7 March 2015
Dear colleague and friend of SKA,
Working on ELTForum 2014 greatly influenced the Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SKA) and led the Executive Committee to make the following decision: SKA will not be officially involved in organising ELTForum 2015 but will hold its own conference Friday and Saturday, 25-26 September 2015 in Bratislava.
This decision doesn’t mean we won’t attend or don’t think others should attend ELTForum. We think ELTForum is a fantastic event for English teachers and that we can all benefit from it. However, after ELTForum 2014, we realize it’s not where we, as your Executive Committee, need to place the majority of our energy and finances. These are our reasons:
- In order to be an IATEFL – the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language – associate association, SKA must hold its own annual conference.
ELTForum is not, nor has it ever been, a SKA event.
The original idea for the conference came from ELT publishers in Slovakia (Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillan, and Express) and the British Council – Bratislava. That was 2011. At that time, the Association of Language Schools joined in and, together, they came up with the name ‘ELTForum’. Together, that group of organizations footed the bill and put on the first ELTForum in June 2011.
ELTForum 2012 was organized by the same group of organizations, minus the British Council. ELTForum 2013 was organized primarily by the Association of Language Schools with the help of the ELT publishers, and with pre-official SKA helping out with volunteers and working with speakers. Last June’s event was organized by us, SKA, working with speakers, providing volunteers and doing a lot of the logistics. The Association of Language Schools helped financially and, via Klaudia Bednarova, did an enormous amount dealing with the Ministry of Education and various contractors.
The fact remains, however, that the Chamber must organise its own annual conference to be an associate of IATEFL and TESOL. The Chamber became an associate of IATEFL in February 2015.
- ELTForum is simply too expensive for the Chamber to pay for. ELTForum has a certain style and requires a certain way of doing things (the quality of the paper program, the website, the graphics, the cameraman, PR and such). To organize ELTForum means doing things in that way and spending the money required for all those things.
The way it was set up, the registration fee for ELTForum was only 15 EUR and included SKA membership for a year. It was the only income that SKA had and all of it, together with all the exhibitors’ fees and grant money from the Ministry of Education, was needed to pay for conference costs.
We currently have just under 300 members. Only 3 members have paid their dues apart from the conference fee. The only other income SKA has is the few euros that workshop participants pay every other month in Bratislava. We had to cancel a workshop on teaching English to kids with dyslexia last September as well as participation in our partner associations’ conferences because of the strain on our resources. Our participation in partners’ conferences is entirely dependent on individual members being able to pay their own way.
It isn’t financially feasible for the Chamber to organize ELTForum.
- The purpose of a teachers’ association cannot be its annual conference.
We, the members of SKA’s Executive Committee, believe that the purpose of a teacher’s association is professional development, networking and community (including the annual general meeting of the membership as required by our constitution). ELTForum is great for professional development and a bit of networking, but with so many participants and no annual general membership meeting, it doesn’t meet the criteria of a community for participants.
Last year, IATEFL found that out as well. They discovered through an external audit that too much of their time, money and effort were spent on the annual conference (always held in Britain). What that means is that the vast majority of its thousands of international membership receive very little for their membership dues. IATEFL is changing how it works.
The Chamber can learn from IATEFL and not invest everything it has only into the annual conference-craziness. There are teachers all over Slovakia who can’t come to an annual conference but still need professional development in their regions. If we spend all our resources on a conference, there’s nothing left for workshops and seminars.
- Because SKA is young and rather small, we simply do not have enough people to volunteer and cover everything for a conference the size of ELTForum.
After last June’s conference, our small team of volunteers was exhausted. The only member of the Executive Committee to make it to a plenary was myself – everyone else was working. None of us made it to a workshop. Basically, none of the Chamber volunteers – on registration, at the coffee tables, in the rooms, wherever – none were really able to participate in the conference. And, by Saturday evening, there wasn’t much joy to be found among them. The sheer size of this year’s conference made it too much for us as a volunteer organization.
- Finally, as many members have already told us, June is a crazy time to hold a conference. ELTForum is a June conference. Yet, many colleagues are off on class trips, there’s a lot of paperwork and marking to deal with, the universities face state exams, and what most of us are thinking about is how to survive until the summer holidays.
And so, we are planning SKA’s first annual conference for 25 and 26 September 2015. Because most of our members are in western Slovakia, it’ll be Bratislava (at Univerzity Komenského) and then in 2016, if our eastern members are willing to help with logistics, it’ll be in Košice or Prešov. The quality in terms of professional development will be the same as you would expect from an ELTForum conference, but we know now it’ll be smaller in size.
And if you have any questions at all about this decision, please ask. We aim to be entirely transparent.
The Executive Committee of the Chamber