My #YoungerTeacherSelf post for @joannacre’s blog challenge

Where it all started - the old building of the Faculty of Philosophy, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece
Where it all started – the old building of the Faculty of Philosophy, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Joanna Malefaki has created an amazing blog challenge, where teachers write to their younger selves, called the #YoungerTeacherSelf blog challenge. What a great idea and what lovely posts we have read so far!

I had to start teaching almost as soon as I got into university, for the reason that I was studying far away from my family and they could not fully afford my studies. Therefore, I had to dive right into it, but I was fortunate enough to have great professors and colleagues to help me out in this difficult, but incredible journey.

Here is my letter to 18-year-old Vicky and a few years after that, when I was a scared teacher, afraid of many things and mainly how it was going to be. 

Dear Vicky,

I know that your whole life you had been dreaming of becoming a lawyer, and that education was your second choice. I assure you that this is a choice you will never look back on – you will absolutely love it and you will be happy you accidentally got into it!

You will have lots and lots of students and you will learn so much from them and from teaching them. They will come to you with dreams, enthusiasm or lack of it, a great variety of talents and each and every one of them will leave their mark on you. Mistakes are part of the deal, but don’t worry, you will always make them. You want to learn and become better, don’t you? These mistakes are there to remind you of this.

Some day, you will be connected to so many educators, not only face-to-face, but also through the internet. Especially through social media. What is all that social media stuff, you ask? You don’t believe me? Wait and see! You are excited about emails so far, but just wait until you see what other things you will be using in a decade or two! And you will learn so much from and with these educators, who come from all over the world.

It is absolutely fine to deviate from the coursebook. Do you think that task on page 76 is not appropriate or does not help your students? Skip it! Change it! Weave it into something else and don’t worry. Not all students learn the same way and not all tasks work out as they are designed. You want the best for your students, right?

Be happy you did not take that professor’s advice, who told you in your second year not to become close to the students at all, because they will only “take advantage of you” and “you are there only to teach them, not help them with their lives in general”. Regardless of their age, students are all human beings with feelings and if we can help even one of them with a problem they may be facing, it is so important. They are not only there for us to teach them the difference between Past Simple and Present Perfect and then shove them out the door.

Whatever you do, don’t stop learning. You will never know everything and that is super! You will always be developing and growing as a teacher, through reading, writing, attending conferences, learning sessions. This is something you will tremendously enjoy. Keep going and keep learning!

Love,

36-year-old Vicky

My journey to become an ESL teacher by Katie Burgess – What’s Your Story?

Katie Burgess
Katie Burgess

Next up on the What’s Your Story? Blog Challenge…Katie Burgess! She takes us on a trip from Hungary to the US to China – what a beautiful story about how she became a teacher.

Köszönöm, Katie!

I knew I was meant to be a teacher when at age seven I gathered my stuffed animals and my reluctant little brother into my room, having them sit in a circle around me, paying close attention to my small chalkboard, introducing them the world of numbers and letters.

My inspiration was my first grade teacher, Miss Varga who taught all 42 of us how to read and write. To me, as a small child it was such a remarkable experience that in a short time I could put meaning behind those characters, the letters which at first looked so intimidating, foreign and scary.

I admired her patience and wisdom. It seemed nothing less than a Miracle that I was introduced to the world of letters and numbers and I contributed it to her Power. Yes, to me, she had the Power of knowledge which she has passed on to us.

And I wanted that magical Power.

I come from Hungary, a small European country with a unique language. From 3rd grade we already studied French and continued with Russian from 5th grade on. I kept studying both because I was fascinated by languages and cultures entirely different from ours.

At university, I majored in French and Latin was mandatory for 2 years. I continued with Italian, just for fun, which seemed relatively easy after the two other romance languages. Then in my 2nd year of studies when I picked up applied linguistics as a minor we were asked to study English so that we could read related articles and that’s when I met English, for the first time.

Even though I had plenty of experience with languages, when I first bumped into the word enough, I became frustrated: how can you possibly write this word this way and then pronounce it in such an unexpected way?

I quit English shortly after enough– it’s too hard… doesn’t make any sense…can’t pronounce certain sounds…

Two years later I was in in the US, in Miss Chloe’s evening class, along with a number of other freshly arrived immigrants, having one common goal: to learn English because it’s a must in order to survive in the New World.

I respected Miss Chloe, our ESL teacher: her dedication to us, her everlasting patience when we have all struggled with the weird sounds and I knew, right there: I want to become an ESL teacher. I want to be there, in front of a class where everyone needs to learn English, for their career, their promotion, for their education, or simply to survive.

So I did learn English. Two years later I passed the TOEFL test, with flying colors and went on studying at University of Oregon.

When later my family and I relocated to my home country I started to teach English. And there was no stopping me, after that.

I continued my education at Cambridge University, eventually got my Masters and have been attending seminars and workshops to better myself.

In my almost 20 years of teaching I had the chance to teach Mexican immigrants’ children in the US, college students in Hungary and over the past 2 years I have been teaching in China.

I feel blessed to have those amazing and encouraging teachers early on and as a tribute to them, I do my very best to continue their paths and be as inspiring to my students as my teachers were to me.

New Kid on the Block – Joanna Tsiolakis shares her story

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. 😉

“What’s Your Story” Is Up and Running Again! – A Blog Challenge With a Human Touch

(Image taken from http://www.g-codemagazine.com
(Image taken from http://www.g-codemagazine.com)

The “What’s Your Story?” Blog Challenge is running again, thanks to all of you and your support! Some educators have offered to add their stories. If you want to as well, post your story (professional, personal, anything you think represents you) and:

1. Post on your blog and send me the link to add
2. If you do not have your own blog, I can post on mine.

I look forward to reading your stories!

Feel free to use #blogging #blogchallenge #education as your hashtags, or any other ones you prefer, when posting on social media!

A HUGE THANK YOU!

I have started adding the new posts here:

What is the best thing about being an educator? Inspired by Roseli Serra (@SerraRoseli)

Where I imagined myself a long time ago...
Where I imagined myself a long time ago…

This post has been inspired by an amazing lady and educator in Brazil, Roseli Serra. Roseli is a teacher trainer and developer, e-moderator and ELT consultant. She included this question in her Eleven challenge, which I have used as the title of my blog post.

I love Roseli for her enthusiasm in her teaching and everything she does in life! She blogs at http://roseliserra.blogspot.com.br/ and I cannot wait to meet her in person. Thank you for the inspiration, Roseli!

If you asked me this question over twenty years ago, I would have: a) answered: How should I know? I want to become a lawyer. b) shrugged my shoulders and answered great, I think, if a teacher likes what they’re doing or something like that.

When missing Law School for a fraction of a fraction of a percentage meant my getting into studying ELT at university, I thought my world was tumbling down.

Little did I know what a journey this would become!

What do I love about being an educator? I could fill numerous blogposts with this topic. Here are a few reasons why I love my work:

  • I have the opportunity to grow and learn every single year. We are so fortunate to have so many conferences, workshops, webinars, other teachers we can learn with and from, in person or online.
  • I can teach students of all ages, all walks of life and every culture I can imagine, especially in my new context in Switzerland. I learn so much from them, be it about their countries, their interests, the things they learn in other departments. I cannot thank my students enough for every single thing they teach me, and above all how to be a better teacher and person.

    ...and here I am today!
    …and where I am today!
  • I can explore new ways of teaching. I love how we can be versatile, change what we do one year into something else the next, experiment (in the positive meaning of the word) and grow and move ahead. In this way, we can also see what works and what doesn’t. With whom does an idea work, and with whom not.
  • Some people may see it as an issue, but I love the fact that we belong to one of those professions that spills into our free time as well (as long as it is on a healthy basis). There are so many ideas around us that we can use in our classes. We see a lesson plan in any object we see, any idea we get from watching a tv programme, a song we listen to – a lot of us do this and get great ideas from everywhere!
  • I love that my students feel comfortable enough to take initiative and give feedback. Initiative helps us vary our lessons, as they may email me an idea or bring me an idea they have in the next lesson for us to use. Feedback helps me improve my teaching, see what has worked and what I need to rethink.
  • No exaggeration – but I thank my young and teen students for making me feel like a mom with lots and lots of kids! I am sure a lot of us feel like this. Lots of us care for the kids, apart from teaching them the tenses – and we want to teach them values as well…this, among pulling out a tooth here and there, touching their foreheads to see if they have a fever, laughing and having fun, getting and giving lots and lots of hugs!

So, here I am today! Away from courtrooms and objections, but in a place I love and cannot imagine myself without.

A Welcome Note to New Teachers – Inspired by Burcu Akyol (@burcuakyol)

Welcome! (Photo by Vicky Loras)
Welcome! (Photo by Vicky Loras)

Burcu Akyol is an amazing professional and person in Istanbul, Turkey. Anyone who is active on social media (and not only) knows her for her professionalism, fantastic and widely-known educational conferences she organises and wonderful smile and character!

Burcu tagged me in her Eleven post and I decided to expand on one of her questions and turn it into a blog post. Burcu’s question was: What would your advice be to a new teacher?

I have been teaching for almost seventeen years. The beauty of our profession is that we keep on learning practically every day, and every beginning of the school year feels like the first time. I read somewhere that it is one of the few professions where we can start again from the beginning, every year : ) If I could give some advice to new teachers, first of all I would give them a huge welcome to this wonderful field.

Welcome and we are all in this together.

  • It is a great field, which can give so much happiness, but disappointment occasionally as well. Use this disappointment to improve on and reflect.
  • It really is okay to admit you do not know something, or have made a mistake. It took me a couple of years to realise it, but the students are mostly understanding and really appreciate it.
  • It is absolutely essential, and to the benefit of both yourself as an educator, and to your students as well and above all, to continue developing professionally. It doesn’t need to be endless hours consumed in sessions or giving up altogether on sleep. Connect with other educators on social media – and there are lots out there to help, support and motivate you. And you can do the same for them! And it can be as little as 5 minutes interaction per day. Believe me, once you start it, you will love it! You can go to my series of blog posts on how to start, either online, offline or both.
  • Reflect on what went well – it is so important, as we mainly tend to focus on where we didn’t do so well. Both in balance are great to do – reflection on good points helps in keeping it up, and reflection on negative aspects helps bring on improvement.

Welcome and wish you a great new beginning!

Special message: Since we are on the topic of new, I would like to tag Vicky Papageorgiou, a new blogger, to start the Eleven blogging challenge!

Eleven! (Last Part) – Tagged by Georgia Psarra (@JoPsarra1)

Jo Psarra
Jo Psarra

And here is the last part of Eleven! I have been tagged by Jo Psarra, a lovely teacher in Greece – she has her own language school in Thessaloniki, in the north of the country (which I adore and lived there for 4 years). I am thrilled, because Jo and I get to meet face to face in March 2014!

1. What is your favourite film? My favourite film of all time is a French one: Amelie de Montmartre. I love so many things about it: the style of direction, Audrey Tautou – who starts in it and is absolutely brilliant, the language. I have lost count of how many times I have seen it.
2. What is that you can’t stand? I can’t stand rudeness at all. There is no excuse for it. And I usually don’t talk back to people, but when they are rude, I talk back.
3. What kind of music did you use to listen to when you were a teenager? I was a totally wild kid! I loved Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Depeche Mode (whom I saw live last June!), Blur, Oasis and Guns ‘N’ Roses (I still like all of them!).
4. If you could change anything in the world, what would it be? Injustice.
5. Who do you have as a role model? Nelson Mandela. A shining example of patience, and an amazing leader and personality.
6. What is your favourite book that you have read more than once? Istanbul, by Orhan Pamuk. I read it before I had even visited, I fell in love with the city and when I finally went there (yes, I took the book along!), it was such an amazing experience.
7. What would you ask from a genie? For health for all my loved ones and myself.
8. What is your biggest dream? I want to pursue a MA and a PhD in Applied Linguistics.
9. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Canada! I was born there and I love it.
10. How do you deal with loss? If I lose a person I love, I go through really rough times, like lots of people. It is a period of silent mourning though, I like to go through it alone most of the times.
11. What would you like to change in you? I would like to be less stubborn at times, and believe in myself a little bit more perhaps.