: I had a truly enriching experience at the conference last year and it was mostly because of the sessions I attended. Similarly, this year I am looking forward to attending sessions where I improve and gain new perspectives on my ESL teaching practices. I am not, however, looking forward to choosing one session over another, which I know is inevitable!

Do you have any words of wisdom for people attending for their first time?

PM: There are 60+ sessions and you can’t attend a third of those even if you wanted to! I was a tad bit intimidated by the choices I needed to make! There is a high possibility that a session that sounds very interesting is overlapping with the one that sounds exciting and fun. I’d recommend going through the program and break-out session topics and synopsis thoroughly beforehand. If two sessions you’d like to attend are taking place at the same time, see if you can meet the presenter and request copies of their PowerPoint and/or handouts.

There were a lot of people at the conference last year and I was unable to meet some people I would have liked to only because it was too difficult to locate them! If you seek to network, organise your time because the tea breaks and lunch breaks simply whiz by!

I wish I had carried a backpack instead of a shoulder bag given the number of handouts, brochures and freebies I was carrying around by the end of each day. I also remember it being freezing inside the hotel, so if you’re like me, someone whose toes and nose are perpetually frozen, it might be a good idea to carry an extra layer even though you could bake a bun in the Texan heat outside the hotel.

This is me ending with a cliché – most importantly, enjoy yourself!

Pranjali Mardhekar is passionate about teaching English and Adult Education. She has a Master's in English Language and Literature and has gone on to earn the CELTA certification from Cambridge University. She is currently doing the Diploma in TESOL from Trinity College, London in pursuit of a career in teacher training. She has been teaching English as a Second Language and literacy alongside Hindi and French since 2012, most notably in India, New York, and Texas. Pranjali has a deep belief that pedagogy must honour learner engagement and learner choice to be successful.

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