State schools in Greece: can ELT teachers, actually, make a difference?

 

 

The basics

The Greek education system has been criticized over the years by Greek people for various issues, like difficulty levels of the exams during Panhellenic Examinations, number of teaching hours in schools etc.”

I personally, teach Primary.

In Greece, Primary schools are called “Dimotiko” (demotic, meaning municipal), a carryover term from a time when such schools were run by local communities. The name remains although it has been obsolete for decades. In the first two years pupils are not officially graded, and parents obtain feedback about their performance via oral communications with teachers. Grading begins in Year 3, and written exams are introduced in Year 5. Graduating from one year to the next is automatic, and pupils with deficient performance are given remedial tutoring. Years are called “classes”, from first to sixth.

Enrollment to the next tier of compulsory education, the Gymnasium, is automatic.”

 

My experience and few facts

I have been working  in a State/Public School, for more than 20 years . I have also worked in Private Schools, Private Language Institutions/Schools, Technological Educational Institutes (T.E.I.), Vocational education and training Schools.

Generally talking, there can be heard and seen lots of facts that show people’s disappointment by the Greek Education System.

Many people claim that Greek schools’ role does little to help them make use of their abilities in life.

In Greece, students often have lodged complaints about the teaching and grading system of their teachers.

More than 90% of Greek schools are public and over 90% of all pupils in Greece attend a public institution. The Greek Constitution grants free public education to all citizens, including immigrants who live in Greece permanently. All students are provided with free textbooks and free transport if they live far from the school.

 

Public education is certainly advantageous from a financial point of view, but may lack the necessary technical infrastructure and organization present in private schools.

Another important issue which is causing disturbance in many Greek families is the existence of paid private classes named frontistiria (φροντιστήρια) whose attendance by the Greek students has become a necessity in order for them to be able to achieve high grades and succeed in their exams. This is a phenomenon noticed especially as the student approaches the 3rd grade of upper high school because of the high difficulty of the Panhellenic Examinations. It has been an object of criticism due to the high fees that most Greek families are called to pay, thus deviating from the concept of a free and accessible education for everyone.

On the other hand, a system that is deprived of resources (school libraries, computer labs, modern buildings, adequate play spaces, etc) can only depend so much on the creative potential of the teachers. A lot of articles have been written on the starving students, lack of books, heating, electricity, copy paper, etc.

The system is starved. What do we expect the teachers to do with just a basal in their hands?

ELT in Greek Primary Schools and the English Teacher

Many years ago, the introduction of foreign language instruction in the early state primary
education was expected to limit or even replace private language tuition. Far from such
expectations, however, the number of private language institutes in Greece more than
tripled ,during the last decades, as private language tuition seems to have become
the norm rather than the exception.

The data of the Ministry of Education show that currently there are more than 7,350 language schools in the
country. The fact is that state schools provide fewer contact hours and less intensive courses
than private language institutes… this may be one of the reasons why parents tend to believe
that foreign languages are better learned at private language institutes.

 

Teachers of English in Greece are expected to be highly proficient in the language they teach
and quite well versed in current teaching methodologies. However, university courses in
methodology seem to place more emphasis on raising student teachers’ awareness of
different methods and approaches to language teaching rather than providing an
educational background of pedagogical principles .
Contrary to what might be expected, the introduction of English language teaching in
primary education has had very little influence on the programme of studies of the relevant
university departments! Consequently, even today, the pedagogical education of English
language teachers seems to be quite limited.

According to  my dear Greek colleague Vivi Hamilou, on her  blog post :
“Can we really expose Greek EFL learners in public primary schools to experiential learning (learning by doing and making meaning from having a direct, personal experience)? I couldn’t really answer that by saying just a ‘yes’, or ‘no’. We work in public schools with outdated and or inadequate facilities, we only have 3 45-minute sessions with our learners per week at best, transporting learners to the appropriate place for experiential learning to place costs a lot … I could go on forever, but would I only be making excuses?”
 
  Unfortunately, the constant changes in the Greek education
system and political instability have affected TEYL in the country.
Language teachers in Greece, whether in the private or public sector, are not offered pre- or
in-service training, which is vital for the development of any educator. The
present situation results in new language teachers beginning their career
confused and lost. Because of their lack of self-confidence language educators
resort to teacher-centred approaches which they imitate from their own
experience as students as will be discussed (Giannikas, 2013a).
Language teachers in state schools carry the stereotype of the
demotivated educator with limited will of professional development due to the
security they feel once commencing a career in the public sector. During
interviews, however, state school teachers made it a point to emphasize the
extent to which they take pride in their work. Those who have been in the
profession longer claim that they have grown exhausted of the constant
criticism they endure, since they feel they are not the ones to blame. They
believe to be neglected lacking basic facilities and an updated course-book.
They have not received training and are currently struggling with various
teaching approaches suggested by the Ministry of Education. The fact that
teachers have had no guidance to make any new adjustments to their practice,
has increased their hesitation in introducing their own teaching material,
changing teaching approaches or even applying a different seating layout
(Giannikas, 2013b).
Greek Primary Schools -Can we make a difference?
On the other hand, I work in Primary and I know first hand that, many English Teachers in Greece, use all the above as excuses ….
And I personally, hate excuses!

 I strongly believe, we should never complain, in life, in general  !

I never do!

After all, my  motto is….”when there is a will, there is a way” !

Even if things are not ideal, we teachers can do our best, with what we have.

For me, the key word, when it comes to teaching YL is CREATIVITY- Not school resources and Ministry policies!

Creativity makes a huge difference. Creativity is vital for any classroom to be successful. Creativity can make the difference in our ELT even under the most difficult circumstances! Especially, in State Schools.

Although formal training will help you develop as a teacher, it’s important to connect with others in our field. Inspiration can come from the big-name speakers and writers, but just as often, it comes from teachers like you and me.

It’s never been easier to find inspiring teachers to follow on Facebook, Twitter and in the blogosphere. We can follow and read their blogs, we can join a Teachers Association and attend  talks and workshops, live or online.

You can start a teaching journal or a blog. I have!

The act of blogging and describing your teaching ideas generates conversations with other teachers, and those conversations stimulate more ideas!

Learning about other things is important too. Creative teachers bring more to class than just a knowledge of teaching.

A sure-fire way to burn out as a teacher is, to stick to the same ideas and techniques without trying something new. This approach is bound to demotivate your students at some point too.

According to my favourite High School teacher, Vasilis Siouzoulis, our role as English Teachers, regardless the circumstances and the objections , is to inspire , to groom conscientious, focused, purposeful students who will combine efforts with already laid brass tracks to build a great world.

Being a teacher means being there, giving everything I can, making sure I am as knowledgeable as I can be about my content and about my students’ lives; it means sacrifice for the sake of helping kids in need and it means caring about students unconditionally. I am not a teacher for me–We are  teachers for our students. When teaching becomes about us, I think , we will know, it is time to stop teaching.  Being a teacher is exciting, enjoyable, and REWARDING! There’s nothing more rewarding for a teacher than to see how happy , engaged and enthusiastic her  students become when they work on something that makes sense and connects the class with the world! It’s priceless! Believe me! It’s worth any effort!It brings the class together, it helps the teacher connect with the students more and the students connect with their peers all over the globe by means of an international code of communication: English!
My  most favourite quote, comes from Albert Einstein:

If the longing for the goal is powerfully alive within us, then we shall not lack the strength to find the means for reaching the goals!

It is all about making real connections with our students…..

loras photos3

There is a strong possibility that I’ll have to change school, next school year!

The school I am currently working in, is a small state school, with basic facilities, located  in a ,rather small, Greek town…

I admit that, I have faced many challenges  there, so far…

For example, I had to fund  my eTwinning and other projects , myself..!

Unfortunately, my headmasters were reluctant  to support my work, both financially and practically !

Therefore, I had to organize school Christmas Bazaars,in our English class, to earn some money, both for my class projects and the school needs in digital equipment, every year !

In the long run,  those Bazaars have been proven surprisingly  beneficial, for  my students! As beneficial, as our European projects and our end-of-the-school-year musicals and shows !

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So many great memories…!

Every single day, brought us all closer… Every precious day of learning together!

I have realized that,although professional development programs often speak to differentiated instruction, classroom management, technological growth, curriculum development, and standards creation, in the long haul, what fires an educator’s inner motor is to see that he or she has made a difference in a child’s life.

Connecting with students is satisfying and warms the heart.

After all,connecting with students is the reason most teachers teach, isn’t it?

MY suggested ways to make these teacher-student connection work?

Well…….After all these years of teaching experience, here’s my list.

mosaic24

Don’t be “boring.”
This is foundational, I think…. Much disconnection starts here. And, weak communication is one root of “boring.”

 Capture their  attention.
As human beings, we are more attentive to that which is novel. One reason that some teachers-me included-  prefer to work with younger elementary students is that the world is still fresh to them.

mos2014 self est web3

Making connections, in class…

 Motivate.

We all know that, if it is somewhat inconsistent with prior attitudes, it stimulates. If it stretches us too much, it will demotivate—we shut down. That is why a (sensitively) demanding  a teacher with high expectations, often gets good results.

Be caring

Where appropriate, the loving concern of a caring teacher, can strongly impact the resilience of a kid struggling to grow up.

Respect.
This one is not negotiable !No respect, equals no connection. Period. The kids say, “Respect us and let us respect you.” Connection will not happen if there is no perception of respect.

mosaic skype last3 Be reciprocal.
Do things together. Share common interests and concrete experiences.

 Create memories.

Memory matters. We should develop and encourage warm and positive memories of school time in our class!

 Spend time just chilling.
Listen. Be there for our students .The gift of time is an unparalleled treasure.

 Become a warm memory.
We may think that we don’t matter that much. We do. We cannot get out of the way. WE are the way. They are watching.

Last but not least: 

Be passionate

It can be a lot of hard work, and there can be moments when we just don’t necessarily have the energy.

I think that, rather than let ourselves get discouraged, we should try to think of it as a passion.

I also think that, if we have a fiery passion for what we’re teaching, it won’t be nearly as difficult to actually teach it !

Passion is something that most people have, but we don’t often channel it to whatever we are trying to do.

So……Let’s  Channel our passion!

mosaic show new22

HERE’S MY FAREWELL VIDEO….THE HARD WORK ,OF AN AMAZING SCHOOL YEAR, IN PICTURES!

Dedicated to those beloved students! I  miss them already….

http://www.kizoa.com/Video-Editor-Movie-Maker/d54478978k1396134o1l1/happy-scholl-year-201516-memories

 

Off to knew challenges=new opportunities , next school year! Off to new adventures!

 

My Interview to the amazing ,Vicky Loras

My Interview to the amazing ,Vicky Loras

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Vicky and me, a year ago…….first meeting in Athens.

Being a teacher means being there, giving everything I can, making sure I am as knowledgeable as I can be about my content and about my students’ lives; it means sacrifice for the sake of helping kids in need and it means caring about students unconditionally. I am not a teacher for me–I am a teacher for my students. When teaching becomes about me, I assure you, I will know it is time to stop teaching.  Being a teacher is exciting, enjoyable, and REWARDING!!!! I get no greater thrill than seeing my students achieve. I am constantly in awe of my students and their abilities.
Being a teacher is NEVER about counting down the last days of the year, but rather, to rue them, because I will lose yet another class to the high schools.
I am JUST  an ordinary teacher Vicky ! I just happen to love my job.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my work in a small Greek classroom with the world!