Talking with experts in ELT!

Interviews on education and language teaching

George Drivas talks about ELT its past, present and future



On the occasion of ELT NEWS’s 30th anniversary we are happy to publish a series of interviews from ELT personalities who have left their trace in the Greek and international ELT scene.

George Drivas is no stranger to Foreign Language education, having spent 36 years as a teacher, teacher trainer, author and presenter both at a local and international levels. Passionate about learning, education and training, he is keen on studying, developing and implementing innovative ideas in terms of pedagogical framework as well as content development. He has presented and published work aiming at the use of technology in education based on pedagogy and current teaching method; his latest paper has been published in Handbook of Research on Educational Design and Cloud Computing in Modern Classroom Settings by IGI Global, US.

George Drivas is also the creator of AllThingsPresentations.com website and Facebook page which are frequently visited by people interested in presentation and communication skills. He has been the Director of Studies at Doukas School Department of Foreign Languages since 1994.


Did you always want to become a teacher?

I always felt comfortable in a school environment. My Greek language teacher of 4 years in High School was my role model. He was inspiring, disciplined, methodical, demanding, and respectful. He encouraged all students in class and the feelings were mutual. It was first a choice of area of study and then a teaching job followed naturally. I still feel indebted to my university linguistics professor for his mind opening lectures on linguistics and the teacher trainer at a major language institute in Athens for the practical applications of theory that largely shaped my thinking.


Change requires two elements. A wish and a direction. Nothing will change unless you want to challenge yourself. You need to question your effectiveness and efficiency on a daily basis. 


What was the situation in ELT when you started teaching?

It was the time of major changes. The communicative approach was dominating the scene, with grammar teaching being pushed in the background and ostracized into oblivion. Progressive coursebooks, like STRATEGIES, were dominating the publishers’ and authors’ minds and new projects were commissioned. It was the time that saw the rise of Greek publishers from sideline companion producers into mainstream international players. It was a venturous and adventurous time. Despite what appeared to be total confusion there was a spirit and will to move forward.


Is teaching a discourse in which everyone waits their turn to speak and no one truly listens? Is it a discourse of memorization in which ready-made phrases, ideas, formulas and patterns are reiterated over and over again?

A little book that comes to memory was called “For and Against” by L. G. Alexander. It listed a number of topics, current at the time, like Women’s Liberation, The Generation Gap, The Space Race, and the like. It had a number of one line arguments, you guessed it, in favour or against the topic. It was a great resource for ideas that could be used to enrich an oral or written presentation. It was not a model. It was more of a guide. There were no recipes there. There were suggestions to assist in the communication of content. That was the pattern of teaching at the time despite the memorization that had to take place, especially in terms of vocabulary. My feeling is that teaching was geared towards the learners and not towards a specific exam.


Has teaching changed or we still teach the way we were taught?

Teaching has changed dramatically while remaining unaffected by realities. We have progressed in terms of technological developments, yet we have remained dependent on published materials and public exams. The processes of learning and teaching have become “easier”. There is abundant assistance available. As a result there is less discovery. Teachers do not stop learning when they graduate. Learners do not stop developing once they pass their certificate exams. Once they both reach what we used to refer to as their “learning plateau”, the feeling of lack of progress leads to regression to safe practices: the way we learned.


How difficult is it to change?

Change requires two elements. A wish and a direction. Nothing will change unless you want to challenge yourself. You need to question your effectiveness and efficiency on a daily basis. Not at the detriment of your sanity but for the benefit of constructive criticism. However, we need a clear sense of direction. Change what into what? In the past, we had a case of black and white: Grammar vs. Communication. A question of either or. Today we live at a time of shades of gray. A time of insecurity, doubt and uncertainty, aggravated by economic discomfort. Is there room for experimentation? Is there room for vision? Is there room for romantics, or are we simply crushed by realists? 


Human relations are changing faster that I would care to mention. I still wear a tie to work every day out of respect to my position and to those I come in contact with in my present role.


If you could go back what would you change in your teaching?

When I meet former students, especially those of ten or twenty years ago, I am surprised by the aspects of my teaching that they still remember.  They may not be those that I consider my most significant qualities, but they definitely are those that impacted them more significantly: e.g., my sense of humor. Personally I have changed over the years: more confident, more experienced, more demanding, more open-minded. If I chose to change any of these would I be doing them or me a favour?


The bedrock of more effective and efficient instruction is setting and maintaining meaningful relationships with students. Do teachers know how to do it?

Human relations are changing faster that I would care to mention. I still wear a tie to work every day out of respect to my position and to those I come in contact with in my present role. However, I am friendly with the students I come in contact with. I am not their friend, we are not buddies. Yet I take them seriously and they realise that. They know when it is time to let our hair down and when it is time to be strict and austere. An old saying goes: “Trust your students and they will let you down. Do not trust your students and they will put you down”.


Have you ever felt embarrassed or insecure in the classroom?

Every single time. Am I making the most of their time? What is the answer to the question they just asked? Am I the right role model for them? Why are they not paying attention to me? Is it my fault? Am I boring? Audience rejection is still one of my worst nightmares. I have this urgent need to feel accepted because I am trying!


Does routine teaching make teachers ‘lazy’?

What is routine teaching, I ask you. I have been active in the field for 36 years now. I consider every year an ordinary series of extraordinary events. Even when you have the same students in name they are a year older. That makes a huge difference. The book may be the same but the faces of your students are not. Their life experiences are giving them shape and depth. Watching the changes is both intriguing and fascinating. You ever try to find yourself in them.


How do you see ELT in say…10 years from now?

Learners becoming more independent and taking ownership of their learning. Learners rationalizing early on why they want to invest in a learning programme. Learners willing to take risks.

  • Learning environments becoming more welcoming and appealing. Learning environments open to socializing, discussions and debates, less structured but more productive and more connected; the latter two both in the technical and the metaphorical sense of the terms. 
  • In my experience, I have seen students who wish to stay in class when we tell them to get out! Conversely, I have seen students who wish to stay out when we ask them to come in.
  • I still remember the words of John Dewey: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”