Monday, 18 July 2016

The climate is changing for
the ‘frontistirio’ in Greece

One of Rethymnon’s successful and enduring ‘frontistirio’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

Is the Frontistirio soon going to be a thing of the past in Greece?

A frontistirio (φροντιστήριο) is a private cram school in Greece where students go to learn English either because of the low quality of English teaching in state schools or because they want to work in the tourism sector.

Sometimes it is perceived that all but the most gifted students can pass university entrance and language examinations and so many frontistiria also cater for university students.

There are job openings in the frontistiria, usually at the beginning of the school year in September. But on top of a degree and the usual TEFL or TESOL qualifications, aspiring teachers need a teaching licence from the Greek Ministry of Education, which can take a few months.

Once, this was an easy and fashionable way for people in their 20s to live in Greece for a few years and meet their living costs. But the frontisteria scene has changed in recent years, with two out of three schools closing down, and the remaining ones having piles of CVs from people looking for jobs.

With the present economic crisis in Greece, ESL salaries have been cut, with most teachers earning about €10 an hour, which includes Greek national insurance. Despite the crisis, there is still a demand for people to know English, and while payments have been cut, there are still some opportunities for full-time and part-time TEFL work.

There are still hundreds of small private language schools or frontistiria, and it is estimated that the majority of Greek children will attend one‘frontistirio for English after their normal school hours.

Greek parents are obsessed with their children obtaining English qualifications and children are often pushed into English proficiency exams at an early age. The most popular exams are the Cambridge and Proficiency exams, and Greece is one of the main reasons why Cambridge introduced an FCE for schools due to the high number of young Greek candidates.

Most frontistiria are open during the school year, from September until May or June. But a few stay open for short intensive summer courses. TEFL jobs are usually advertised in local Greek newspapers, but surprisingly most of the time these notices are in Greek. The best time to start looking for ESL posts in Greece is towards the end of May.

When I started coming to Greece in the 1980s, people of all ages were applying for frontistiria teaching posts. But this soon changed, and as expectations rose and as the age limit came down.

I became aware of a shift in the frontistiria culture 20 years later, when I was invited to spend a week in Corfu as a visiting lecturer in 2006.

The sensible business way of trying to get to Corfu was to book connecting flights from Dublin to London to Athens and from there to Corfu. But the cheapest and most efficient way to travel there was to book a “flights-only” deal on a package holiday organised by Budget Travel.

I was travelling on my own, and dressed appropriately for the reception I was prepared to receive in Corfu. But a single traveller in a shirt and tie created much amusement and diversion for a large group of women travelling together at the back of the plane.

“Where are you staying?”

“Corfu.”

“Of course you’re staying in Corfu, the plane doesn’t stop anywhere else on the way.”

“Yes, but I’m staying in Corfu town.”

“Corfu town’s not a resort, which resort are you staying in?”

“Actually, I’m staying in an hotel in Corfu town.”

“Well, you should come on to Benitses with us. You’d have great fun. There’s nothing in Corfu Town.”

“No?”

“No, there’s nothing to do there.”

“Oh.”

“What you are going to do there?”

I bit my tongue, but decided to answer anyway.

“I’m going to teach.”

“Ah there’s not much use for English teachers in Corfu anymore. All the Greeks speak perfect English now. It’s only the Albanians who don’t speak English – and they don’t pay much, they can’t even pay much.”

“Oh, I see.”

“And you’ll need to have all your papers. Did you bring all your certs? You’ll need to have them to start looking for a job.”

“Oh, I think I have all that sorted out.”

“That’s very clever. How did you manage that? Have you done this before?”

“Em, well I teach at home.”

“So what are you going to teach in Corfu then?”

Once again, I thought I might as well be honest and await the response.

“I’m going to teach early 19th century Greek history.”

“You’re going to teach early 19th century Greek history! Well there can’t be much demand for that in Dublin. No wonder you have to go to Greece looking for work”

And after that the conversation deteriorated and the exchanges are unrepeatable on a polite blog such as this.

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