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Inspiring Creativity Success Stories
Success Stories : Stavroula Papadopoulos' Creative Break

Creativity Success Story

A Creative Break that became a Passion

By Stavroula Papadopoulos

Starting out

No one ever prepared me for this. What I mean is that I never expected to learn so much about myself, my work and the world when I accepted a job as a foreign language teacher so many years ago. I had studied to be an elementary school teacher, after all. This job was a fun activity — a kind of paid hobby — in between graduating from college and getting myself 'a real job', a post, as a public school teacher. I guess, I am still on a break.

Perhaps, the passion I have for foreign language teaching stems from the fact that I still consider it a hobby. I have always looked upon it as a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours a day among individuals who wish to connect with others and to communicate their ideas while still acquire useful skills and gain the confidence they need to communicate, to travel, to look for work or to broaden their mind.

One man's meat is another man's poison

Armed with rules, I entered the classroom and was ready to take the room by storm. I may have succeeded sometimes, I failed at others. This became apparent to me when, the rules I swore by, would instead of helping my students, were at times throwing them into confusion. I would have to re-assess my methods and manner many a time before I began to understand; different people call for different approaches.

If there is one thing that saved me, it was the fact that I really cared. What knowledge escaped me in those days, I made up for by truly being interested in my students and by seeking out ways to help them pick up the language. It was years later that I realized that students' motivation depended on many factors, one of which was an inspiring teacher.

My quest for ways to bring my students to love learning languages as much as I do, as well as to get answers to questions about teaching methods and practices has been an ongoing one and so has my continuing formal education. It was my return to school, as a student this time, which made me aware of needs and difficulties I wasn't aware of since I was stuck in the role of the teacher for so long. Sharing my concerns and ideas with colleagues and students themselves gave me valuable insight. Technology immediately resolved problems I had encountered previously. I had to reflect on my teaching craft. I took teaching courses again, I studied, I researched, I attended seminars and lectures, I experimented, I asked for feedback, I discussed with experienced and young teachers alike, I implemented new methods and adjusted old ones. I delved as deeply as I could.

It was time to become the teacher I had wanted to be. I wanted my students to think, to demand to learn, to seek out knowledge themselves and by extension to help me learn. That's how it all started.

Gaining momentum

Once technology allowed, I would e-mail students to inform them of important dates and events. Then, I started to send them a summary of the lesson for revision. When schools were able to provide this sort of service to students, I saw to it that the mere summary developed into a daily lesson and activity for students. No longer did I depend on my skills, but on those of my students. I would ask them to tell us something about their interests, their studies, their work or a process they knew.

Before I knew it, students’ talents would transpire. They were becoming just as passionate as I was about doing all of this and using what skills they had acquired in a foreign language classroom. They wrote, rehearsed and performed plays, they brought in research on topics of interest or even work they themselves had produced such as poetry and art.

If circumstances don't exist, create them.

What was I going to do with all of that? Surely there had to be a purpose. The answer was staring at me in the face. We would have to produce a school newsletter, which would host their work. It was the perfect vehicle for their artistic and linguistic pursuit. To provide a story to print, they wrote stories, interviewed people, described processes and researched people and places they wished to present. Language learning at its best. Almost effortlessly, they were picking up and using language at an extent they had never dreamt of.

The collaborative project method provided the basis for the next activity. Students were now exchanging information and knowledge and using these to start discussion sessions. This speaking activity provided a stage for debates to take place and where students were able to express their opinions, to comment, to support or to oppose an argument. The opportunities for language learning are countless.

I don't know if I inspire my students. I know they inspire me. What I do is see the potential in them and encourage them to express themselves. Once they realize they have your attention, they will perform their best. •

© 2013 Stavroula Papadopoulos. All rights reserved.

Stavroula Papadopoulos is a Greek American who studied Elementary Education and Spanish Literature in the United States. Her travels brought her to Greece where she's been living and teaching English as a Foreign language teacher for 25 years.

1/30/13