Posted By: Leah Antil, PAS Intern, US Embassy, Kyiv, Ukraine
Just west of Kyiv along a long stretch of highway through ancient forests and tended fields lies the city of Zhitomir, the administrative center of Zhitomir Oblast. A major transportation hub, historically Zhitomir linked Kyiv with the west through Brest, and currently connects Chop with Kyiv and Minsk with Izmail and other Ukrainian cities. Historically, this city of 280,000 was one of the more prominent urban centers of the medieval State of Rus, first showing up in written records around 1240. Legend has it that it was first established in 884 by Zhitomir, the prince of the Drevlians (a Slavic tribe). Economically, the area around Zhitomir specializes in granite quarrying, indicated by the intricate and rather exquisite quarry markers and memorials lining the route from Kyiv. Throughout the city, there are hidden overlooks to the rivers that wind through it. The city also boasts a particularly breathtaking World War II memorial and eternal flame that sits atop the highest hill in town.
Academically, Zhitomir is home to several universities nestled among the many parks and public squares. This is what brought me to Zhitomir as a participant in the 16th Annual “Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages” (TESOL) Ukraine conference held at Zhitomir State University on April 13-15. Over 450 English teachers and representatives of schools in Ukraine and Belarus gathered to collaborate, attend trainings and presentations, and purchase the latest in English language teaching textbooks and classroom materials. After an international plenary of professionals from the United States, United Kingdom, and Ukraine, the following three days featured workshops on everything from incorporating music into lessons to creating effective classroom materials to using the latest social media techniques in the classroom. For some, it was a chance to meet old friends to share ideas and update one another on the world teaching English. For others, it was a chance to network and make new friends in the TESOL community. Bonded by common interests and common goals, the participants quickly developed familial relationships which enhanced the exchange of knowledge, ideas, and experiences.
This conference was particularly valuable for me as a TESOL instructor. It not only gave me a unique glimpse into classrooms outside the United States, but also taught me a great deal about the rewards and challenges of non-native English speaking teachers. I had not previously considered the differences between teaching a native language and teaching a second language. I was impressed and humbled by the command and in-depth knowledge that the non-native English teachers displayed in a language that I have spoken all my life. In the company of such devoted professionals, I was able to learn some very useful classroom techniques that I will incorporate into my curriculum. Although the conference was conducted primarily in English, I had the opportunity to communicate in Ukrainian and Russian with my cohorts, which is always rewarding as a non-native speaker.
In an historic city with renown in teacher training, language professionals had the opportunity to socialize, network, collaborate, and learn about further professional development offered by the Regional English Language Office at the US Department of State, which helped to sponsor the conference. Participants learned not only about in classroom techniques, but also about Zhitomir and its fascinating history. The conference was a success in every way, and participants are already anticipating next year’s event for continuing educational and cultural exchanges.