A teacher is so much more than an adult entrusted to teach students the school curriculum and ensure they pass their exams. A great teacher will make the world of difference to students, carrying the power to shape their education. Inspiring them to study, motivating them to question and research, transferring their passion for knowledge and education in a way that delivers results.
Who comes to mind when you think of a great teacher? Perhaps it is Aristotle teaching Alexander the Great, or Robin William’s character teaching his students to seize the day in Dead Poets Society, or even the intimidating yet patient maths teacher who would not let you give up on probability. Students always remember their favourite teacher, long after their time in a classroom has reached its end.
In the heart of Athens lies one such teacher who is making a tremendous impact on the education, language and life skills of her students in a unique project which also promotes tourism in Greece. Irene Stroumpas-Xantheas is a Greek Australian who has lived in Greece for 30 years and as well as teaching English she is the owner-operator of a language school in the Athenian suburb Agios Demetrios.
When Athens was voted fourth best city as a holiday destination at the start of 2017, Stroumpas-Xantheas brought some of the myriad articles published at the time which write about the increase in tourism to Greece to her classes and discussed the reasons why people visit Greece and what they might like or dislike about it with her students.
She assigned them the homework of writing down questions they would ask tourists about Greece. “In the next lesson, we role played the questions and the answers. It was something students enjoyed immensely and that's when I decided we would create a questionnaire and go to the centre of Athens and stop tourists and ask them for their thoughts on Greece. So that's what we did. Students loved it,” she says.
“They were given the chance to meet people from all over the world, practise their English, boost their confidence in speaking but also show the tourists that they cared about their thoughts and what they, the tourists, thought of them. People care about people who care about themselves. Students become aware of who they are and what they can become.”
The Your Thoughts on Greece project involves getting language students (mainly English) out of the classroom and into popular tourist places. Equipped with the questionnaire they have prepared in class, they stop and ask tourists their thoughts on Greece. The interviews are done in English but also in other languages such as German and French, depending on what foreign language the students are learning and need to practice.
“This project not only utilizes four major skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) but also the 4C's (collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity),” says Stroumpas-Xantheas. “At the end of the interviews, students give the tourists traditional Greek sweets, such as pasteli, to thank them for their participation but also to show how hospitable Greek people are.”
In addition to honing their language and communication skills, the project is an exercise in character building for the students. “The greatest challenge we have received is when tourists say no and don’t want to take part,” says Stroumpas-Xantheas. “Students, in the beginning, feel upset but this makes them even more strong-willed and stubborn to continue the project and stop the next tourist that comes by. This is an important life skill students learn. That there will be rejections in life and they have to learn to overcome them.”
Having done the project countless times in the last two years, Stroumpas-Xantheas imparts the same sage advice to all her students – to show respect, smile and be kind to the foreign visitor. “Students through this project learn to accept diversity and respect the people they will be interviewing,” she says.
There have been two major highlights of the project so far, in October 2018 Stroumpas-Xantheas was invited by the Australian Ambassador to take 15 students to the Australian Embassy and ask for her thoughts on Greece but also questions about her job as an Ambassador. The second highlight was in July 2018 when the project was carried out by a Greek school in Melbourne(Victorian School of Languages), Australia. “Being Greek-Australian, it meant a lot to me,” says Stroumpas-Xantheas. “A friend of mine teaches at this school and she took her students to Oakleigh, a suburb with the largest Greek population. The students stopped and asked Greek people, their thoughts on Greece. These students were practicing and using the Greek language.
The Your Thoughts on Greece project has been adopted by over 230 Language Schools in Greece and Cyprus. It has been running for two years now, and has no intentions of stopping. "There are many schools planning to take their students out in March, April, and May as the weather is getting better,” says Stroumpas-Xantheas. “We have many goals for this year. One of which is to promote this project to other countries. It can be adopted by language schools abroad and customized to suit each country."
For more information see: @yourthoughtsongreece