Teaching English in Greece

Theodora PapapanagiotouTeaching English in Greece

by Theodora Papapanagiotou


Every country has a unique education system which suits the needs of its inhabitants. I can say that Greek people try to learn a lot of languages and English is certainly the most important foreign language, since we need it for both educational and professional development in various careers. Learning English is crucial to us also because almost 25% of Greece’s population is involved in this or that way in the tourism industry.  

There are various places where one can learn English in Greece, but for every child with no exception it starts in elementary school. English is a compulsory subject from the third grade and some schools, especially in the private sector, might even include it in their curriculum in the first grade or at kindergarten. Students continue learning English until they graduate from high school at the age of 18.  

One interesting (or strange) thing I observe in Greece is that we don’t think that learning a foreign language at school is enough, and so we send our kids to private language schools that they attend after school in order to learn more and/or better.  

One of the reasons why this happens is that here people love taking exams and receiving certificates, which makes language schools focus on preparing students for these particular exams. There are over 30 different English language certificates and exams in Greece, so most teachers have to be exam-oriented, unfortunately.  

It is very important for Greek students to acquire a certain level of language at a specific age: for example, get to B2 CEFR level at 13-14 years old and then reach C2 CEFR level at 16. The expression that may often be heard from the parents, “We would like our child to finish with English as soon as possible.” I see no clear reason why this is happening. Some people will say that it is impossible to “finish with English” at the age of 16, especially because the higher levels of language (such as C2) are meant for people who have some kind of experience in life, can understand certain types of texts, and write an article or a formal complaint letter. Nevertheless, when faced with such demand, teachers have to overcome this obstacle, find ways to teach students of any age regardless of their life experience, and make them ready for exams.   

To illustrate how serious the situation is, here’s another example: it sometimes happens that, as people turn to a language school or a specific teacher, they don’t say that they want to try to learn English, but rather that they just want to get the B2 certificate for a job.  

Teaching grammar is another important part of ELT in Greece, largely because of the way we are taught our mother tongue, the Greek language, as well as the ancient Greek. Greeks know what a “subject” and an “object” is, they are well aware of the terms “passive voice” and “indirect speech,” so they feel the need to learn a new, foreign language in the grammar-focused way as well. Even though it is sometimes really hard to do for a teacher, especially in low level classes (and learning through play is a better way to teach children anyway), some parents still prefer the grammar book. As a result, teachers use coursebooks, workbooks, grammar books, activity books, vocabulary books… which is also very expensive.   

Teaching English in Greece is not easy. Teachers have to face a lot of difficulties, such as working long hours or dealing with poor working and paying conditions. Nevertheless, there are a lot of teachers who try to do their best. There are teachers who teach through play, who use projects and integrate technology, who continue to learn new things about their profession through attending seminars, webinars, and teacher groups. And it is those teachers that make all the difference.  

Sometimes You Have to Find the Right Person…

Theodora PapapanagiotouSometimes You Have to Find the Right Person…

by Theodora Papapanagiotou.


When I first saw the theme of this issue, it seemed like a topic for an elementary school essay. A description. But it’s probably more than just a description. It is a story about one of the people who influenced you the most. In the end, this is what all of us do – influence the students we teach. 

I always say that after I teach my students for a while, eventually they get my quirks. I am just joking, of course, but in fact, getting influenced by the people you spend a lot of time with is inevitable. In this post I want to talk about my first and only German teacher. I studied the language with university professors after my time with her, but Ms Mary was the only person who actually taught me the language. And not only that. 

Let’s start from the beginning. I was about 10. In Greece it is customary that children attend an extra language school, mostly to learn English. At that time I had already started learning English and I was actually pretty good at it. My parents decided that I should learn a second foreign language. Back then, the “extra” language was not necessary. In fact, almost nobody learned a second foreign language. And I had to do it! 

Imagine how a typical ten-year-old would think: “All kids are out playing and I have to study German? More homework? And how about the pronunciation? What kind of language is that?” I couldn’t stand even listening to that language. Needless to say, I didn’t want to go. I shed a lot of tears before my first German lesson. I finally went, with my face down, and I swore I would be annoying so that the teacher would send me home. 

Ms Mary owned a language school just across the street from my house. She was a middle-aged woman, her kids already grown-up. Very well dressed, she had short blonde hair, really modern make-up, and wore colourful glasses. She looked very impressive. There she was, waiting for me in her big school, with her big smile. All the walls inside the school were covered with posters and pictures, colours everywhere. It looked like a playground of some kind. 

In our first lesson we started talking about Germany, about chocolate, about how easy it is to travel across Europe if you speak two languages. With that, she caught my interest. Learning a second language could make me special?! Was that possible? 

Ms Mary was a very strict and traditional teacher. Her lessons included lots of pattern drills, learning by heart, and a good deal of writing. I had to be perfect. I had to learn really difficult texts by heart. I never understood why I had to do that, but believe it or not, when I had to “recite” my text, I remembered words, their meanings, and grammar. I could talk. 

I continued having lessons with Ms Mary until the age of 17. She gradually became like family to me. We talked about the trips I wanted to take, my dreams and hopes and plans. She was there when I prepared for the university entrance exams. She was always there to help. 

And with her help, I did it. I succeeded in my university entrance exams and started studying German literature and language. During my college years, I still had my notebooks with her notes and tips, which were a kind of a Bible for me. I continued to see her sometimes as I went by her school just to say hi. She was just across the street from my house anyway. 

When I graduated, she offered me my first job teaching in her school. It was just one class that I taught for just a year. Ms Mary retired the following year and she closed down the school. That year was a wonderful experience for me. Somebody trusted me enough, a young person who had just finished her studies, and this was pretty big. 

I will always treasure the relationship I had with my teacher. After all, she was the reason I am a teacher today. 

I hope I can be like her some day. 


Every Step Counts

Theodora PapapanagiotouEvery Step Counts

by Theodora Papapanagiotou.


Today I will tell you a story. Maybe in the beginning it will seem a bit irrelevant to the title, but bear with me and you will understand.

In my first year of college I met a very special person. Kostas was an archeology student. 17 years old. Full of energy. A promising future ahead. It was much later that I realized that he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Lots of battles to give. Nothing stopped him. He is still unstoppable. I had the luck to keep in touch with him for many years and I know that even though we don’t live at the same place or have a chance to talk frequently, we still care about each other.

Some years ago my friend and I were talking about raising awareness about his condition – an important thing to mention here is that he was the vice president of  the Greek multiple sclerosis (MS) society here in Greece back then. Raising awareness is a difficult thing. People believe that somebody with a disability is not able to function in society. People feel pity, people are not always willing to help. So we thought, why don’t we include physical activity, students of all ages and their friends and parents having fun and actually gaining something from all this? That was how we came up with an idea for a fitness charity event, the proceeds of which would go to help the multiple sclerosis society cause.

I contacted my local gym. My trainer Penelope was more than willing to help and took over the organization of the event. She found a place at the local university, she gathered the trainers, she took care of all the equipment. My friend Kostas took care of the information side of the event, contacting doctors and trainers and organizing the talks. My students (some were university students, some were high school students – and their younger siblings, their parents, and their school teachers) and I took it upon ourselves to advertise the event in the local community.

Before starting the ad campaign, I thought that I could integrate the subject of “disability” into my lessons. In my search for suitable materials, I came across a lot of interesting things. First of all, there was a website with actual ELT material about disability, the Disabled Access Friendly campaign. Although the site does not exist anymore, they still have a Facebook page and they actually won an ELTon for innovation in teacher resources back in 2014.

After a few lessons talking about disabilities, how a person must feel and how we can help, my students and I started our campaign, trying to bring as many people as possible to the event. We advertised on social media like Facebook, Instagram, and various webpages; we printed posters and asked local shops to put them up; we gave leaflets with information to everyone we knew. It was amazing that everyone wanted to do something for this cause.

Needless to say that it turned out to be a wonderful event. In the first part of it, a university professor gave a talk about multiple sclerosis and exercise. A lot of patients, therapists, and trainers took part. Then the fun began! Every single trainer of the gym had prepared a routine for the people who came. We enjoyed hours of dancing, yoga, aerobics, and much more! The music with its energy contributed to the great mood! I would also like to mention that everybody volunteered their time and the money that was raised went all to the MS society.

I am not writing all this to brag. After all, I did not do much. What I wanted to say with this post is that we can all do something and it doesn’t have to be something big. Volunteer. Put a poster on the wall at your school. Talk with parents to help somebody. Involve your students in a clean-up activity at the beach or a visit to an old people’s home. Every small step counts.

Leaving you with a breath of hope and fun of this video and some other ideas and resources to use if you choose to speak about this topic with your students:

The Disabled Access Friendly campaign – a thank you post by Vicky Loras

Challenge a Disabled-Access-Friendly world: Lessons for the ELT classroom by Vicky Loras

The Wheelchair – a short video clip from the Disabled Access Friendly campaign

The Superhumans – a lesson plan based on the video about the Paralympic Games in Rio

My champion – a post about Kostas Michalakis

Burnout, exhaustion, and mindfulness

Theodora Papapanagiotou

Burnout, exhaustion, and mindfulness
by Theodora Papapanagiotou.


A year ago, day of my life looked like this:

6 a.m. – wake up, cook, clean;

9 a.m. – go to the office (working as a material developer at that time);

5 p.m. – start teaching my private students and groups;

11 p.m. – go home, prepare for the next day, tidy up, and go to sleep.


This was my life for the past three – four years. I just went on as if on autopilot. Motivation? Probably next to zero. Mood? Really bad. One word culd describe it well – exhaustion.

We have all been there. Tired, no inspiration, no motivation. It does not matter if we love our job, it just happens so that we get burnt out.

So what is burnout and how can we get over this?

Burnout is not so much about your job. It’s about choices. It’s about how you want to live. If you realise these choices, you can get closer to the causes of your stress.

You never understand immediately that you are burnt out, but it doesn’t appear suddenly either. The signs are there, however you choose not to see them. You only notice when it is too late.

So what happens when you experience burnout?

You don’t feel like you did before. You lose your enthusiasm, your spirit. You don’t want to participate in social events anymore, you don’t want to be around successful people and when you do, you feel bad about yourself.

You don’t have new ideas. It’s hard for you to think of anything new. Going to work seems like a torture. You just keep going without thinking much about it.  And you also keep complaining. Everything seems wrong – your classes, students,  books, colleagues…

You don’t share anything anymore. You refuse to help others. No one is helping you get over this, right?

Wrong… Because there is someone who can actually help you. This someone is you.

Have you ever thought of what you do to take care of yourself? Do you take care of yourself at all? And how can being mindful help you see the world with another, more realistic pair of eyes?

What is mindfulness and why is it so important?

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, mindfulness is the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis. In other words, being mindful means understanding yourself and how you feel, what is happening and how you react to that. Do you like the way you behave in this specific situation? What can you change?

I have a small task for you. Take a piece of paper. Divide it into 3 columns. In the first one write what you do for others, for your students, your boss, your family. In the second column write what you do for yourself. I bet the first column has much more in it. Now take a deep breath and use the third column to write what you would love to do. Something fun, something useful, something you have always wanted to do. And then make time to do it. Even 5 minutes a day counts.

You matter.


Learning to Teach Better with Penny Ur

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Multitasker

Theodora Papapanagiotou
Theodora Papapanagiotou
By Theodora Papapanagiotou

It’s 6:30 a.m. and the alarm clock goes off. First coffee of the day and work begins.

I love waking up early in the morning, the peace and quiet are wonderful and I am ready for my first task. I am working on a translation now. One of my “jobs” is translating medical and sports-related texts. I work with trainer schools and sports professionals. I truly enjoy this kind of texts: I learn so much about the human body, the way it functions, methods how to improve our performance and avoid injuries, whether you are an athlete or not. There are so many sciences combined to actually train somebody (or yourself) – physiology, physics, sports science, medicine, chemistry, psychology… the list goes on. I admire sports professionals for using this knowledge to actually help their athletes improve. That’s also what we do as teachers, I guess. Combine the English language with technology and other subjects to make our lessons more useful and interesting.

Nine o’clock and I am off to class. Recently I have started working for a non-governmental organization. At the moment they are holding seminars and sessions for senior citizens, such as yoga, health-related seminars, as well as computer and English language lessons, and that’s where I come in! My class consists of eleven wonderful ladies over sixty. They were all very active during their youth, working and enjoying life, and in fact they still do. Although I do have a leaflet created by the organization with basic vocabulary and phrases, we usually improvise dialogues with related vocabulary, role-play trips to stores to buy stuff and going to restaurants. We focus on the language that they are going to need when travelling abroad. The funny thing is that, being “old-school” people, they are used to learning more grammar and rules, so they find it a bit bizarre to actually talk and communicate with each other in English, but it’s a lot of fun!

It’s almost noon and I am rushing back home to prepare lunch. If I lived alone, I wouldn’t be bothered, but having a kid makes all the difference. I am not good at cooking but I try to make something out of fresh ingredients, avoiding junk food and taking care of myself in this way.

Since it is summer, I don’t have a lot of one-to-one students, only a couple of adult learners a few times a week in the afternoon.

My first student is a teacher preparing for a literature exam, so I always bring excerpts from classic English literature, such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, or even Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We talk about the plot, analyze the characters, and compare the books with one another. The preparation I have to do at home is pretty demanding but I love every minute of it, because I get to read books and I have no excuses since I have to use them in my work.

My second student of the day is a businessperson who needs English to get around. I look for articles about food and drinks, travelling, and different cultures on the Internet. I create reading comprehension and vocabulary exercises and then we talk about the subject I have chosen for the day. My student has travelled almost everywhere in the world, so the experiences he shares are very interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes enlightening. Working without a coursebook is a great experience for me because it keeps me motivated to create new things myself. Not that I don’t like coursebooks – I do use them for my lessons with children and teenagers, as well as preparing for exams, but when you teach ESP you have to be creative, I guess.

After my private lessons, it’s spinning time! Well, for those of you who don’t know what it is, I will explain. Spinning is a gym class on a stationary bike. You may tell me, “What kind of class is this, you just get on the bike and ride!” But it’s so much more than that. You can have a complete workout with sprints, climbing hills, or even jumps with great music. I love this class so much that a few years ago I actually went to a spinning instruction school and got my own trainer diploma. I learned about human physiology, heart rates, different kinds of bikes, and all about beat and music used in the process. Spinning combines my three big loves: teaching, music, and movement, and that’s why I love it so much! So every weekend I try to spend a couple of hours discovering new music and creating my “lesson-plans” with the right moves. What I find really challenging in this type of teaching is that you never get to have the same students like in a normal language class, and the fact that their levels are different never makes it any easier. You can have an athlete, a pensioner, and a housewife all in the same class! So, when planning, you have to create different versions of moves, a lighter one and a more difficult one. This reminds me of mixed ability classes and the need for us teachers to have activities that cover the same language phenomenon while catering for different language levels and individual abilities of our students.

It’s late in the evening. I am back home, to tidy up and talk to my kid a bit more. Tomorrow is another day. And a new challenge.