If there was one thing you could change to improve education in your country…

By Alex Hamel. Alex is a psychology graduate, and he is currently working on a series of short stories as well as a novel. He lives in Mykonos, Greece

Seeing as I currently reside in Greece, most people might have thought that I’d prefer to discuss the aspect of finances in relation to education here, rather than what I would change in the educational system. Although I call myself a man of a world and have lived here and there and so on, I find myself being constantly disappointed by Greek attitudes, wherever I am. Nevertheless, when I was a young schoolboy, nothing seemed to bother me. I saw a smile of kindness in my headmaster’s eyes, and felt that my first grade teacher could not have been better. I used to run out around the playground and see a world of possibilities. Well, there wasn’t much of anything there except the hard ground we walked on, but my imagination created something that the adult eye was blind to. Yet, through my eye, I was blind to other things which included racism, sexism, and a good deal of other -isms.

I remember one day in particular, when a group of young boys approached me and began to hit me in the middle of the playground. One grabbed me by my hair and another punched me in the stomach, while two others kicked my legs. I tried to free myself of the four boys who decided to bully me and I yelled from help. I looked towards the bench, just a couple feet away, where all the teachers sat. They sat there observing, drinking their coffee and smoking their cigarettes. I could not see their eyes beneath their dark sunglasses, but I knew they could see what was happening. I didn’t understand why they didn’t do anything about it and still don’t.

By the time I reached junior high school, I had my fair share of experiences. I knew that I was “not as good” as other students because I called myself American. I felt it was natural to be made fun of for not being like all the other boys, who wanted to play soccer, and instead wanted to dance and sing. I accepted it for quite some time until fortunately for me, and unfortunately for certain people around me, my hormones kicked in. I was infused with a certain fire that demanded justice and wanted things to be set straight. I remember challenging a teacher’s beliefs, moments after they struck a student in the face. I felt that violence was no way to teach a student to conduct themselves “properly”. She in turn responded to me with “Go back to America!” Similarly, I became annoyed at the fact that teachers would sit around the school smoking all day and showed no care for the youth they were influencing. I just couldn’t understand why teachers acted the way they did, and furthermore, why students couldn’t see beyond it.

When that change in me occurred, my mother and I moved from Mykonos, Greece to Athens, Greece, where I attended A.C.S., a private International/American high school. I was shocked to find that teachers treated me equally to other students and that I actually did really well in my courses. I was most touched by the fact that these teachers didn’t want to get away from me after class. They sat and talked to me and even had lunch with me sometimes. One day, one of my professors took me aside before class and showed me to his office. He locked the door and moved towards the computer, where he turned on the projector and inserted a DVD into the drive. Moments later I was watching David Bowie perform as Ziggy Stardust. These were experiences that marked me deeply. The discussions and moments I had with these professors were more meaningful than any class I ever took. I soon came to the conclusion that these people loved teaching. That was what made the difference, and that is why they continued to teach me outside the classroom.

Needless to say, my imagination was what saved me when I attended public Greek schools. If not for it, I may never have ventured beyond what I knew and what I was comfortable with. Sometimes we have to move into a zone of discomfort in order to grow and learn more about ourselves. I thus consider myself blessed, but not lucky. If I were lucky, everything would have been given to me, and I would have understood nothing. But I have worked for everything I have achieved and in doing so, have experienced moments of great joy and moments of great pain, which I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Having said this, I would like to make it clear what I would change in the Greek educational system . I would insist that a new teacher training program be created, which would include psychological tests. The majority of the teachers I encountered in the Greek educational system had never even taken a teacher training program. Within the program, teachers should be shown how their actions and words affect young children, teenagers, as well as young adults. This wouldn’t guarantee to make the teachers brilliant of course, for to be brilliant, they would have to love teaching, and that is completely up to them. However, the psychological tests would give some indication whether individuals are to be trusted as teachers. I feel it’s highly inappropriate to allow people who discriminate against others based on their race or gender, to teach in schools. I also feel that it would be incorrect to allow people who are in need of help themselves, to teach in schools.

And now, I will conclude this thoughtful piece with one last note. If I could add one missing piece to the puzzle of the Greek education system, it would be a school counsellor. Not only for the students, but also for the teachers who may at times require it. There are certainly a lot of other issues that could be changed, including a lack of books, or a lack of classrooms or even bad lighting. But none of these are even comparable to the effect a teacher has on a student.

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