Joanna Tsiolakis
Joanna Tsiolakis

Joanna Tsiolakis is a wonderful personality and educator I first met face-to-face in March and I am very fortunate to know her. Here Joanna shares her beautiful story for the What’s Your Story? blog challenge. Thank you ever so much, Joanna : ) 

 When I moved to Greece 21 years ago I was a bit lost to say the least.

The language and finding employment were a few of my stumbling blocks.  Of course, for everyone else the issue of ‘finding a job’ was easy.  “You’re a native speaker, so obviously you’ll teach English”, they said.  What was so obvious to them was not that clear-cut for me.  I did have all of the required English Language Certificates to teach, but what did I know about teaching?  Absolutely NOTHING!

And so, here starts my story.

I consider myself extremely lucky, or blessed if you will, to have worked for wonderful people who not only took a chance on me, but also showed me the way and encouraged me to improve myself and my teaching skills (of which I had none).  Thanks to them, (great heartfelt thanks to them!)  I have completed courses in English language teaching and Methodology and quite successfully if I may toot my own horn. Thanks to them, I have become a teacher I am proud of regardless of the fact that I didn’t go to University for English.   So, where was the problem?

Well, I am a very friendly and optimistic person by nature, so when I first started working at a Frontistirio I was very excited and ready to grab the bull by the horns; ready to start implementing what I had learned.  My first day was unforgettable, unfortunately though, not in a good way.  I was the “new kid on the block” and my colleagues weren’t ready to embrace me with open arms.  I distinctly remember the cold looks I got and the comments which revolved around the common, “So, do you have a degree in English or are you just a certificate holder?”  Which translates as, “Just because you’re a native speaker doesn’t mean you belong here.” “You know nothing about teaching.  You don’t have the fundamental educational background.” I can go on, but I think I’ve made my point.   Of course I lied and said that I do have a degree in English, because I was so overwhelmed by the negativity of these people that I was too afraid to tell them the truth. I think the worst thing was actually thinking that they may be right.

I remember one colleague in particular, we shared a Proficiency class.  This person purposefully didn’t share some very important information about the syllabus, (the part that “I” had to cover) which left me looking like a complete idiot in front of my class (as it was a student who brought it to my attention, in front of the entire class.  Yeah, can you believe it?), and a complete incompetent in front of my boss.   I mean, come on, who does something like that?

In all fairness, I don’t hold a grudge nor do I find fault in their attitudes.  They spent years studying to get their degree, worked hard for it and I come waltzing in, taking a position they thought I didn’t deserve just because I was a native speaker.

I don’t think and I never thought that because I am a native speaker I have something more/better to give to my kids apart from pronunciation and perhaps a better insight of the Canadian culture.

What I can say in all certainty is that it was attitudes like those that made me go further.   The monkey on my back that has, I guess, driven me to reach the goals I have set for myself.  So, perhaps I should be thanking them.

I do not want this to come across as me bashing those who have attitudes like that (really, I can understand your frustration), but I also can’t dismiss the dedication I have to being a better educator and all the hard work I’ve done / am doing to accomplish that.  NOT because I am a native speaker, but because I want to give the best I can to my kids.

I know I’m a good teacher because I love what I do.  I also know I can be a thousand times better because I love what I do.

So, yes.  My name is Joanna.  I am an English teacher who doesn’t have a degree in English.

Whew!  I feel like I’ve just come out of confession. 😉