Smiling and always thinking about her students, here is Aphrodite Giouris!
Smiling and always thinking about her students, here is Aphrodite Giouris!

I am very happy to present Aphrodite Giouris, an English language teacher in Greece who does amazing things with her students! Aphrodite is a firework – she is one of the most enthusiastic and dedicated teachers I have ever met and feel privileged to feature her here. She blogs at ELT Inspired. Over to Aphrodite!

Vicky: Aphrodite, thanks so much for accepting to give me this interview! We have met once in person, but also connecting with you on social media has been great for a variety of reasons we will go into in this interview.

Aphrodite: The pleasure is all mine, Vicky! I still remember the time we met in person during the last TESOL Greece Convention in Athens! At the end of your presentation on blogging, I told you that if I ever manage to have my own blog, I will tell everyone, that it was because of YOU! You have been my inspiration to start blogging, Vicky and I love following you on social media. Your positive energy, passion, kindness, professional  commitment, sweetness, friendliness and above all, inspiring aura, are what make you a very special person!

Vicky: Thank you ever so much for all your kind words, which give me a lot of strength! I am so happy you have started to blog, because you have so many things to teach us and share. Let’s go a bit back in time now. How did you become a teacher, Aphrodite?

Aphrodite: I was only 12 years old when I wrote in my diary: “Dear Diary, when I grow up, I want to be either an English teacher or a journalist”! I was lucky enough to have experienced both, so far … I spent most of my time,  when still  in university, writing for newspapers and magazines in Athens and worked for about two years for  a local TV channel, as a reporter. I have also been teaching English, since I was a university student!
I remember that, I used to walk outside  school buildings when I was a teenager and think to myself: “This is where I want to be working, in a few years’ time”! I knew from an early age what I really wanted to do…

I became a teacher because I believe teachers can make an impact.

Aphrodite's students in action!
Aphrodite’s students in action!

I think about my impact on the world often, honestly, sometimes too often. Teaching kids and dealing with them feels good, as in no other job. I  feel great about the fact that I might be playing  a significant role to inspire them build their future and that feeling enriches me with a sense of responsibility.
I have always wanted to impact lives and improve the quality of education; considering the fallout in my country’s educational system. My Greek teacher in high school Mr Vasilis Siouzoulis, has being a great inspiration. I love the way students regard him despite decades of passing through his tutelage. He was passionate about what he did. He motivated me with his unique teaching style. I love children and gearing their developmental stages positively. I believe it is earnestly imperative to groom conscientious, focused, purposeful students who will combine efforts with already laid brass tracks to build a great world. I want to be known to teach my students beyond their books.
Why I became an English teacher in particular? Well,  I just love communicating with people all over the globe! And foreign languages, especially English which is an international language, is the most powerful tool to do that! The English language has helped me to be the person I am today. I have gained my education because of that ability to comprehend, use & manipulate the English language. I have repeatedly informed my students about English being a weapon for them to use in order to obtain knowledge, progress in life, achieve their dreams and be the best that they can be.  I learned english  because I wanted to succeed in my life, too. It is as simple as that! I love to know more about the world around me, the planets, the stars, the universe, the mysteries … the language with which I can know more about so many things & wonders is mainly the English language.
I personally believe that  English  is very important nowadays… This  is not merely being said, because I am an English teacher but the reality is simply that it is an extremely useful medium to achieve your goals, gain knowledge, progress in life, share and obtain information without much misunderstanding, for business, for commercial reasons, for updates in technology, for science & medical reasons and I can go on & on … And this is what I wish to teach my students, too. I usually tell them that “English is an open window to the World” for them …
We are not in this profession for money! Our students’  love and appreciation are  all we need to feel happy! I sometimes wonder why I get paid for something I love doing so much and which is so rewarding ! I could have been a teacher, even without a salary! It’s merely because I love what I do!  I really do!

The kids' work!
Aphrodite’s kids holding up the beautiful work they received from Annie Tsai’s kids!

Vicky: I couldn’t have said it better – your passion and dedication shine right through. Now about the lovely people in your classes – can you tell us a few things about your wonderful students? What levels and ages do you teach?

Aphrodite: I currently teach primary school students aged 9-12 but I used to teach all levels and ages in the past. I worked in the secondary sector a few years ago and in local Technological Institutes and  private schools and institutions. My school is a small school in the suburbs of a Greek town in central Greece. There are about 180 students in my school and 25 students in each of my classes this year! Difficult to teach in such large classes but I try to do my very best, regardless of the negative circumstances! The majority of them come from Greek middle class families. We also  have many students whose parents have come to Greece from other countries to find a job.
The Greek financial crisis has affected us all at school, in  several ways… Teachers, as well as the majority of our students’ parents, have suffered dramatic wage cuts, but we are not fighting for money or privileges, as many people think. We are fighting to save education. Most of our schools lack all the basics and all our students have been affected directly or indirectly by the crisis. When I step into the classroom every morning, I leave all my problems outside! I start the day with a smile! My students deserve my best smile!
I teach them life skills during the first week. I teach them goal setting. I want them to be optimistic, hardworking, dreamers, fighters….they are the future of this country! What we put in, we take out! I personally  put emphasis on team work! When students form a group, social skills kick into action. Kids must learn to work together and cooperate. This is an opportunity to make friends and talk with others — networking can start in the classroom. This is a chance for the kids to expand their vocabulary, work on patience and learn how to take turns. Conflict resolution may also become part of the learning equation. Each student can benefit on a personal level from teamwork. She can feel like a valued part of the group as she contributes to the project and shares her ideas, which can build confidence and self-esteem. The student will be exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking, which can expand her personal view on the subject. Teamwork activities can be the time for each student to shine and show others her skills and talents.

Visible thinking - the kids' work on the lassroom wall!
Visible thinking – the kids’ work on the classroom wall!

Days can get long and dull when you have a group of kids that are disconnected and staring at the walls. Group work is a welcomed change in the normal routine and gets the kids out of their seats. Schoolwork becomes more enjoyable and rewarding,then….I have recently written about the importance of teamwork in my class in my Blog!
My students are adorable  but,  my classroom is not…paradise on Earth! I hope, when all this is over some day, to have made the difference in, at least, ONE of my students’ life!
I am thankful for my students! I have aways been…

Vicky: One of the things I truly admire about you, is that – against all odds, in a time where education gets very little financial help in Greece these days, as you mentioned – you have managed to build an amazing environment in your classroom for the kids, full of colours, projects and visible thinking, to borrow the term from Project Zero. What gives you the inspiration for all these ideas?

Aphrodite: My students are my  number ONE inspiration! I want them to feel happy and  learn in a friendly environment. My classroom is full of colours and all the walls are covered with students’ project work, arts and crafts!  Their imagination and creativity, makes it as beautiful as it looks…
My PLN is my second source of inspiration!  In order to be able to put my ideas into action though, financial help is really important … I have been struggling to raise money to run my projects and work in class, either by asking – begging  the parents’ associations for support  as well as the several publishing houses out there (which, at least, have donated some  books to our English library) or by organising  school bazaars, just to be able to keep a small amount of the money earned, for our English class needs. It has been HARD work all these years, have to admit that!
Many years have passed since  the beginning of my teaching career … but, nothing much has changed! I mean, I  keep working on  several projects with my classes, we continue exchanging our projects with more than 6  schools all over the globe every school year, I still do my best to have  at least one -handmade – magazine made  each school year , but still….. I work in schools with no computers or other facilities, I work extra hours .…earning nothing but my students’ love,  have had no chance to take part in a Comenius partnership yet (due to several reasons which have NOTHING  to do with my willing  to do so).
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!

Vicky: You have started an amazing pen pal project with other countries. One I have seen in detail is with Annie Tsai’s class in Taiwan (Annie is one of the next educators to be interviewed on the blog!). How did it start and what kinds of exchanges have you had so far? Can you give us some insight into your students’ thoughts and feelings? I am sure they are thrilled!

Aphrodite: Annie Tsai has been a blessing for my students! She is an amazing educator in Taiwan and I am so thankful we have been collaborating for some years now! Well, I have been working on projects since the beginning of my career as an English teacher. When I had to  to travel all around Greece to work. Even when I had to change the school I worked in, every single year or I had to work in 3 different schools in the same day!I had to walk  long distances carrying my heavy bag and  some years later, had to drive to a different village school  during the…. break.
Our first partners, were colleagues I had met in  my seminars abroad or, my own ….pen pals ! My first pen pal, when I was 11, Julie Barbie, who still lives and works in North Carolina, USA, was one of my first partners! We both became primary school teachers and it was so touching to have our kids experience the same thing.
When I started working on pen pals projects, nobody thought I was doing anything exceptional, but my students! Most headmasters used to refer to my extra working hours on those projects as ‘useless, worthless and a waste of time’. I used to beg for money to buy stamps and had to carry those parcels to the local post office on foot! When I asked one of the headteachers in a Karditsa area village school, to support  financially our -handmade- class magazine  (which was photocopied and distributed to students)  he just refused. He even said: “What’s the use of this? You don’t get any extra money for all these extra hours you spend putting this  magazine together…that’s silly!”
I have practically collaborated with schools in almost all continents. Yet, one is missing: Australia, which is my next target. Project work, goes like this: we send our partners a project on a topic we have both decided upon. They reply by sending us the same topic project. How fascinating for our students to share and compare!
Arts and craft, play an important role in all our projects! Unfortunately, there is not an Arts teacher in my school. I am the only one who can help my kids with the artistic part of the projects.
Due to the fact that, we have no computers at school, I always print lots of pictures and display them on our notice boards, for all the students to be able to see…
Some projects come in the form of a magazine a poster or a booklet. All projects are put up on each class projects corner,  for everybody to see ,untill a new project  takes their place and they are sent to our partners abroad! Snail mail projects are more fascinating for students than emailed ones because it’s real stuff! You can touch them, hold them, smell them, take them home, display them on the classroom walls, share them with your friends, attach little presents to them! Kids are so very proud to present our country to our foreign friends! The projects are always presented in class before they are sent abroad. It’s team work therefore, the teams decide how they wish to present their project….it can be a poster presentation, a class board game, a teams game, a quiz, a skit and so many more! I ask them to use their imagination , when it comes to presenting their projects in front of the audience! Albert Einstein once said:

Imagination is more important than knowledge because, it has no limits.

Drama plays a very important role in project presentation..Project presentations become more interesting, when drama is involved! Kids really have lots of fun – but the most important thing is that, these projects don’t remain in our classroom. They travel away to other classrooms! It’s just amazing for my students, to see their project work in another classroom, so far away from home!  ….Sharing and comparing, is what makes this projects exchange with schools abroad, a unique experience for my students!

Vicky: All this is fantastic Aphrodite! I hope one day I can visit you classroom and see you all in action. Speaking of sharing and learning, you also engage in social media. How do they help educators?

Aphrodite: In Greece and everywhere, teaching has always been an isolated profession. Teachers were limited to sharing the experiences of their colleagues in their building or district. If they were in the group of a fortunate few, they might have gotten to experience a professional conferenceechnology historically allowed learning to expand from face to face contact to distances beyond the limits of both time and space, and the Internet has moved that to a whole new level.
In my school, there is ONLY ONE computer in the headteacher’s office. I usually work on  my home computer, and have yet  managed to connect my classroom with more than 70 other classrooms  all over the world  during the last 15 years or so , mainly with the help of social media and my PLN. I wish I had a laptop in my classroom …I could have managed  to acheive so many more with it! Still, I am going to start an Etwinning partnership soon ,using MY own laptop and a projector! Nothing can stop me! Answering your question, I would say that I know for sure that online platforms enable users to:

  • create, share, adapt and reuse content engage in digital dialogue and collaboration
  • create links, groups and communities
  • have peer-to-peer contact
  • have social interactions with other users
  • create and maintain their own user profiles and IDs

I am grateful for social media and my PLN, in particular! If it wasn’t for them, I would never have had the chance to connect and share with you, my awesome partners all over the world and have been able to learn so much and become a better educator myself!….

Vicky: Aphrodite, you have recently started an amazing blog with a lot of sharing of great ideas. Can you tell us more about it?

Aphrodite: I have to repeat, that it was because of  YOU, dear Vicky  that I started thinking about creating  my own Blog! YOU were my inspiration, when I watched your presentation on blogging , during the TESOL Greece convention in 2013 in Athens! I can’t thank you enough for that! Blogging has already opened  new perspectives in my teaching career… In today’s social media world, many of us share the details of our lives with friends on Facebook or by text message. As a teacher, I have a powerful opportunity to model blogging as thinking,  using a teacher reflection blog or a teacher area within my  blog. Share my teaching philosophy with  colleagues, model blog writing style, and show my  openness to comments and feedback by participating as a blogger “in front of” my PLN and the world!  I can show that me , too, enjoy learning every day. I do my best to post regularly so everybody can see that I  value blogging (maybe every week or two?). My blog is only  about 2 months old…It is about various aspects of my life as a teacher. I talk about teaching ideas and tips, about my life as a teacher of ELT,and sometimes about things outside the classroom.

The kids in action!
The kids in action!

My intentions are to share:

  • my  feelings about school life
  • what excites me about that I see in my class
  • what I learned from summer travels or seminars and conventions I regularly attend
  • cool websites or other blogs I find
  • cool ideas and good teaching practices in my class

My Motto is: SHARING IS CARING
I was surprised to find out a week ago, that although my Blog is a newcomer to the blogsphere , has already  been nominated for the “ABC award”! I have to thank “Sincerely Kate” ( http://sincerelykaterz.wordpress.com) for this honor!

Vicky: That is absolutely fantastc news! And now, we have reached the end of the interview. What would you like to tell everyone reading your interview right now, as a closing comment?

Aphrodite: 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!

Vicky: Thank you so much, Aphrodite and I am so happy we will meet again face to face in March!