ELT News 30 years on

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30 years is a small lifetime for some, yet that is how long ELT News has been publishing and strongly influencing the path of ELT teaching in Greece. It is an envious record and one to be highly proud of. Its heyday was in the Nineties and early Noughties, when there was enough money from publishers to allow free printed copies to go to all teachers who asked, and an on-line version to boot, which meant that around 120,000 readers viewed it each month.

At that time it was a powerful publication; and I well remember the (now defunct) Ministry of the President (Προεδρειας) calling me one morning to ask for further elucidation on a political article I had included. And when I enquired why it was of such interest to the Ministry, they replied, “this is read by more than 100,000 voters, many of whom, as teachers, are in a position to influence others. So it is of great importance to us!” Of course, I felt suitably flattered, especially as it was before my time as Diplomatic Correspondent for ‘Athens News’, when verbal sparring with politicians became almost a daily occurrence. However, I must admit that ELT News helped me enormously in cutting my teeth on journalism and further honing them. I deeply thank them for that.

I first met Andreas in 1989, after Tassoula had asked me to contribute a few words to the paper, and he wanted to know what kind of rubbish I would be turning in. He didn’t actually use those words on a first meeting, but even the welcome glass of Chivas couldn’t hide the real thoughts behind the specs – the paramount thoughts in the mind of every editor who did his own laborious proof-reading, before word-processors became as common as cockroaches!.

A hard taskmaster, though he dictated by example rather than edict, Andreas firmly believed, along with other Greek ELT pioneers such as Dimitris Stavropoulos (writer of the OUP Stavropoulos/Hornby dictionary), that the innate quality of Greek teaching was generally extremely high - even when compared to that of the mother-language country - but that it required some strong guidance and what might term the unruly element of its make-up gently teased out.

A further reason was Greece’s entry into the EU, a new country within a greater whole. And Andreas thought it was paramount that there should be some sort of professional publication to facilitate the input/output of ideas within the European framework of ELT teaching.

This belief was one of the reasons behind the birth of ELT News. For the first time there was a link between teachers, a bond uniting professionals and a vehicle that could bring the thoughts of the youngest teacher - in the remotest village - before all the profession, at just the cost of a postage stamp! A revolutionary step, the second major one in ELT after the creation of PALSO. Every month it would unfailingly arrive on the doorstep and, sweetest to the ear, it was free. By taking the decision to devote the profits of advertising to the printing and costs of the paper, and mailing it free to all registered schools and teachers, unity and communication was immediately established between all members.

It was a bold stroke, depending greatly on the willingness of publishers to advertise and thus assume the running costs of the paper, which could so easily have failed if publishers had not been farsighted and seen that effective communication was in their interest, too.

Luckily, teachers, publishers, teaching organisations and teacher trainers all saw and widely used ELT News as a forum for ideas. Teachers, in particular, soon realized the most cost effective way of improving themselves and measuring their personal standards of success against the rest of the profession was in carefully reading and commenting on the paper. Those who showed they had not been reading their copy were soon looked down on by their colleagues. Within two years ELT News had become the most serious and widely read disseminator of information on the Greek ELT scene, with copies even requested by organizations in other countries.

But Andreas was restless. A professional paper, while always committed to the main focus: that of teaching, needed to also comment on matters that some voices thought lay outside the classroom. He considered that teaching was an extension of the world surrounding us, “… was not language part of life itself, and our teaching intended to be used in living situations?”

This led to the inclusion of humorous articles, comments on political situations, articles dealing with the reality surrounding Greek students and, last but not least, the creation of “ta kaustika tou Alpha,” where free rein was openly given to the dry humour that many only heard privately. He also saw that it was necessary to highlight any unworthy traits seen in teachers or school owners, on the basis that: “if we did not police or show responsibility ourselves within the profession, then government bodies would be only too happy to step in and do it for us, with a resultant increase in the flurry of paper bureaucracy we already faced.” Andreas well understood that ethics had to be heard, as well as seen; and he worked at making the paper not only a professional journal, but also a respected informative newspaper.

Money for nothing and your kicks for free!

Yes, it’s an interesting sub title and I suppose you’re wondering what the hell it means. But, in truth, you had been given ‘money for nothing’ in the information ELT News provided teachers with for its first 20 years; and, in the social details that went alongside - giving the venues of talks, parties and gossip - you ‘got your kicks for free!’
Every profession needs its journal – doctors, lawyers, architects … and yes, even teachers. A journal, or professional newspaper, is the artery that gives every field its life-blood, motivation, inspiration and information. Without it you just don’t know what is going on outside the 4 walls of your house or school. In fact, for those of you under 55 years old, you probably haven’t ever realized what ELT News really means for you, because you’ve never been without it.

Only those who remember the pre-1989 teaching days have the remotest idea of what I am talking about; where we only had phones, post or friends to know what was happening in our field: where someone was talking … where there was a book exhibition or … where there was a better job available! And as far as challenging an idea someone had voiced with a succinct letter, forget it. You did not even know they had said it, they did not know if anyone had heard it and, most important, you had nowhere to write to!

ELT News, from its first issue, was a pioneering publication because it was the first – and still is – the only newspaper able to link all ELT teachers together, regardless of where they lived and worked. For jobs, alone, that is a real aid, as someone thinking of leaving, say, Litohoro and coming to a big city knows immediately where they should apply and what is available. Furthermore, through the website, wherever you are in the world, you can keep in touch and even exchange an email. Through ELT News you cease to be alone and immediately become part of a large and welcoming community.

A test question I have always used when interviewing candidates for teaching positions is “do you read ELT News?” Their answers always gave a lot more information about their teaching than they would have liked me to know! And, over the many years that I have been interviewing educators, hiring them and, later, watching their performance in the classroom, I have come to one very important conclusion: those who regularly read the paper proved themselves far better teachers, overall, than those who didn’t. And I am not the only director of studies to believe this.

There are many of us who are very likely to take a dim view of candidates who do not take the trouble to get and read the one paper that totally informs them of everything happening in their profession. And the rationale is very simple: if someone says they are a trained teacher but can’t be bothered to keep in touch with what is happening to them, in their profession, how on earth can you believe they will be able to prepare their lessons well, be conscientious in the classroom, or even care about the class they are teaching?
When you consider how much other professions pay for their journals … and are happy to pay for it … it is the greatest boon any teacher could have to receive ELT News at a very reasonable nominal fee that is usually tax deductible. To give you a concrete example, I pay about €100 a year to belong to the Society of Authors (in UK) and receive 12 issues a year of very important material concerning writers. Without it I would not know what was happening on the writing scene, or what contracts (educational ones, too) were available, or in the offing.
Frankly, it’s about time some of you really understood how ELT News has managed to survive and provide you with important information, all these years, initially totally free, then €20 per annum. It is the simple fact that Andreas Spyropoulos founded the paper on the premise that all teachers should have a forum for the exchange of information – and that this forum should be mainly paid for by the advertising given to the paper. It is also a fact that Tassoula Spyropoulou continued this wish after Andreas left us.
Given what most other professionals pay to keep their ears to the ground, these days, the subscription of €20 per annum (cheaper, per issue, than any other newspaper found at a kiosk) is very reasonable, indeed, for the only regular paper that concerns teachers and teaching in the Greek market, giving information and news of practically anything world-wide that concerns ELT teaching
In Greece, as in other countries, exercising one’s profession requires being a member of one’s professional body and reading its literature. However, teachers (in Greece) have been an exception to this, so far. Let us, now, change this sloth-like attitude. Let those who care about teaching add a difference. Let us start to believe that teachers who do not read about their profession, and do not give the appearance of caring a jot about it, will not prove themselves good teachers in the classroom. Let us think carefully about employing teachers who do not appear to care about teaching and improving themselves. After all, there are many others who do care - and will probably do the job much better!
In conclusion I would like to add some mild criticism. Since ELT News took on its magazine format, it has dropped its Readers Column where comments on articles or new ideas regularly popped up. Today, there is no obvious such column and, while I am sure any letter would be printed, there is no incentive to the reader to write one. For such a publication omission of this Reader Column is very sad, as it destroys the sense of togetherness and freedom of information we once had and puts us on the same level as what I term ‘low grade’ Greek newspapers which also fail to give their readers the privilege of comment or suggestion. There must be a section, every month, marked Readers Column, to encourage people to comment – even just a couple of inches long if no reader commented that month (editors please take note).
PS the accompanying pencil drawings of the ELT Staff were made in 1994. •

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