JALT's annual conference will be 35 years old in 2009, the same age that Dante was when he wrote "The Divine Comedy." Though we do not expect the conference to be infernal in any way, we do like the image that Dante used in that famous first line: "Nel mezzo di cammin di nostra vita……In the middle of our life's path….." The age of 35 is a pivotal one. It is a point at which we are old enough to look back at the past, while still looking forward to an exciting future; a measure of maturity and presence has been attained. At 35, the JALT annual conference is now an established major international event on the professional circuit, and continues to attract outstanding professionals from around Japan and from around the world.
Our theme for JALT2009, "The Teaching-Learning Dialogue: An Active Mirror," embraces the multiple perspectives of being 35. Mirrors allow us to look at a single object from many different angles. In a good teaching-learning situation, there is always another way of looking at any issue. Teachers do not work alone, and neither do students. All of us, whether we are teaching, studying, writing, editing, or training, are engaged in an active dialogue of exploration. This dialogue is often audible, as in a classroom lesson, or visible, as on a textbook page. But just as often, it is silent, as in private speech, or invisible, as in the hours of feedback and revision that go into every manuscript before publication or every presentation before delivery.
Like a dialogue, a mirror is both a reflector and a stimulus to further action. What is a mirror but a tool that clarifies the gaze of the 'other'? We use mirrors to see ourselves in close-up detail, and for increasing our ability to see others, for signaling, for review, for adding space and light to rooms. Mirrors can work like periscopes, to refract both the image and our viewpoint of it. Mirrors offer not only duplication but continuation, multiplicity towards infinity. It is our belief, as co-chairs of a conference about education, that learning and teaching function together as socially-constructed mirrors of each other, in a dialogue that is always open to expansion and increase, embracing both the tiny detail and the need for more space and light. Language teaching, like language learning, proceeds successfully only when reflection and a variety of perspectives are involved. As Dante wrote, true wisdom, "…through its own goodness gathers up its rays within nine essences, as in a mirror, itself eternally remaining one…" The dialogue is not only many-sided but stronger for it.
As you prepare to submit a proposal, think about registering, or board a train or plane to attend, think—as the poets do—about the questions that underlie the journey: a first step towards participating in the teaching-learning dialogue is to look into the active mirror yourself!
At the conference, who will I be talking to? Who do I talk to when I teach? Who is it that I want to reach with my ideas? What do I hope to hear in return?
What will I learn? What will I teach? What images will be multiplied, for me and by me?
What will come from this dialogue? Where do I want to take my listeners? Where does this journey lead?
JALT2009 will certainly be, like previous conferences and future ones, an exciting, collaborative, many-sided forum of ideas, materials, suggestions, reflections, questions, and discussions. With your collaboration in the global, on-going dialogue of language teaching in Japan and abroad, we will open new spaces for reflection as well as action, for listening as well as speaking, for giving as well as taking. Please join us at Granship Shizuoka to continue the conversation!