Tesol Macedonia-Thrace Northern Greece – The 21st Annual International Convention – Teach and Seek

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There is a wonderful conference coming up in Thessaloniki, Greece, on March 29-30 – organised by the hard-working and tireless team of an amazing association, called TESOL Macedonia-Thrace.

First of all, here is the dream team:

  • Chair – Roger House
  • Vice Chair/Treasurer – George Topalis
  • General Secretary – Anastasia Loukeri
  • Membership Secretary – Nathan Pratt
  • E-bulletin Editor – Margarita Kosior
  • Convention Secretary - Fani Dafnopatidou
  • Member-at-large – George Raptopoulos
  • Member-at-large – Emmanuel Kontovas
  • Member-at-large – Efi Tzouri
  • Member-at-large – Elsa Tsiakiri
  • Member-at-large – Aspa Georgopoulou

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The two-day conference has a lot of exciting events:

Plenary Talks

  • Kieran Donaghy – Using Film to Teach English in a World of Screens
  • Dr Terry Lamb – Perspectives on 21st Century Language Learners
  • Carol Griffiths – Using Narrative as a Strategy to Teach Language
  • Vicky Loras – The Human Touch

I am so honoured to be doing my first plenary talk ever, and in Thessaloniki as well, where I lived for almost four years and went to university!

Pecha Kucha Session

An event not to miss on Saturday evening! There will be not one, not two, but SEVEN Pecha Kucha sessions! I am so excited about this. The MC for the Pecha Kucha will be Margarita Kosior, who is also the E-Bulletin Editor for TESOL Macedonia-Thrace.

The Pecha Kucha presenters are:

And there will be lots of workshops and talks during the two days of the conference. Here is the Preliminary Programme 2014, so you can choose your sessions.

I am looking forward to it – this is going to be a conference definitely not to miss!

Thank you so much, everyone at TESOL Macedonia-Thrace!

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Really Value Your Network

Vicky Loras:

Doug Peterson is one of the reasons I am delighted to have joined social media and will never look back – I learn from amazing educators like him, and I am grateful for the motivation I get from him. Thank you so much, Doug!

Originally posted on doug --- off the record:

I’ve never met Vicky Loras but she has opened up so many doors for me.

I think I probably got started with social networking like most people  I was curious about Twitter or Facebook and started an account.  Then, I read a post “Top 10 People to Follow on Twitter” or the like.  You end up following the “A” Crowd which turns out to be a cadre of people flogging books or their next presentation and not much else.  I liken it to an elevator that doesn’t go to the top floor.  It wasn’t satisfying so I turned to the person next to me, found out his name and followed him.  It was more satisfying and from there, it just kept snowballing.

So often, I read people bragging that “I gots a PLN” and it’s always interesting to ask just what that means.  “You know, I talk to people on…

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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 me 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 countires, 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 are 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 thenext 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 then 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.

Love for Learning in a Library – An Interview with Efi Tzouri and Maria Vrachliotou

Maria Vrachliotou

Maria Vrachliotou

Maria Vrachliotou and Efi Tzouri are two amazing ladies, who work at the Library of Serres, in Northern Greece! They captured my heart and many other educators’ on social media and around the world, and have captured children’s and parents’ hearts with all their outstanding work. 

Efi Tzouri

Efi Tzouri

When I first saw the things that they do at the the Library of Serres in photos on Facebook, I felt so inspired and every time I am so excited to see the activities they do with the children!

Congratulations to you both, Efi and Maria!

Vicky: Efi and Maria, thank you so much for this interview on my blog. We have never met in person, however, there is a possibility we will meet up soon!

Efi: Thank you very much for the invitation. It is an honor!

Maria: Thank you for inviting us to your “digital world”.

Vicky: My pleasure! Let’s start with something I ask everyone I interview – I love to see how they got involved in education. How did it come about for you?

Efi: I used to work at summer camps for children after having graduated from school. There I realised, first of all, that working with children is more than exciting, and second and more important that sharing your knowledge is like opening a door to a world of imagination. I decided to study English literature because I would be given the chance to open this door.

Maria: It came naturally and with no planning at all. After the renovation of our children’s library, by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation through “Future Library”, I wanted to commit myself to something creative, so I preferred to work with children. All our library activities have educative and creative characteristics and promote reading, knowledge and fantasy!

Vicky: Both stories sound so interesting! You are both involved in an amazing programme for kids, which takes place in the Public Library of Serres, in the north of Greece. How did this start and can you share some snapshots of what you do?

Efi: I became involved as a volunteer in the first summer campaing which took place at Central Public library of Serres under the support of “Future Library” . I participated in various activities and projects which, as Maria mentions, promote creativity, cooperation and above all imagination. I feel really lucky that I met Maria who supported me, trusted me and believed in me.

Maria: Since 2011, our library is a member of Future Library, a network supported by Stavros Niarchos Foundation. FL’s main role is to promote creativity and innovation in all public and municipal libraries of the country. Consider Future Library as a great project consisted of partial subprojects, such as: renovation of library spaces (children’s libraries, medialabs), educative seminars for librarians, summer reading campaigns, just to name some. The programme for kids you refer to is the summer reading campaign that every summer takes place in our library and is devoted to those children and youngsters who stay in the city during vacations. All activities aim to promote creativity, love for books, knowledge and of course, FUN! My main role in all this is to manage the whole campaign, from finding the volunteers, to creating the program and promoting this initiative wider to the public. I also supervise the summer campaign at 11 libraries in north Greece and Thrace, helping them with problem solving and promotion tactics.

The children in action

The children in action

Vicky: What other plans are there for the future at the library?

Efi: We live in an era that people cannot make plans for tomorrow. My personal “plan” is to continue dreaming about a world in which children will be happy and will have free and entire access to knowledge. I will keep doing my best on making kids’ faces smile. The most important thing in order to make plans for the future is to cooperate with people who have the same dream;to make a better world.

Maria: No plans for the future. I only wish that we will keep on providing services of high quality to all and we will adapt to the changes and the needs of our users.

Vicky: I absolutely agree and hope for the very best. I am sure this kids will continue to ejoy learning and coming to the library! Going on to another subject now, there is a lot of discussion about whether libraries are becoming obsolete, what with the emergence of electronic books and such. As you both work in a library, can you give us your insights? Where does the future of libraries lie?

Efi: Technology is constantly being updated in order to serve the needs of young people who keep up with the latest mobile applications and digital tools and love to be informed, to chat, to make friends through social networks. In a Facebook generation ebooks definitely make the process of education more attractive. Libraries should and must follow this whole new perspective of receiving knowledge and updating their services in order to attract more young readers.

Maria: Ebooks represent and amazing educative tool in the hands of librarians. They can “talk”, excite the senses, use multimedia applications and be easily accessible. They shouldn’t be considered as a threat, but as a means to promote reading and support traditional books, that due to their material lack some of the above characteristics. Ebooks should be embraced and not rejected. After all, they are a part of the future. They still are books…Imagine a future world where ebooks where the norm and suddenly, printed books appear as a way of alternative reading. I am almost sure that the reaction of readers would have been the same: negativity, suspicion and rejection. The duty of librarians is to help readers to become accustomed to new “technological expressions”.

The Public Library of Serres, Northern Greece

The Public Library of Serres, Northern Greece

Vicky: You share and interact a lot on social media. Do you think social media help educators and the field of education in general, and if yes, how?

Maria: I see social media as a way of communicating easily and instantly with people around the country and the world. In the library we use them mostly as a promotional tool of our work and activities, but also as an informative tool on books, reading and library news. For educative matters I think that Efi could share her experience with us.

Efi: Digital and literacy tools created a totally new perspective on how education is delivered to learners. On line courses and conferences give a great chance to access knowledge. On line communities have been created in order to share, collaborate, exchange ideas and help educators discover their skills, improve their work. I have the feeling that nowadays educators should feel more optimistic, creative and strong than ever because their passion to share their knowledge and their efforts to pass it to learners can be supported, enhanced and evolve by the use of such a powerful tool that is called social media.

Vicky: What is one of your dreams for the library of Serres in the next few years?

Efi: One of my dreams is to continue giving children the chance to smile and making them feel happy. Despite the fact that the current situation is not at all positive, I will keep on working with love and patience, as Maria says. Staying together, helping each other, collaborating, creating and innovating make us think positive about the future.Things will change to better ones  in the end.

Maria: The last years my main concern is for my library to find resources that will give its staff the needed space to provide better services for all and to follow the technological advances. I fear about the future of libraries in Greece, but I will keep on dreaming and hoping as I know that the personnel of the libraries work everyday with love, patience and many times, with personal sacrifices, in order to keep a high level in services, especially now that everything undergoes a serious crisis.

Vicky: I hope everything goes very well for education in general, and for your wonderful library! Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Maria and Efi – see you soon!

Efi: Thank you so much dear Vicky! It was a great pleasure!!

Maria: It was nice to “digitally” talk to you. Hope to see you soon in person. Thank you!!!

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An Amazing Argentinian Teacher and Class – An Interview with Fabiana Casella (@FLCasella)

Fabiana is a wonderful educator based in Buenos Aires, Argetina. I connected with her on social media in 2013 and am so happy to see all the great things she does, which she speaks about in this interview. She blogs at http://all4efl.blogspot.com.ar/

Vicky: Fabiana, I first connected to you online a few months ago on Facebook, and have been following you and your lovely class ever since!

Fabiana: Yes, you’re right, Vicky! I feel honored you have been following me!

Vicky: The honour is all mine, Fabiana! I learn so much from you. My first question is, how did you become an educator, Fabiana?

Fabiana: Well, when I was in High School I wanted to be a History teacher and a lawyer. Later, I realized I had to study something connected with the foreign language I was studying so, I thought of the possibility of becoming an EFL teacher.

Vicky: Wow, a lawyer – me too! Thankfully, for the world of ELT, you became a teacher : ) Can you tell us a few things about your students? What ages they are, what sort of projects you engage in with them?

Fabiana: I have always taught teenagers. I used to teach children and adults too, but my schedule is tight for I am a full-time mom. Right now, I am only teaching 13-14 and 17-18. Projects? Well, I had done crazy, but creative things in the past, that is to say late 80s when I started teaching, such as make my students read and record a whole play called “Murder At Walton, Hall” on video (VHS) where they performed like real actors and actresses! They had to study the script, adapt it or abridge it and simply… act! It certainly was a lot of fun for them, for the class and  very rewarding and satisfying for all of us! Those that would not want to make a video, they made a picture story book with real photographs: they would dress up, take pictures and publish the “book” with narration and dialogs as in comic magazines. Some other projects were a little more complex and tough:my advanced students made documentary videos on the life of relevant people in the world: Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa or Ghandi. They studied the biographies by heart, sat in front of a camera and started talking.

Nowadays, everything is more digital: with my advanced Senior group I started commenting the news by reading Twitter, BBC World, CNN, NY Times, The Salisbury Post, Charlotte Observer and Buenos Aires Herald. There is something I truly value and it is the student’s self motivation and I try to promote and never let it die. The students you see in the photo below, traveled to Washington, DC and New York to attend the Global Young Leaders’ Youth Conference. They interacted with youngsters from all around the Globe and when they came back home they shared their amazing experiences with all of us. One afternoon, one of the boys got a voice message from a friend from Saudi Arabia telling all his international friends about the conflict in Syria. It was wonderful to listen to the girl and after that, discuss the topic all together.

Fabiana's students : )

Fabiana’s students : )

Last year, we worked on two projects: Alcohol Awareness-Underage Drinking  and Cyberbullying-Bullying-Digital Citizenship which was a real success, as my students participated actively in video, audio and images: in class and at home. A lot of reflection and comments in a foreign language was not an easy task, but they were fantastic.

alcohol awareness fabiana

Fabiana and her students’ project on alcohol awareness

Fabiana and her students' project on Cyberbullying

Fabiana and her students’ project on Cyberbullying

My pre-Intermediate group participated in a project called “We Are On The Air”, which is an idea of a fabulous, Facebook friend and colleague an EFL teacher from Greece called Theodora Papapanagiotou. The students made videos about the area where they live and what they do. The idea is to show a bit of our city, Buenos Aires as well as some others around the world which she will include in her lecture at TESOL Greece this current year.

Theodora and Fabiana's project We Are on the Air!

Theodora and Fabiana’s project We Are on the Air!

I believe English Language Learners need to speak the language at all times that is why I devote some part of my class to talk about updated news, like reading the newspaper in English, commenting on anything they read which they find interesting and doing vocabulary research. Last year, I also started a sort of flipping class using Edmodo, where I post varied types of tasks for them to do at home to be commented in class: Monday Morning News Update was We usually talk about the news the first minutes of the class: I feel my students need to be exposed to real content and have as much speaking practice as possible. Reading and listening make you a better writer and speaker.

It is some extra work for me and for the students, but in the long run we both benefit from it, especially THEM who are the ones that matter.

Vicky: I absolutely love what you are doing and have done with the kids, fabiana – it is all about discussing values and life as well, not only teaching the language and you do that very well. You also use culture a lot in your classes. Can you tell us how you do that?

Fabiana: Buenos Aires is a melting pot, so maybe because of that, I have always been multicultural, and have never feared to learn from some other cultures. I taught in the United States for six years as an international and cultural exchange teacher so I would say, that was the key point in my career as a teacher. It opened my mind more than it had been before, and made me see things from different points of view. I interacted with people from all the continents and  cultures which certainly gave me a lot of experience. I participated in fairs where we showed typical objects, traditions, music, videos, pictures, magazines from Argentina. We even took virtual trips to my country Since I came back to Argentina, I have worked at the same small private school, Colegio Canadá or Canada School, where its owners and administrators have always had a plan in mind: to be part of international projects: sports tours and exchange trips to English speaking countries, teach English as a foreign language intensively, make students sit for International Examinations, sing the Canadian Anthem or become acquainted with the History and Geography of English Speaking Countries. We do a lot of cross-cultural activities, I mean, if the Social Studies teacher is teaching The Tudors, we read about them in English, make posters to decorate the classroom, crossword puzzles, trivia and other activities online.

It is a tradition to celebrate Canada Day all around the school, this past year my students made posters, flags and sang the Anthem on video. Later, I decided to publish everything on a Padlet wall: http://padlet.com/wall/qlsb3wfv9t

Canada Day with Fabiana and her students!

Canada Day with Fabiana and her students!

Vicky: You engage a lot in social media. How did you become involved in them, and how do you think they help educators?

Fabiana: Honestly, I was really reluctant to expose myself online. About two years ago one of my best friends and colleagues and my friends in the USA convinced me to open an account on Facebook for me to be connected with other educators and keep in touch with them, respectively. Then, I became a sort of addict, browsed every education group and started to relate with the greatest teachers, educators, teacher trainers, and authors around the world. I began to build my PLN which has grown quite a lot and helped me to be a real connected teacher. Some time later, I even opened an account on Twitter. Sometimes I stay up really late as there is too much information to absorb in a  such a short day of only twenty four hours!. Besides, being online gave me the opportunity to work hard on my CPD because I began to study a Specialization on ICT and Education and attend many free webinars provided by the British Council, Oxford, Cambridge,  Macmillan, WizIQ, American TESOL, EVO Sessions,  BESIG, IATEFL and some others such as the amazing Tics en El Aula. I even presented at two International Conferences: The Reform Symposium and at the Global Education Conference. It is a wonderful way to blend being a passionate mother and teacher!

Vicky: You are so active and amazing how you combine everything! You also blog. Can you let us know what inspires you and what you write about?

Fabiana: Well, I started blogging a little because in all my twenty something years of teaching experience, I have never documented anything I did! Nobody told me…!

Last year, Shelly Sanchez Terrell invited me to join the 30 Goals Challenge Group on Facebook, and that was when I sort of pushed myself to write about my life as an educator. I know I am not perfect at what I do, but I try! I still have a long way to go, but still very happy I have already achieved some goals in my career. It takes time to think clearly what to write and how to write it: I am not a good writer, I´m just spontaneous and informal. Anyway, all I express is from the heart.

Vicky: How would you like to close our interview?

Fabiana: I am extremely thankful and proud to connect with you and learn from and with you. As I said before, I still have to polish some aspects of my English, my teaching and blogging among other things because English is not my first language, but I am really willing to learn and progress on a daily basis and I would like to inspire colleagues and students to feel the way I feel as a lifetime learner.

Vicky: Fabiana, this has been such a great interview!!! Thank you and the kids ever so much for sharing and letting us into your classroom!

Presenting the Plenaries – Part Three

Vicky Loras:

Another super plenary speaker will be with us in Bratislava, on June 7-8, 2014! Gabriela Lojová will be focusing on the learner. Will you miss this amazing plenary? Join us at the Ekonomická univerzita v Bratislave!

Originally posted on ELTforum.sk Conference 2014:

Gabriela Lojová

Gabriela Lojová

We are excited and happy to announce our third plenary speaker for ELTForum.sk 2014: Gabriela Lojová, who you might just know if you attended last year.

About Gabi

Gabi is an associate professor at the Department of the English Language and Literature of the Faculty of Education, Comenius University in Bratislava. Apart from teaching courses on English grammar, her research interests and educational activities are focused primarily on applied psycholinguistics, psychology of foreign language learning and teaching, and FL teacher training. The aim of her work is the humanization of foreign language teaching and looking for more effective ways of teaching English.

Her written work

Gabi’s books include ‘Foreign language grammar teaching: theory and practice’, ‘Individual differences in foreign language learning’, ‘Learning styles and strategies in foreign language teaching’ (with Kateřina Vlčková – Faculty of Education, Masaryk University, Brno, CZ) and ‘Theoretical foundations of teaching English in primary…

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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 on 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!

A Journey in Education – An Interview with Annie Tsai

Annie Tsai

Annie Tsai

About a year ago, I connected online with a very talented young lady – a teacher in Taiwan who is well-known on social media for her sharing and passion for education. May I present: Annie Tsai!

Annie Tsai had worked for a few radio stations as a copywriter but later on changed her career as an EFL teacher. After being in the same position for 9 years at a public elementary school, she decided to make a change again and she’s currently a 3rd grade homeroom teacher. She’s based in Taiwan but always on the track of going somewhere overseas. Other than being involved in local teacher’s training program, she’s also passionate in backpacking and trying her best to bring the world to her class. She has won a scholarship from Cambridge Global Teacher’s Essay Competition and she was also the winner of 2011 Everybody Up Global Sing-along Competition sponsored by Oxford University Press.

Vicky: Annie, I am so happy you have accepted to be interviewed on my blog. We have never met in person, however, from our connection on social media I have seen all the great things you do in your teaching and that is a huge reason why I wanted you to share everything with us!

Annie:  Thank you! I have enjoyed seeing your side of the world via FB. I think this is one of the best parts of being connected via social media. A group of people, albeit never met in real life, share the same passion and profession, which is the living proof of why learning a foreign language makes us a better person in so many levels. We learn to share and communicate and our perspectives can be so much more versatile in this way. It helps to have a clear mind, especially for educators joggling between teaching and management.

Vicky: How true! Let’s start with something I ask everyone I interview – because it is so interesting to see their journeys entering education. How did you decide to join this field?

Annie: I had worked as a copywriter/planner at a couple of radio stations before changing lanes. In my last year at the media industry, I did some serious thinking of my future if I should continue to stay on the same path. That was the same year when the Taiwanese government decided to start the English education from elementary level. With my mom’s strong suggestion, I took the entrance exam they held and passed with flying colours. Thinking back now, it is a life-changing opportunity I hadn’t expected, considering my childhood memory with school wasn’t that rosy and shining. I have to admit that becoming a teacher is the most rewarding and best decision I’ve ever made in my life. It makes me learn more about my strength and weakness. It is the kind of profession that makes you examine your personality and rationale in fairly frequent bases. As a person who had spent the better half of her career life in the media industry, I think it is fair to say that I’ve seen the scenery from both sides. Teaching is a highly self-motivated trade and it is more than often being misunderstood or underestimated by the public. Teaching, however, also brings undescribed joy of reward for numerous people. The longer I stayed in this profession, the more I realized that teachers can play far more important roles in the mini-society they walk in every day. Changes that last for a lifetime may start from a classroom.

Vicky: Wow! What an interesting journey. And in your teaching career so far, you teach Young Learners. What do you enjoy the most about these ages, and what are the challenges?

Annie:  Ah, the possibilities there can be and the generosity they can offer is the most important present and privilege a teacher may receive! I love helping these little people to learn the world as I know and knowing that the world is so big that every one of us might see only a fraction of it. The only way to learn the world is to see it in your own eyes. Thus it is a joyful achievement if you get the key to communicate with people from other parts of the world.  Often times my young learners surprise me in cute yet awkward moments. Here’s an example, being neighbored with an Air Force base means we all get used to the helicopter noise. At the beginning of this semester, several days after we covered the word helicopter, my children shout the word a few times during the class whenever they heard the whirling noise. Now of course I was a bit annoyed with the interruptions, but at the same time, it was such a memorable moment to see how they were so proud of themselves and they’ve made such a positive and strong connection with the foreign language.

Annie's kids involved in projects

Annie’s kids involved in projects

The challenges are always there but they can be presents as well. Since Taiwan is an EFL country, it is almost impossible to have sufficient and positive English exposure once pupils leave English class. And the education policy in regards of foreign language often fails to meet the needs of real teaching scenes. During my prior 9-year stint as an EFL subject teacher, I see my students twice every week, with only a 40-minute block in each session. Without effective and extensive schemes to help these young children to review the content, the language material can hardly sank in their brains. To make things harder to manage, classes always come in diverse abilities and I usually have around 300 students to teach annually.

The English teaching industry has always been an issue in the spotlight in Taiwan.  It is true that most people found it difficult to master the language to the level of real communication. It is also true that most people still see English as a subject to learn rather than a tool to master. Thus it is common for people to simply give up and steer away from anything related to English once the pressure of tests and exams are out of the picture. So my hope in switching from an EFL subject teacher to a homeroom teacher is to expend the horizon of teaching a foreign language. I believe that by planting the seeds in the earlier stage can motivates them to make an effort of keeping the language. Eventually it may trigger their minds in exploring the world years later.

Finally, I’d like to share that the difficult teaching context may be inspirational sometimes.  You wouldn’t try so hard to adjust and adapt if all things are good. That’s also one of the things I love about teaching. It is a comparatively secured profession in making renovations.

Vicky: That’s a beautiful statement you just made. And thank you for sharing your experiences with your young learners, and giving us some insight into the EFL context in Taiwan as well! So interesting.

Would you ever consider teaching adults? Have you ever done it?

Annie: Oops, sorry, I have very limited experiences in teaching adults.

Vicky: That’s fine! Let’s move on to something different now. You share and interact a lot on social media, and that is how we actually got to know each other. Do you think social media help educators, and if yes, how?

Annie:  I found social media very helpful in regards to connecting and sharing. It’s also a great platform for information and subjective perspectives.  It is especially beneficial for EFL teachers as they often play the role as the ambassadors of each respective culture. Such characteristic broaden the room for thinking and the definition of better practice of teaching. Even in a country as petite as Taiwan, the resources and intel from different corners of the island can be quite diverse. I’ve learned so much information from my peer via FB and it works like therapy groups sometimes! Social networking helps closing the gap between teachers and at the same time it weaves in new threads of thinking to the existing concept.

Annie's kids planning to send materials to Aphro's kids!

Annie’s kids planning to send materials to Aphro’s kids!

To make things more exciting, platforms like Twitter, FB and Pinterest, involves teachers in different time zones and together we get to converse in the comfort of our own sofa. Additionally, professional and independent EFL FB pages such as iTDi also bring in the self-helped professional development courses that I can easily enrolled and learn in my own pace. The interactions performed in these virtual spaces, are more often than not effective and to the point. Perspectives and knowledge are no longer limited in geography. That’s the most fascinating part of all these virtual networking, just like the way I’m doing an interview with you now!

Vicky: Isn’t it great? I am thrilled about this! And in addition, you are part of a fantastic international programme – your kids are pen pals with another class in Greece, that of Aphrodite Giouris, who is in Larissa. How did this project start? What do you do?

Annie:  I came across Aphro via Facebook; I think we have mutual friends and after several chats back and forth, we decided to partner our classes and do a series of exchanges. For my students, Greece is just as ‘familiar’ and ‘exotic’ as those Greek gods and goddess they read in the books. The project enables my children to apply the language with a purpose. They no longer see Greece just another far-away country on the map. It has become very real and intriguing to understand that there are kids thousands of miles away learning the same language just like us.  Aphro and I also tried our best to match our kids from both sides and make sure each of them eventually receive something specifically for him or her. The experiences are phenomena as most of them have never received any hand-written letter before, let along anything from a foreign country!

I have personally learned and enjoy the process all the way as this project gives me a hands-on opportunity to design an integrated course just right for my class. It’s a great practice to test a teachers’ understanding of teaching material and how to best perform them in the making of the project.

Vicky: I look forward to seeing more and how it evolves! It truly caught my interest since day one and think it is a great opportunity for the kids to broaden their knowledge, both in culture and the language. Now to the future: what is one of your dreams about your teaching in the next few years?

Annie: As a rookie homeroom teacher, it means that I’ll have to be more familiar with other main subjects such as Mandarin and math. I’d like to take advantage of my new teaching context to build a more integrated curriculum. With more time and fewer pupils, I’m thinking about more shared reading experiences and eventually have at least a class drama annually. I’m also hoping for opportunities such as international competitions/networks to bring my children to the wider communities of the world.

As a senior EFL teacher, I’m hoping to organize or being involved in professional development for teachers. I’ve had a few experiences and hoping to continue the P1060572journey of sharing. I’m also looking forward to opportunities to brush up my language proficiency and hoping to be able to participate in International EFL conferences. Guess my wish list for Santa is a bit too long ; ) Still, being a teacher gives you the means to make your dream come true.

Vicky: It’s been such a pleasure hearing about everything you do! Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Annie – I hope we meet in person some day!

Annie: As a passionate backpacker, I might actually hop on a plane and fly to the picturesque Switzerland some day!  Thank you so much for the heartwarming invitation. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Vicky: I will be so happy to show you around! Happy Holidays and all the best to you too : )

Dedication is Her Name – An Interview with Aphrodite Giouris

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 team work 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 Eistein 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!

4 Years of Blogging!

4 years of blogging! (Image taken from http://blog.young-germany.de)

4 years of blogging! (Image taken from http://blog.young-germany.de)

I started this blog four years ago, after being motivated by the one and only Ken Wilson – these four years bring so many thoughts to my mind:

  • How reluctant I was to start it: back then I was thinking, who will read it – will anyone be interested?
    I don’t even have a job – what is this going to offer me? But I did start it, and I am happy I did so!
  • How much it helps me reflect. I read another educator’s post that inspires me and gives me insight into my own teaching, so I go ahead and write about it. Or when a class goes well, or even not so well, here is always where I turn to, so as to get my thoughts in order. I can see what went well or wrong, and then come up with ways of  what I could do better or what I could do again.
  • I should write only when I feel I have something to say. In the beginning, I felt that I was obliged to write often, or felt bad if it took me up to three months to write. Nothing comes out of it, if I write just to say that  have written something – instead, now that I write when I feel like it, it feels much more natural.
  • I love the fact that there are not only my own posts on the blog. I had seen it on Ken’s blog, and later on many others, that guest bloggers were invited to write – I did it too and it is great! I have read some amazing posts. So thanks to all my guest bloggers!
  • I love interviewing other educators. I see their stories, their experiences, and I learn from them. Thank you so much to them all!

Thank you to all of you who read the posts, share them on social media, comment and teach me!