Lilika Couri talks about ELT in Greece – 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. The first interview is from Lilika Couri.

 

Lilika Couri is a teacher educator and EFL School Management Consultant in Greece and abroad.  She is co-director of Educational & Training Consultants and has co-authored EFL teaching  books. A founding member of TESOL Greece and of the Greek Fulbright Alumni association, she has served on the boards of both volunteer associations  Lilika is TESOL Greece Chair for 2018-2019.

 

Did you always want to become a teacher? 

No, not really. I was hooked on English and I wanted to work with the language itself. And I loved literature. So, teaching seemed to be one of the ways to do so. I taught literature for a number of years at the University of Colorado. I changed to TEFL once I came back to Greece. Teaching literature in Greece at that time did not seem to be an option for me. Language teaching, on the other hand, was a field that was just ‘waking up’, and it was a challenge. So, I changed focus and re-educated myself. However, the knowledge and insights I had gained from literature became a tremendous support and resource in language teaching. Years later, teacher training was a conscious, definite choice. I knew it was needed by us of all. My decision meant hard work and taking risks, but it was worth it. And, I felt ‘safe’, as I wasn’t alone. My professional partner, Suzanne  Antonaros, and I have worked side by side since 1984. 

 

However, I’d like to pause a bit, regarding your question. As teachers, we’re often being asked this question, and it seems to be important to many. I believe what’s more important, once we have made the decision, is what we do with it and how or whether we evolve. And our perspective: how do we see teaching and whether we are willing to commit ourselves to it. Is it just a job for us, or a profession, which quite often becomes a mission? 

 

What was the situation in ELT when you started teaching?  

Complete ignorance. ELT, as we know it now, did not exist. We were ‘groping in the dark’. Most of us were teaching by instinct. In 1963, sitting in on my first ever teacher training seminar, conducted by Maricelle Meyer, I saw a new world unfold before my eyes. And it was a challenging and fascinating world.

 

The Greek ELT field started growing and changing around the late ‘70s. It was a rapid and ‘wealthy’ growth from all possible aspects: teaching materials, language programs, private EFL centers and teacher education courses.

 

Today, ELT professionals can choose from among a variety of professional development courses and can attend major Book Exhibits and international conferences. There are BA and MA TESOL programs available both in Greece as well as abroad and many of them are online.

 

Many teachers have become aware that teaching needs constant feedback and development, and this applies to both non native and native speakers.

 

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

 

Considerably, over the years, although there is still a great deal of “surface” teaching, as I refer to it. In other words, teaching which is done with very little respect for the language itself, with little or no knowledge of a sound methodology and without constant updates. There are, of course, great exceptions and FL Centers and associations which put quality first, work with informed and trained teaching staff and believe in ongoing teacher development, despite the fact that they are businesses and need to observe a number of practices in order to survive in the ELT market. 

 

What has worried me over the years, however, and has become one of my personal ‘missions’, is how those of us involved in FL teaching, have allowed our society (and I’m not thinking of Greece only, but this is our focus now), to think of language teachers as the necessary ‘means to an end’, i.e. obtaining a language certificate. I’ve often talked about it, referring to it as the “governess” syndrome.

 

What has worried me over the years, however, and has become one of my personal ‘missions’, is how those of us involved in FL teaching, have allowed our society (and I’m not thinking of Greece only, but this is our focus now), to think of language teachers as the necessary ‘means to an end’, i.e. obtaining a language certificate.  

Foreign Language teaching is not considered an academic field by most. People see it as a way to teach the little bits of language so they or their children can pass a certain exam. And this is our fault. Society simply mirrors and follows the image we project. Many people within our field use teaching as a way to earn a living, regardless of the way it’s done. It’s become a vicious circle, as we do not assume our responsibilities and complain about the demands of the parents, recession, etc., but we are the ones who first started this trend and keep feeding this vicious circle, mainly because of our ignorance, when we first started, and in many cases now, because of our continued ignorance or self-centered behavior.

 

It is true that the State does not help either, as I’m afraid FL teaching is their last concern. This is neither the time, nor the place to discuss this issue in depth, and I should say that there have been inspired and knowledgeable colleagues like Professors Dendrinos, Tokatlidou, Tsopanoglou and Kotzia, to name but a few, who have tried their best to steer the Ministry of Educations towards a more effective way of organizing and planning FL teaching programs in the public system, but their efforts have not always succeeded because of the various political interests of those in power. The result is half measures, appointments of a number of incompetent people at key posts and hasty decisions (like the introduction of EFL in the Primary School), which needed to be put into effect by totally unprepared administrators and teaching personnel.

 

It’s a thorny topic and I shouldn’t have even referred to it, but it has to be mentioned. In addition, the gap and disparity between the State Sector and the Private one contribute to all this off handed, ignorant and disorganized way FLs are viewed by the public. 

 

How difficult is it to change?

In actuality, it is easy, and despite what I have said above, in the final analysis it depends on the individual. It is a personal choice: do I want to be a professional, or just a person who works for a living?

 

Great changes did not take place because a number of people or a government made an earth shaking decision. It’s always taken ONE person to speak up or to ‘have a dream’, and the others followed. As simple as that.

 

The question is: will we wake up and make that individual decision?

 

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

 

I’ve been changing everything in my teaching from the moment I met Maricelle, and then many other professionals and great teacher educators. I haven’t stopped learning, adapting, developing.

But I would have definitely focused more on changing our professional image. Once, I did talk about founding a Chamber of Foreign Languages (without the political party influences, however), which would create and then sustain and safeguard our professional status.  Extremely difficult, but I should have ‘fought’ more persistently for this idea.

 

I must say though that contributing to the founding of TESOL Greece was an effort to create an ‘academic and professional’ image and to elevate our standards.

 

As a TEFL association, TESOL Greece has accomplished a great deal. This year we are celebrating our 40th anniversary. It is hard to believe though that from among the almost 50,000 EFL professionals all over Greece, only 550 are interested in becoming TG members. This is where individual awareness and choice are paramount. 

 

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?

 

Teaching, first and foremost, is sharing, offering and receiving. It is an ‘emotional’ discourse and it has more to do with the teaching and practicing of learning-to-learn skills and life skills, what we now call the 21st Century Skills, but which, as EFL teachers, we have been practicing for many years (some of us unknowingly), than with grammar and vocabulary teaching. 

 

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

 

I’d say in 20 years or more from now. In the next 10 years, there will be more technology and a few more changes in the EFL classroom, but there won’t be that much change in the overall Greek ELT scene.

I see teachers and learners depending more on online learning and thus, isolating themselves. Communicating online cannot be compared to classroom teaching and to human contact. What sustains us as human beings is the presence of others, the unity of the ‘tribe’.

I’d like to invite all my colleagues to join a ‘tribe’: the 40th TESOL Greece Annual International Convention on 2-3 March, 2019 at the TITANIA Hotel in Athens (www.tesolgreece.org). The theme of the convention is, “The 5 Ts of TESOL: Teach, Train, Transform, Transcend, Trust”. What could be more appropriate?

My very best wishes for a bright New Year and congratulations to ELT News on your 30th anniversary.•¶

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