The high-quality accommodation standards that the English teachers had gotten used to in the past were due to the fact that the profession had a lot of money entering it. As I mentioned, we were paid very well for a weekend's work: I recall making €420 (net) at one time, which used to be half the average monthly salary of a Greek private-sector worker. For this, I sat at a desk for 10-12 hours each day for two days, getting up only to open and close the door to let the next student in and to have lunch. Each day, 70-80 students would be interviewed by each pair of interviewers: one would examine, while the other would assess (this year with fewer enrolments, we interviewed about 60 students per day).
Intermediate level students, under the general theme of travelling: more of the same as above. Cretan children do not have such a well-developed concept of independent travelling as a young person.
Lowering living standards is a hard concept for people to grasp when they were used to a very materialistic throw-away lifestyle, even when it was provided to them for free. But I am happy to say that I don't hear these complaints any more. The frequent complainers have recently been dealt with quite swiftly. For the last two years, I've noticed that this side of the profession has been filtered out with a fine-tooth comb: these people were the first to go as the crisis hit the sector. It's sad to say this, but the truth is that this particular group of teachers wasn't always the most professional. Some would treat the working weekend as a holiday. Stories abounded of the empty mini-bars in the hotel room and the room service orders. A few of them would even invite their friends along for the weekend, so that they could go out in the evenings, despite an early-morning start the next day (we have to be up by 7am to wash, dress and have breakfast before we start work at 8.30am). Some of them would not even bother to show up to the exams, cancelling at the last moment. Who turns down such money, whether during a crisis period or not? Especially when you have been specifically selected to do the honours? Keep in mind an important point about the identity of these teachers: they were mainly foreign-born Greek women (ie native speakers of English). Teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) is definitely woman's territory in Greece.
It has always been too easy to become an authorised EFL teacher in Greece: you sit a European-certified C2-level examination for English language proficienc y, and if you pass, you can apply to become a non-state-school EFL teacher, although most teachers often have more than just this qualification nowadays, because of the competition and the fact that most university graduates are unemployed, so they get involved in private teaching of some sort. I have often worked with women who have simply finished high school and gained one of these certificates - really good students of English can achieve this level before they leave high school. These teachers have no idea about teaching methodology, they have very little knowledge of theoretical English grammar, and they have never created their own teaching materials. This isn't necessarily a criticism: ust because they aren't always highly educated doesn't necessarily mean that they don't make good teachers at the end of the day. Their experience as both learners and teachers helps them to teach in a manner suitably directed towards passing an examination. I've also found that most of the time, students pass exams regardless of who the teacher is (in other words, the students took in whatever the teacher had to offer).
Intermediate level students, under the general theme of employment: this picture was easier to handle than the previous ones, as it is a universally understood topic.
The profession is full of people who don't really have advanced knowledge, even though most of the teaching is very bookish. On this point, frontistirio owners are bombarded by publishing companies (both national and international) selling expensive course books, and some even make deals with them to use specific book series for a number of years - that used to provide perks for the frontistirio (eg advertising stationery with company logos) and sure book sales for the publishing company. English-language frontistiria were often run in the past by people whose qualifications level is quite basic, sometimes lower than the teachers they hire (while some operations are a one-person show); this has changed over the last few years, again due to more competition - frontistirio owners in Crete tend to have ESL qualifications.
English language teachers have helped immensely to boost the family income. In rural areas where there are few positions of employment available, an English teacher could make a respectable income away from the local food processing plant or fieldwork, supplementing her household income quite handsomely, without too much initial outlay in setting themselves up as such. In a country with high unemployment, teaching English is perfect work 'on the side'. Private one-to-one tuition is rarely taxed (before the crisis, lessons cost anything from €10-20 an hour). Some unscrupulous frontistirio owners don't declare their employees (or even businesses, if they are running them from their own home) to the tax office (and this is continuing, as far as I know). In this case, it's the employee teacher that you have to keep in mind. She's often paid a low rate per hour, she may be uninsured, and when the business closes down for the summer holidays (like state schools do), she has to register at the unemployment office - which she can only do if she was being paid legally: the frontistirio owner would have to be declaring her employment, paying taxes and, most importantly, paying her national health insurance contributions.
Intermediate level students, under the general theme of employment: another easy topic for our students.
This is what gave English language teaching its weird side in Greece: a lot of those schools and their teachers relied on image projection (pretty teachers and high pass rates) rather than highly qualified appropriate teaching staff. Word of mouth was the main form of advertising; but because frontistiria are as common as zaharoplasteia, souvlatzidika and corner shops (or at least they were before the crisis, while paying a small amount in salaries to some employees who are in a dead-end job), and they are run in a similar way (a little family business providing employment for most members), people often prefer to send their children for ease of access to the closest one in the neighbourhood. When a visiting professor from the UK came to Greece to conduct a seminar for English language teachers, he made an interesting remark at the beginning of his report: when he entered the lecture room, he wondered if he had been sent to a hairdresser's conference by accident, so saturated was the profession with image-conscious women that it was difficult to see its more serious side.
In the good old days when EU loans were pouring into the pockets of Greek state employees, this sudden wealth created the need for services that they could pay for with their new money, which in turn created a host of new businesses ( which make up the Martyr's Party, as labelled by Petros Markaris ), including frontistiria. But they had been around well before Greece's entry into the EU ; however, they were not accessible to everyone. My husband, for example, used to work on construction sites in the summer and the money he earned from there would pay for his English lessons during the winter. In the 70s, there was much less money in the pockets of the average Greek than there was in the 80s, carrying on through to the first decade of the new millenium.
Advanced level students, under the general theme of pollution: this topic was way off the scale for our students - and our teachers, as I subsequently found out when the topic was discussed over lunch. The idea of carbon footprints and food miles is only recently getting attention in Greece, but not in the form that it takes in the UK (where these exams and picture cards originate).
Such micro-businesses as the frontistirio have been hit hardest in the Greek economy. Civil servants have had their salaries reduced (in theory), but they still get paid something every month, while all those little support services in the form of private businesses that sprouted up around them have mostly gone completely bust. The economy's decline will have a number of repercussions in the frontistirio business, but moving away from the many hours Greek children spend in a frontistirio is actually a positive step in many ways. It may seem as though children won't have the opportunity to become as educated as they were before, but that's looking at the issue in a one-sided way. Most importantly, fewer hours spent in a frontistirio will assist children in their creative development. Frontistirio lessons take place in conservative environments and they take up most of the free hours of a child's afternoon and/or evening. All of the downsides of a move away from frontistiria are counter-balanced by the new technology available to us, which will continue to be available even with a return to the drachma.
The way Greek politics is going paves the way for a new form of frontistirio too. The old system has been crushed or severely bruised, and it needs to be replaced imminently with new ideas. There is no real need to go to a frontistirio these days to learn English (my own opinion - I know there will be a public outcry on this one) because we live in the internet age, and these days, it's unlikely that young Greeks will not have any grasp of basic English skills (check out a potential Prime Minister candidate's skills here! - he clearly didn't like going to frontistirio when he was young). But there is still a need for the frontistirio and its teachers:
Advanced level students, under the general theme of cultural diversity: students still needed prodding to get them to talk about the actual topic that this picture covered. Most students discussed their interests in the food and music of other cultures, rather than race relations (it was much easier for them to 'see' the topic in the non-food photo below). Bear in mind that students are given only one photo: it depends on their luck as to which one they get.
Since we live in a highly connected world, the frontistiria owners and their teachers are not the only ones who will suffer economically. Remember those examination syndicates offering tests to prove your English language skills and proficiency levels? They're all based in the UK or the US. And Greece - believe it or not - was one of their biggest customers: in other countries, teachers aren't even employed to conduct the oral examinations (they are all taped and sent to the UK, which is where they are assessed, but this isn't possible in Greece where hundreds of thousands of students sit exams all in one weekend). Leading people to believe that they need a commodity is something of an art in the maintenance of the global economy. Somewhere the bubble has loosened and air is being released. The balloon won't burst, but it's already shrunk considerably, and there isn't much air in it now.
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