In your hands

My life as a teacher of English and other curiosities

January 30, 2011
by annavarna

Beware of the teacher

This past week wasn’t particularly creative. What with being sick on Monday and Tuesday, and then trying to catch up the rest of the days. Having a kid sick at home didn’t help much either but now we are at the end of it and we are all OK, ready to embark on our new week tomorrow.

A highlight of the past week though was going to Karditsa on Wednesday after school, to attend a training session with other teachers of English in my area. We would have a guest lecturer from the USA so I was looking forward to it.

To be honest the presentation itself  (Teaching English to students who are deaf or hard of hearing) didn’t live up to my expectations. It’s not that the presenter didn’t know what to tell us because it was obvious he had a lot to say. But I think we somehow lost track of what he was saying because he was trying to answer questions from the audience at the same time, and then time flew and we had another presentation to watch and you know how it is: at the end of the session you don’t have a clear idea of what happened and why.  All in all I am not much wiser on how to teach English to people who are deaf or hard of hearing (and I happen to have a student like that in one of my classes and I often feel frustrated and fear I am not doing a good job with him), but there were other advantages and gains to be had from this session.

I think the most interesting thing that kept coming up was a different mentality to education. Some of the issues that emerged were the organization of Special Education in the US, the involvement of parents (and how militant they are as Mr Miller mentioned), professional development, attitudes of teachers in schools and how Special Education teachers may feel isolated from their “regular” education colleagues. Mr Miller didn’t paint a perfect picture of American education. He expressed his worry that in the pursuit of better results in international assessment charts such as the PISA tests, authorities seem to miss the bigger picture and become irrelevant by cutting recess and physical education.

But while we were discussing all these things I couldn’t help comparing with our own situation. “You can’t compare Greek education with the US one” people are telling me, OK, I know the US is sooooo much bigger than Greece, so much richer, and many other things so much more. But maybe it became like that because on Election Day their teachers are doing Professional Development and they don’t miss four days (like we did this year on Election Week).  Or maybe it’s because they don’t spend all their resources trying to come to negotiations with Physical Education teachers who are paid for being idle in some areas while in some other areas, in the centre of Athens for goodness sake, there aren’t any of them. I don’t know, I’m just saying…

I struggled a lot to write this piece. Not because it is such a great piece of writing but because there are so many issues that keep coming up whenever I sit down to write about education in my country. Every single day there is a challenge I have to deal with and I am not talking about what happens in my classroom. These are beautiful challenges that I am looking forward to. I am talking about the other ones that come up in the staff room, about “little” breaches of the law that happen so often that come to pass as accepted. But I read this wonderful piece by an intrepid teacher and because I want to be INTREPID too, here it is.


I’m just posting a photo of students’ work, because this is what I’m proud of and what keeps me going every day!

December 28, 2010
by annavarna

What did you learn today, teacher?

Is it common for other professional groups to hang out mainly with their own or is it just us teachers? And do all teachers talk shop whenever they meet? It never ceases to amaze me how, despite complaining about school, when we see a fellow teacher we immediately start talking about it again, comparing, suggesting, exchanging information. And you know something? Because education is such a deeply political aspect of our lives, it permeates everything. The other day we had agreed to discuss anything but our jobs. We were three teachers of English and an ex teacher of French. We had agreed but, of course it kept coming up. It’s not such a bad thing after all. It even inspires blog posts!

The three of us are in such different teaching situations and have arrived there from at least two different paths. V has recently taken up teaching in private afternoon schools after being a stay-at-home mum for years. She is enthusiastic about her job, tries hard to keep up with the challenges of it and is still trying to find the ropes around ELT in Greece. E graduated University a few years ago, would like to work for state schools but until this happens she also teaches in afternoon schools and experiences frustration when she has to deal with ignorant English School Owners. Yours truly works for state primary schools, has all the security she needs and lives constantly in the fear of becoming one of those teachers who sit behind their desks at the beginning of the term and are dragged out of the classroom at the end of it. There are many points that could be discussed here about qualifications, about wanting to work for State Education (and how sane this is), about security and pay but today I’ll write about something else.

At some point E raised the question of professional development. What happens, who does it, is it obligatory, how can I do it, why school owners don’t do it are some of the questions that came up. I remember a similar discussion I had had with two friends of mine who aren’t teachers. More than ten years ago, when the first exam for State School Appointment was given, teachers who were already teaching as substitutes were complaining that how could anyone ask them to be examined on things they hadn’t been taught. Even today professional training is a permanent demand made by teacher unions. However, my non teacher friend saw things from a different perspective and asked why we teachers never took advantage of the already existing opportunities for professional development. Even then there were hundreds of learning opportunities either by EU or other professional groups, TESOL conventions and workshops but most teachers either ignored them or even snubbed them.

Now, the situation has changed dramatically. Having a computer and an internet connection is like taking part in an on-going conference, like having hundreds of presentations at your fingertips, like having access to the most up to date library, like being a kid in a candy shop and no money limit (be careful there, we don’t want you to get an information overload).

So I would say that professional development is obligatory for each one of us whatever our teaching situation and when it is not offered we should seek it. And for new teachers out there who might complain that they don’t have enough time to correct papers, let alone to attend seminars and read articles I would argue that maybe if you attend these seminars you would learn how to manage your time better.

So here is a guide on how to start you own Personal Learning Network and continue your professional development.

1.       Become a member of an association either local, national or intenational. For example UTEK (Union of Teachers of English in Karditsa), TESOL Greece, or IATEFL). These associations usually have newsletters or publications with interesting articles and organize seminars and conventions. If you could go to an international convention it would give you enough material for PD for a year.

2.       Use Twitter and Facebook for professional reasons. Twitter is an excellent source of information and links of any kind, whether you are looking for teaching material or useful blogs or polemic discussion. Start today by following influential educators such as Marisa Constantinides, Shelly Terrell, Karenne Sylvester, Russell Stannard, Vicky Loras

3.       Another opportunity for development that started in twitter and may go far beyond it, is ELTchat. This is a professional discussion that takes part every Wednesday night since September. Members agree on a topic by poll, and discuss it on line using twitter. The transcripts of previous chats as well more information about it may be found here. But most of all it is a fantastic way to create your own PLN to find people doing the same thing you do in different countries in a different way. Their enthusiasm is addictive!

These were just some of the tips I had to share. I have written about twitter and how it has changed my teaching life again and though sometimes I have so much information in my hands I don’t know what to do with it, I never regret spending time in cyber world. So if you are new in ELT, if you don’t know where to start, if you have many questions don’t hesitate to ask. Don’t hesitate to make connections. Wonder! Keep learning! If  nothing else it will make you a better person!

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY, full of challenges and opportunities!

UPDATE 5/1/2011

– An older article I had written about twitter in my professional life

– A new post in one of my favourite educational blogs related to PD and how it can empower teachers

IMG_4376A photo from teacher a training session organized by school advisor Ms Kollatou and participating presenter your truly!

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