How My Baptism of Fire Went up in Smoke


It’s been over a decade since I first addressed an audience eager to hear what I had to share. I can’t say that I experienced wet feet upon gazing my audience, rather relief that my first presentation was soon to be over. As in all professional fields, proper preparation is essential; a time-consuming process which demands meticulous attention to detail. All the hours and hard work were about to bear fruit as I was looking forward to some well-deserved rest after the conference would end. You see, some might call me obsessive, due to the fact that I would rehearse and enhance a presentation multiple times before its official delivery. Little did I know that my baptism of fire would be postponed not once but twice and, in the end, my presentation practically fell upon deaf ears or was completely disregarded due to the dubious intentions of the organizer. But let’s take things from the beginning, shall we?

For obvious reasons, I do not wish to disclose the name or venue of the conference, as this would definitely harm the organizer’s reputation. However, for the sake of narration, I will simply refer to the perpetrator as ‘Jane’. Venturing into the field of teacher training presented a certain allure which I always found compelling. The potential to share my teaching experience with prospective educators of our field was a challenge and a desire I wished to meet. A call for presenters caught my eye and I quickly responded. I was legitimately honest about my educational experience and the thereof as a trainer. Regardless, after a few email exchanges, my proposal was accepted. I was to make my official debut in the capacity of a teacher trainer.

Text by: Katherine Reilly

I immediately commenced preparations, focusing all my attention on the presentation at hand. Countless hours of rehearsals as regards delivery of content, intonation and of course minute details concerning wardrobe and hair styling occupied my mind days before the actual event. The wait admittedly took a toll on me as I experienced both apprehension and concern for the quality of my work and efficiency.

A few days before the event, Jane contacted me bearing unsettling news of the unavailability of the venue in which the conference was to be held. “Hey Katherine! Funny thing happened today. The owner of the conference hall decided to rent the place to another organizer. Don’t worry though! I have everything under control. The event will take place somewhere else, on another date!” Of course, I was not one to pry, as her statement, although precarious, was not beyond the realm of doubt. I complied and awaited further updates from her.

In the meantime, I continued practicing my delivery in anticipation of the event. Sure enough, a few days later, a new date was unveiled along with a prestigious venue. I was baffled to say the least as the establishment was highly regraded by colleagues of the field. I had booked my appointment with the hair stylist, prepared my equipment and notes and the day before the event, I was notified of a second cancellation due to ‘a miscommunication with publishers’ who were to be present at the event. “Hey Katherine! You’re not going to believe this! The publishers I asked to be present, won’t attend because of other commitments. We’ll figure this out though and reach back to you asap!” Naturally, I had lost faith in Jane as the logical assumption to make was that she was either inexperienced in organizing such events or made disputable professional agreements. She did assure me that the event would be hosted in the near future and that upon confirmation of a final date, I would be notified immediately.

What made me scratch my head was the fact that she hadn’t mentioned the number of attendees she was expecting. Had anyone actually showed any interest? Is this how conferences work? I had no knowledge at the time, nor did I know the habits and preferences of the specific audience of the region. Nevertheless, I did not want to miss out on the opportunity to train colleagues for the first time and I complied. A few days later, the unexpected happened…

“Hey Katherine! Good news! Can you present this weekend? It’s on Sunday so hopefully that won’t be a problem.” I almost dropped the phone as I didn’t expect confirmation of the event and felt a bit rusty. I had more or less lost hope it would actually happen. Despite the fact that I were soon to present, I couldn’t help but ask a few questions. “Hi Jane! Do we actually have any attendees? Are the publishers showing up? Why would you inform me less than a day before the event? More importantly, what is this address you gave me? Is it a conference hall?” Back then, google reviews and information were scarce. What little information I did find, referred to a language school in a small town. Jane assured me there would be an audience waiting for me. She also stressed the fact that the venue was inspiring. Since I had nothing to lose, I made travel preparations and packed my belongings. It was actually happening! My debut as a teacher trainer!

Long story short, I travelled to the venue in hopes that an audience of at least a dozen people would be waiting for me. Little did I know that wasn’t the case. Upon entering the establishment, I came to realize the venue, although welcoming and cozy, was void of any guests. I was immediately greeted by Jane herself, who welcomed me with open arms. “So glad to have you here! How was your trip?” she asked with a grin of desperation. From the look on her face, I concurred she made the greatest of efforts to conceal the truth from me. She was obviously hiding something. To no surprise, I was greeted by the owner of the establishment who seemed furious. It turned out that Jane was paid a respectful sum of money to organize a training at the school owner’s establishment, with the goal of promoting the language school in his vicinity. She had promised the school owner a greater attendance with the ultimate goal of promoting the school itself. Only a handful of attendees eventually showed up, all belonging to the staff of the educational institute. The main room which was to be used for the training was adorned with textbooks of various publishers, displayed as if attending a book conference. No publishing representatives were present though. Based on my experience, if notified, they would of course have arranged to be present. A sign that she either had no knowledge of the ELT field or was incompetent at organizing such an event.

As for me? The most uncomfortable feeling a speaker or trainer could endure, is that of addressing a small audience. To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. I was also asked to do a shorter version of my presentation as Jane was more interested in having my picture taken alongside the few English language teachers present that day, with the ultimate goal of adorning the school’s social media accounts, thus the school itself. Perhaps the most awkward of all instances was having to pose with the owner’s mother and two additional members of staff, neither of whom were English teachers, rather the mathematician and physicist; a rash decision to make the event feel wholesome and promote the notion of a larger audience.

The school owner had no interest in having his picture taken. Fortunately, I was paid for my services but the tension in the air was prominent. The school owner had entrusted her with organizing a larger event to which she had agreed to. His frustration was all too clear and the few words he did exchange with Jane, along with the hand gestures he used made it more than obvious. If her intentions were genuine, I would never learn. Was it incompetence? Misfortune? What I will attest to is that years after this predicament, she almost completely dropped off the ELT map, with only occasional activity relevant to the field itself. As for the school owner? He was kind enough to take me out to dinner before I headed back home; although the quantity of wine he consumed reflected the frustration clearly visible on his face. Fortunately, before leaving I purchased a couple of souvenirs and made a few lovely acquaintances with the staff of the school. My debut as an ELT Trainer was not the glorious one I would have wished for. The experience, however, was an eye-opener. Not everything is what it seems, and the field of ELT is no exception. If you wish to pursue a career in ELT Teacher Training, I highly recommend you do. The wonderful experiences I have surpassed throughout the years, necessitate an article of their own listing.

Just bear in mind that your first experience might not be ideal. Don't allow that to deter you from pursuing teacher training. It is both a privilege and a responsibility to pass on what we have learned to others and help our field reach even greater heights.