MittenCI 2018, 377 teachers from 16 states, gathered together in Saline, MI on the weekend of April, 20th. It was an incredible weekend, with many returning attendees from 2017 and many brand new to the world of teaching for proficiency. How did it happen and why? What keeps people coming back to conferences like this? Read on for the answers to these questions, a sneak-peek at some behind-the-scenes Mitten info, and a hint about some of the exciting things we are working on for next year!
MittenCI started as a glimmer of an idea, when Kristy Placido and I spoke about the lack of Comprehensible Input training in Michigan. The conference became a reality when Beth Gregones and I decided that we needed more training to help our district transition from legacy teaching (with textbooks, vocabulary sheets, and grammar rules) to the Comprehensible Input (CI) style of teaching. A few teachers in my district had been to multiple trainings, but most had only had a single TPRS training with Blaine Ray. If you have made the jump from legacy teaching to CI teaching, you will know what a challenge this can be; and how training with experienced teachers can make all the difference in the world to your transition. The problem was that our district did not have the money to bring in the big name trainers. The only way Beth and I could make it happen was to bring the trainers in at no cost to our district. The only way to do that was to host a conference. Saline agreed to give us the space for free, if we could bring in the trainers (if you build it, they will come).
Beth and I had no idea what we were doing when we first started working on the conference. We started by asking Carol Gaab, and Kristy Placido of Fluency Matters to join us; to our shock, they said yes! From there we quickly added Dr. Bill VanPatten, Carrie Toth, Tina Hargaden, Justin Slocum Bailey, and many other incredible talents (both local and from far afield). We emailed teachers across the state, begged the high school culinary instructor, Chef Musto to make us delicious food (priorities), and agonized over decisions like what kind of name tags to order. Not only did we do this at the end of the school year (when we both had a million projects going on for our actual classrooms), but we also did it for FREE. That's right, for free folks. Saline let us have the space gratis, but we were not allowed to pay ourselves. So Beth, myself, and our dedicated language teachers worked like crazy people to make it happen! Going into the first day of the first Mitten conference we were not sure we would hold another conference. It was an insane amount of work, and we were completely exhausted.
Why did we do it again? And why do we already have a date for 2019? Because of all of you amazing teachers out there. The joy in the halls was palpable. There were teachers literally crying tears of joy. They had never heard of this method of teaching, they wanted more. More training, more camaraderie, and more Mitten. Our conference started as a way to get training to our district, but it was clear from the first day that it was so much more than that.
Before we crawled home on that Saturday, we had already decided to do it again. Teachers coming together to support each other, and grow together is one of the most powerful things I have ever experienced. The power we have when we work together, and support each other, can literally change the world. What could be more important?
You may be wondering, where is the description of the sessions and other great takeaways? The truth is, between organizing, teaching two language labs (see a video of one of them below), and running a session on Bad Unicorn, I was not able to attend a single presentation. I did find a few great blogs about other sessions though, and you can check out one from Sarah Breckley here; and from Señorita Glasbrenner here. You can also see a great video of what the conference looked like with Darren Way below!
Want a hint about the upcoming Mitten conference? We will have 7 presenters on Friday next year AND our keynote is the incredible Dr. Krashen!
Why throw a conference if you can't even take advantage of the learning opportunities? Because it is bigger than any one teacher, or one school. This is about changing our profession, lifting each other up, and changing the world.
"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." - Nelson Mandela
For teacher appreciation week, I posted my 'Teacher Stats' on Facebook. I realized that over the course of my career I have connected with over 4,000 students. Each student is a chance to lift a child up, to teach them another language, to teach them about the differences between local culture and new places in the world, and most importantly to teach each child how we are all the same in our basic need for love and understanding. If we can teach children to appreciate the differences, but also to see the connections between themselves and the rest of humanity, we as teachers, and as language teachers specifically, have a chance to change the world in a way that no other profession can.
We can only do that if we support each other and grow together. This is what Mitten was and will be about, and I hope that you can join us at ACTFL at the CiPosse booth, at our house at ACTFL for salon-style after hours conversations, or at one of the amazing conference opportunities below. As a teacher alone, we can make a difference, but as teachers united, we can change the world.
Upcoming Training Opportunities:
NTPRS: July 9th- July 13th
Comprehensible Cascadia: July 10th- July 12th
IFLT: July 17th-July 20th
Express Fluency: August 6th-9th
CiMidwest: October 5th-7th
ACTFL: November 16th-18th
MittenCI: April 26th-27th
I hope to see all of you amazing difference makers at a conference soon!
Erica M. Peplinski