As a part of efforts to continually keep up with the latest trends in language teaching as a lecturer at the English Education Department (EED) of Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana (UKDW), I participated in the 15th CamTESOL Conference, one of the biggest Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) conferences in Asia. The event was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on 16 and 17 February 2019 at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia. It was attended by more than 1,700 participants from more than thirty different countries around the world. The participants were English teachers, researchers in the fields of English Language Teaching (ELT) and linguistics, teacher trainers, administrators of English language schools and universities, as well as educators who have an interest language education in general. This year’s event carried the theme “Teachers as Learners” and more than 400 presenters around the world in total presented their papers, workshops, and empirical research in the field in the parallel sessions. The event was officially opened by the Minister of Education, Youth, and Sport, of Cambodia, Dr. Hang Chuon Naron, following the speeches from an International Development Program (IDP) Education representative, the ambassadors of the UK and Australia respectively on Friday evening, 15 February 2019.

My parallel session was scheduled on Sunday at 9.40-10.10 on the second day of the event. The title of my session was “Empowering Language Teachers and Learners through Critical Literacy”. The session, which was concurrently conducted along with the other 38 parallel sessions, was attended by around 15 participants from different countries in Asia among which were Malaysia, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Timor-Leste.

During my session, through Critical Literacy framework, I invited the participants to realize that the world around us, among which are news, novels, stories, movies, advertisements, TV series, and even culture, in general, are created from particular perspectives with particular hidden messages that people in general may not immediately realize yet may unconsciously accept them as normativity. For examples, certain races are often pictured in many typical Hollywood movies as villains or bad guys, for examples, Asians, Muslims, African-Americans, and Native Americans. Whilst enjoying movies as entertainments per se, people may miss such hidden messages, without them realizing, these movies may shape their viewpoints on what or who they consider good or bad in real life. This will create injustice and stereotypes in society. Hence, teachers are encouraged to realize such phenomena through Critical Literacy framework, adopt this framework in every day’s teaching practices and facilitate learners to be able to do so as well through learning instructions to help create more just and fairer world.

Among the speakers of the plenary sessions were Professor Anne Burns, Professor of TESOL at the University of New South Wales, Australia, and Joe McVeigh, Educational Consultant and Teacher Trainer, Middlebury, Vermont, USA. Professor Anne Burns explained that the word “TEACHER” can be extended into T-training, E-education, A-action, C-creativity, H-heart, E-energy, and R-Research. Saying so, she implied that good teachers should have a proper training, a good education, and take actions to become a role model for students. They should always have creativity in educating learners and love them (heart). They should always have energy to try new things, to enrich their capabilities, and to help learners. Lastly, they should always be updated with recent research in the field and should conduct their own research on their ongoing practices to continually see what works, what does work, and what needs to be improved.

In a similar vein, Joe McVeigh talked about the important role of teachers in class. Among others, they should adapt instructions to learners’ abilities, create a safe place for learners to learn, build a community in class, and make the class fun. They should not waste time, focus on solutions where there are problems, create a high expectation but set the right level of challenge. Teachers should offer encouragement and celebrate small success. Through conveying an example of flight instruction in emergency situation where passengers should put the gas mask on themselves first before helping other passengers, he, however, also warned teachers to be kind to themselves. Only when teachers are kind to themselves, he said, they can help others, their students.

Next year’s event will be held on 7-9 February 2020 in Phnom Penh with the theme of “21st Century ELT: Approaches for Effective Practices”.