Teacher self-care matters

Teacher self-care matters

Theodora Papapanagiotou

Theodora Papapagionotou (Greece) shares nine great ideas for teacher self-care


Being a teacher is a demanding job. Preparing for your lesson, creating lesson plans, teaching your class, facing discipline problems, talking with parents… It takes all of your day.

Being a teacher during a pandemic is even more stressful; your classes are online now, your schedule has changed, you have to learn to use technology efficiently to cater for your students’ needs. You face problems controlling your students, you spend endless hours in front of a screen, sitting all the time, not able to move much and you find yourself working even more than you used to before.

This is the teacher of today.

And while you are doing the best you can to deal with a difficult situation like this, there are people who don’t appreciate your work and the fact that you have dedicated your life to making your students learn.

This is frustrating, and leaves you with a lot of problems; physical, emotional, psychological, you reach burnout even faster than before.

And that’s when you have to put yourself first and do something for your well-being. This is the definition of self-care.

I don’t really know what’s happening in other countries, but in my country, Greece, there is no policy at schools for teachers’ self-care. No matter if you work at a public or a private school or if you are freelance. You are on your own.

And that’s why you have to take things in your own hands and start doing something for yourself.

So, I have some tips for my own experience and I hope they can help you, too!

Watch your weight!

What happened to me in the first lockdown was to gain a lot of weight. I was sitting all day in front of a screen and my only pleasure was food. Until one day, I could not climb the stairs without losing my breath. My clothes couldn’t fit me and I felt really bad for myself. As a result, I could not function very well. I lost my will to create material for my students and I became the boring teacher, who I hate! When I realized that, I took the big decision to watch my diet, adopting healthy eating habits and this gave me my teaching motivation back.


Even for 10 minutes. Take the dog out for a walk and enjoy nature in the park. If you don’t have a dog or a park in your area, just go out for a walk and fresh air. Waking and observing what’s happening around you, can clear your head and you can get back to work with more energy.


If you don’t like walking, you can have a workout at home. There are plenty of free videos online and you can choose what you like — yoga, dancing, even high intensity exercise!  While you are exercising, powerful hormones are released and this make you feel happy, and accomplished.

Create a morning routine!

Eat breakfast. Make your bed, wear clothes, do your make-up and don’t spend the day in your pajamas. Maybe you will not go out, but it will probably change your frame of mind.

Make positive affirmations.

This is a step in believing in yourself.  Some examples are: “Everything will go all right”, “I believe in myself”, “I am strong”, “I will make it today”. It works!

Start a journal!

What are your goals for today? Write them all down, even if they are as simple as “make the bed” or “clean the room”.  Of course you can also keep a teaching journal with your lesson plans and ideas and notes about what has succeeded and what needs more work in your lessons. You will definitely see an improvement as days go by.

Set your boundaries.

Just because you work from home, this doesn’t mean that you are accessible all the time. Set your working time and devote time to yourself and for your relaxation. Students and co-workers can wait. Your well-being is more important.

Spend some time with friends and like-minded people.

Communicate. There are people who are struggling just like you and others who can help you overcome your problems because they have gone through the same situations and succeeded. Don’t isolate yourself.

Adopt a pet!

If you can, this will be a great opportunity to save a stray. You save a life and you get love in return. Caring for somebody will give you motivation to go on. And the selfless love you get is something incredible.

I am not an expert, just experimenting myself and seeing what’s working for me and what’s not. I hope I have helped some of you!

Social Media and me: A mini guide for teachers

Theodora PapapanagiotouSocial Media and me: A mini guide for teachers

Theodora Papapanagiotou


Social Media have always been a part of my life. I remember when I was a teenager; I dreamt of a “place” where I would show my life, my work to other people, to communicate. I remember that I used to write letters to people all over the world and I also used to interact with people on Satellite TV, sending pictures, sharing information about my country, and communicating.

We can do everything online

So, the time came, and we can do everything online. We can do research, we can talk with other people, we can study whatever we want. And all this, thanks to the Internet.

Social Media have helped us socialize, but also grow as professionals.  So let me share what I have done all these years to grow personally and professionally through social media:


Although young people say this is a platform for “old people”, you can still do a lot of things using it. You can be a member of groups with people who have the same job, the same interests, and the same problems. Through Facebook I got in touch with so many wonderful teachers, I discovered iTDi, and took wonderful courses. I met Shelly Terrell and took part in her amazing 30 Goals project, and got a mention in her book. I have taken part in ELT talks, and even wrote a chapter in Rob Howard’s book. I took part in so many webinars and conventions both as a learner and as a speaker. I even found a job, because I had a strong presence on this platform, and so much more. Facebook is also a wonderful tool for us as teachers individually. You can create groups for students or parents and make it easier to interact with them. In pandemic times, Facebook messenger and rooms is a valuable tool for classes as well and is comparable to Skype or Zoom or other teaching platforms.


Yes, this is a platform for pictures. But, you can totally use it for work as well. Take the opportunity to promote yourself and your work thought this platform. “Stories” are a wonderful tool for little tips and announcements about classes, exams, and even teaching vocabulary and grammar. If you have a blog or a website, you can link your posts and let people know your work. Younger people prefer short texts and more images, and why not? Using Instagram could bring you more students, or at least better communication with them. Instagram Chat is also a communication platform you can use to teach, since a lot of people don’t use other platforms.

Tik Tok

Tik Tok? Yes, I am serious about it! I am pretty new at this, but I see a lot of my students spending hours and hours trying out new challenges. Do we adults have a place in this? Yes, we do. Tik Tok is all about videos and images. So why not create a mini channel with learning tips? Or explaining new words? Talk about exams, talk about fun facts of the language or the subject you teach! I am sure that a lot of students will find that interesting enough to contact you.

Using social media takes a lot of time. Content creating and being consistent is not always easy. But… I believe that you can benefit a lot if you give it a try.


Teaching Online: Can It Work?

Theodora PapapanagiotouTeaching Online: Can It Work?

Theodora Papapanagitou


Some people believe it is extremely difficult to teach online as it creates a distance between students and the teacher. Students’ parents are skeptical (can it actually work?…) and teachers who are not so familiar with technology do not support this way of teaching either. Once there is this distance, there is no real interaction and, consequently, there is never going to be a successful lesson if the teacher is not actually close to the learner. That is a myth. Learning can happen in all sorts of environments as long as we are all willing to work towards the goal. 

Personally, I have never seen distance or technology as a barrier to my teaching. On the contrary, I view them as an opportunity to learn new things and experiment on what I can and can’t do. And here’s how it all started for me. 

Some of my students were going away during the summer for three whole months, but they also had an important exam coming in the beginning of the school year, so they had to study hard and work with a teacher during their stay abroad. As it was impossible to find a teacher over there, I decided to create an online learning page where they could find texts to read, revise their grammar, and learn new vocabulary. Since I had been working as a content creator for an English language-learning platform at the time, I didn’t find it too hard to look for new resources and create a page on a free website using Moodle and Edmodo in order to help my students. However, with that set-up there was always a problem of how to give feedback and work on the speaking skills. At first, we thought we could call each other – but this would take too long and would also be very expensive. So, why not use Skype? Now we could talk and see each other, and we could use Google documents as a whiteboard. Distance was not a barrier anymore. The whole project went really well, the students worked with great enthusiasm and passed their exam with flying colors. 

Although it was a lot of hard work on my part, I enjoyed creating materials for my own and my students’ use in the process. That experience also gave me a chance to see that teaching at a distance was not that challenging, no matter if you use your own materials or not. 

From then on, whenever my students (mostly university students) had to go to their hometowns to visit their parents or study abroad for a semester, there was no reason for us to cut lessons and lose time: instead, we continued our classes using video call (Skype, Facebook, What’s up – whatever communication app was available). 

That’s how my online teaching journey began…  It is not my main job and I don’t always have online students, and I usually find online students by word of mouth. I have tried to find a job through online schools several times; I sent applications and had interviews. My first application and interview were successful, but the student I was offered to teach lived on the other side of the globe and this, unfortunately, meant a bigger time difference than I could handle. 

Overall, my experience with a lot of online school recruiters so far has been negative. Some of the companies preferred native speakers (with sometimes minimum teaching experience). Others were trying to sell their own online TEFL certificate courses, which was a requirement to have before you’d start your training – with no guarantee that they were going to hire you in the end.  

As a freelancer, you have the freedom to choose your own clients, materials, and working hours, although it can sometimes be a challenge to find students. You might have to spend money to advertise yourself on social media (Facebook or Instagram), maybe create a page with articles and ideas in order to build your audience.   

Technology should not be a barrier though. There are a lot of free and paid programs you can use and a lot of free tutorials on how to use them, for example MoodleEdmodoGoogle DriveWiziqAdobeSkype, and so many others. You can always experiment with different software, ask friends and colleagues to be your guinea pigs in the beginning. In fact, using a variety of online teaching platforms is not as hard as you might think at first. If you work for an online school, they will have their own platforms ready and they will train you before you actually get to teach students. They will also provide you with ready-made materials with instructions, which means you don’t have to prepare much. That said, I would advise to be aware of the time zones and the money, so you don’t end up staying up all night for a minimum wage. 

Teaching online has many other advantages. A big one is that you don’t have to commute to work. When you teach offline, sometimes the school may be far away, or if you are a private tutor like me, you have to go around the city all day, which costs both time and money. If you teach using a computer, however, you can manage your time more efficiently and save money on transport as well. You can work with students from all over the world, nothing limits you anymore. 

So, if you want to try teaching online, why not try it? There are so many online schools you can apply to and learn the ropes. You can also try teaching a lesson online to the students you already have in order to experiment. And then… Who knows what comes next!  

Working Conditions in Greece

Theodora PapapanagiotouWorking Conditions in Greece

Theodora Papapanagiotou


In my previous posts on this blog I talked about what it is like to learn and teach English in Greece. This time I would like to expand on what it is like to work as a teacher in my country

There are various categories of teachers and schools in Greece and it is a bit complicated.  

Let’s start with public schools (state schools). If you want to work at a public school over here, first of all, you have to have a BA in English literature, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a native or a non-native speaker of English. There are state exams taking place every 3-4 years, testing potential teachers in methodology, pedagogy, and language. If you pass this exam, you can get hired according to the needs of various areas in Greece, which means that you probably have to relocate. Although it is hard to pass this exam, then your job is secure, you can be sure to get a steady salary and you have steady hours. If a school cannot offer the required number of hours, then you have to work at another school in the nearby area to fulfill the required hours needed for a full-time position. 

Unfortunately, not all teachers who pass the state exam are hired, simply because there are not enough job openings. In that case, every year you can also apply to be a substitute teacher and then you will get teaching hours, again, according to the needs of the schools around the country. The difference is that most of the times you will have to work at several different schools during the week to have a decent amount of working hours, you will still have to relocate, and you get fired at the end of the school year. If you want to work as a substitute teacher again, you have to apply all over again and probably go to another school (if hired). 

There are also private schools where English teachers could find a job. You still have to have a BA in English literature, and some schools prefer to hire native speakers (fortunately, not all). In order to get a job in a private school you have to be on their list. You send a copy of your degree and your qualifications to the Ministry of Education department responsible for managing private schools. Then you will have the right to apply for a job opening and go through the traditional interviews. 

Working as an English teacher at a state school can be either a very positive or a very negative experience. A lot depends on the school: sometimes you might have to teach in very remote areas where there are no computers or even a CD player. It also depends on what kind of cooperation you have with the other teachers and the director of the school and if they are willing to participate in international projects or not, since not everybody is willing to put in extra time or do the paperwork. 

As I mentioned in my previous posts, Greek students usually attend classes in a private language school after their regular school hours, so that they can prepare themselves for language exams. Teachers employed by such schools usually work part-time and get paid by the actual teaching hours. Until a couple of years ago, teachers who wanted to get a teaching license for private language schools were required to have a BA in English literature, or have a language certificate of a C2 level, or be a native speaker of English and have a BA in anything. Now this law has changed and people with a C2 level certificate cannot get a license and work as teachers anymore.  

Depending on the school, the teacher has or does not have the freedom to choose materials. Some language schools have strict curriculum to follow and some don’t. What books to use, whether teachers and their students are going to be involved in project work or any other activities, what kind of exams the students will sit for at the end of the year – all of these choices also depend on the owner of the school.  

Finally, I would prefer not to talk about the salaries that teachers get… Greece is in the middle of a financial crisis, which in most cases means that the pay is not that good compared to what it used to be in the past. And yet, there are still wonderful teachers who love their profession and try to do their best, no matter what their working conditions are.

Learning English in Greece

Theodora PapapanagiotouLearning English in Greece

by Theodora Papapanagitou


In my previous post, I wrote about what teaching English is like in Greece. I emphasized that we are a very exam-oriented society, so teaching almost always revolves around exam preparation. In this post I am going to be a little more specific on the structure of classes and what is actually learned.

What better example could I possibly use than myself? Just like everybody else in my country, I had to learn English as a foreign language. I loved English. My first introduction to English came from my cousin, who had just come back from the States where she lived with her parents, and she didn’t speak any Greek. So she became was my first teacher, a ten-year-old girl trying to communicate with a four-year-old! I remember watching “Charlie’s Angels” with her and, although I did not understand the language, I still loved the way it sounded to my ears.

At the time when I was a schoolgirl, English was not part of the elementary school curriculum, so we started learning it at junior high school. This has changed over the years and nowadays Greek children begin learning their first foreign language, English, in the third grade of elementary school (8-9 years old) and their second foreign language, usually German or French, in the fifth grade (10-11 years old).

Back then, I skipped the first two years of English classes and started learning English at the age of 10, since I had learnt the basics from my cousin. At that time, everyone in Greece studied using the same textbook series called “Starting out,” published by Oxford University press. The book’s idea was learning through the story of Arthur, an English clerk, and Mary, the love of his life. I still remember how Arthur left his job, started studying at a university, and later got together with Mary – and I believe that students still love textbooks that have a story and they are eager to find out what happens next. Other than that, the book was full of pattern drills and repetitive grammar exercises. The teaching methodology in its variety as we know it now had not gone that far yet. Looking at textbooks now we can see projects, games, interactive exercises, integration of technology – everything to keep the student interested.

These days students of all grades use locally published textbooks approved by the Greek Ministry of Education. A lot of teachers also choose to take part in big educational projects like Comenius, collaborating with other schools in Europe, learning with art, movement, music, and even participating in Model United Nations conferences at the senior high school level. Of course, whether a school and a class take part depends on the teachers and the directors of the school, since it means a lot of extra work for the teachers involved.

As I mentioned before, Greek students and parents are keen on taking language exams and receiving certificates proving the achieved level. There are over 30 different institutions that offer exams of all levels and, depending on the difficulty or exam format, students are eager to pass them and get a language certificate as early as possible. Most of the schools prepare students for language level exams to receive a certificate from the Greek Ministry of Education, and students can take this exam, if they wish. This particular exam is similar to the British and American ones, testing students on their reading and listening comprehension, use of English (Grammar, Vocabulary), writing and speaking.

However, many Greek students are not satisfied with taking only this exam. They also attend private language schools in the afternoon, usually from the age of nine or even younger, so that they learn better English and get a “foreign” English certificate. It is believed that students can’t learn proper English at school (although, of course, there are a lot of school teachers who do a wonderful job).

Since there are a lot of students now who are interested in studying or working abroad, a relatively new trend in Greece is studying for IELTS or TOEFL, which usually happens over the course of 2-3 months. A popular option is taking private lessons at home with a tutor, who can adapt to the student’s needs (or not), and maybe prepare for these exams a bit earlier with their intensive courses, compared to the time students would spend studying for the same exam at a language school.

When I was a student, there was no certificate available from the Greek Ministry of Education, nor from any other institution, so I had to take the Cambridge FCE. My preparation included a lot of tests, grammar, and lots of practice. As a university student majoring in German literature I took the ECPE from University of Michigan, having my best friend, who was studying English literature at the time, as a tutor and then later I continued with a British tutor preparing for the  CPE exam. It was not much later that I decided to teach both English and German and furthered my education in that direction.

As a non-native speaker and a teacher, I have to say that you never stop learning. And whether it is with the help of endless exams and certificates or not, many Greeks do learn English. Most of them can more or less speak, understand, and communicate in the language, because they know that English is their window to the world.