Global Volunteers Community Partner Malamo “Tenia” Vigla says the regression of her students’ English skills during the COVID-19 lockdown will be a challenge to overcome. In a “normal” school year, Global Volunteers would be teaching important lessons in her classroom to help students bridge the upcoming summer holiday. But, she’s determined to employ the techniques she’s learned from volunteers until they can return to Crete. A dedicated teacher for 36 years, she says her passion for teaching English can be challenging but she “loves it a lot,” and eagerly assumed a local leadership role with Global Volunteers in 2014. She gives us a glimpse of the challenges she’s faced to pursue her passion, and the foundation of her faith in Global Volunteers.
By Tenia Vigla (English teacher – Greece community partner)
I’ve overcome many challenges during my English teaching career, and I believe I’ll survive the COVID-19 lockdown. But, I’ve come to rely on volunteers’ unique assistance, and I’m feeling their loss at this important time in my student’s education. My perspective comes from more than three decades of experience. At the time I earned my Michigan proficiency certificate in English and completed English language studies, I still wanted to learn so much more. So I continued my education by attending seminars and lectures on child psychology/support so when teaching English, I could help students who had learning difficulties. For the first ten years of my career, I taught English in a local school before taking the “plunge” and finally deciding to open my own school.
In 2002, I opened my school, Vigla’s School of English Language, on the ground floor underneath my family’s apartment. It was a thriving English school with many eager students, but in 2016 my husband was injured in an accident and was unable to work for months. As if that wasn’t enough, the economic crisis hit Greece, things went from bad to worse overnight. Income from the school dropped as parents struggled to pay the fees. With a sudden rise in taxes, I had no other option than to change my license from a school license to a tutoring license. The school on the ground floor closed and, to this day, remains empty while I continue teaching my students in my converted living room.
In 2014, I asked Global Volunteers to help out at the school. I’d heard wonderful reviews from some colleagues of mine who taught at other schools and who had been working with the organization over the years. Since the beginning, it’s been a very positive partnership hosting and working with volunteers. There are so many benefits to all of us. The older more advanced students are able to listen and practice speaking with native English speaking people, encouraging them to talk without feeling stressed. It’s especially important for their exam preparation. You see, the exam is broken down into four parts: listening, writing, grammar/vocabulary, and speaking. Examiners from the U.S. fly to Greece to test the children, so you can imagine for many Greek children, this is the first time they actually converse with a native English speaker. My students, however, have an added advantage. Working with Global Volunteers gives my students the chance to practice their conversational English skills by speaking with volunteer teachers about Greek culture, history, and philosophy. It’s a win-win situation. It’s not surprising my students all do well and with stunning results!
For the younger students, they love to listen to the real-life English language, they giggle a lot, but by the end of the two weeks, they have more confidence and love to share the words they remember. As for me, I learn a lot from the volunteers, too, especially about their daily life in the U.S. I get the chance to share my culture and the history of Crete with them, and pick up interesting teaching ideas. Seeing as another passion of mine is cooking, it allows me to bake delicious Cretan delicacies to share with them and express my sincere gratitude. I should probably also mention the “traditional gyros night,” a highlight for both students and volunteers alike. After class on the final Wednesday, we order Greek gyros and spend time relaxing and chatting. It’s our way of thanking volunteers for spending time with us.
All of this is what we’re missing now – the conversation as well as the hospitality. Now my greatest concern for my students under lockdown is that they’re not listening or writing anything in English, so they have lost contact with the English language. They will find it difficult to start studying hard again when school restarts. I look forward to the new school year in September, and once again, I will be counting on Global Volunteers to help my students both orally and with their writing/structure of the language. Volunteers are essential for my students and me! We’ll eagerly welcome them with open arms once again and look forward to their arrival as soon as this pandemic is over. We’ll never take our volunteers for granted!
Global Volunteers programs will resume when it’s safe again to travel to Crete. You can learn how to volunteer in Greece on the Global Volunteers website.