As iron sharpens iron, so one teacher sharpens another

symposium 1

The BRAZ-TESOL Rio Grande do Norte Chapter (BTRN) was founded in early 2010 without a very definite idea of what difference we would effectively make. We all just felt we needed to do something to make the ELT community more connected  and professionalised while having fun in the process. Six years on, we can gladly look back and see what impact BTRN has made. We have provided colleagues with countless opportunities to develop their talents and become better teachers, managers, trainers. We have held seminars, conferences, courses and, very recently our first-ever symposium with over 150 participants, 4 plenary talks, 14 concurrent sessions, 2 drama sketches, 6 Pecha Kuchas, raffles and so much more. Quite an achievement for an association that started so very unambitiously!

Now in the wake of the symposium I reflect on what it is that we have really attained – and the two words that most aptly describe my feelings are togetherness and mutuality. As important as all the things mentioned above are (talks, courses, etc.), they are probably not what ultimately brings about change in teachers’ lives. It is the intense contact between teachers, between human beings that does. Repeatedly in my experience going to conferences I have attended sessions which had apparently, as Morrissey (1986) sings, “said nothing to me about my life”. However, while talking to a fellow ELTer during the break, I have often been given fresh perspectives and managed to make sense of what the presenter had imparted. There are many reasons for that, especially the fact that we are more open and prone to really listen to people we know, are comfortable with and like.

We ever so often hear that teachers should join a teachers’ association and go to events because it makes them better professionals. It does indeed. However, I personally feel too much focus is put on the technical aspects of the profession only: you will become better able to present new language, give feedback and so on, while other equally (or even more important) aspects are left aside, namely the connection between people. How invigorating is it to go to a conference and hug a dear friend you have not seen for ages?  How transforming is it to hear from a colleague about their successful experience teaching English to at-risk children in a favela? How mind-opening is it to have your established ideas respectfully challenged by a fellow practitioner? The effects of such elements are hard to gauge, but they are a vital part of teachers’ gathering at ELT events.

symposium 2

An ancient book teaches: “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (The Bible, Proverbs 27.17). So it is when teachers get together, because it is through other people’s eyes that we get to know ourselves better. It is from genuine interaction with colleagues that we hone our skills, sharpen our teaching techniques, find solutions to common problems, encourage one another and ultimately become happier human beings. Engaging with colleagues through teachers’ associations and ELT events has become a quasi-religious activity to me and, in many ways, transformed me into the professional and human being I am. For that reason, I can only but encourage anyone who takes the profession seriously to join the movement, get involved, get committed. After all, “life is about the people you meet – and the things you create with them.” (Holstee, 2009)

Fernando Guarany

BRAZ-TESOL Rio Grande do Norte Chapter
Together we are stronger


  1. Morrissey, S. P. (1986) Panic. London, Rough Trade Records, Ltd.
  2. The Bible: New International Version, 2011. New York, Biblica.
  3. The Holstee Manifesto: Lifecycle Video. (2009). The Holstee Manifesto. [Online Video]. 29 October 2011. Available from: [Accessed: 28 August 2016].

Photo Credits: Marcelo de Cristo

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