The teachers' office at S's school on the island.
I went to both private and public schools in the US. We don’t have kids. But I still know far more than I should about public education in Greece: my husband is a teacher in the public schools here.
The teachers in Greek public schools are excellent – overqualified in many cases – and the kids are great: helpful, respectful, friendly. They work together to overcome tremendous shortcomings in infrastructure, funding, and administration, and they do it with creativity, resourcefulness, and good cheer.
But the Ministry of Education, Religions, and Life-Long Learning, as it’s known, is incredibly poorly organized and is constantly missing its own deadlines and doing a half-ass job at the absolutely last minute. (Textbooks weren’t even in schools until November this year – yes, that means exactly what it sounds like – and even now in March, many students haven’t received all their books.)
School starts in early September in Greece; teachers have to be ‘on campus’ on September 1 (or the first Monday after, if the 1st is a Saturday or Sunday) for set-up and meetings. If you aren’t there on September 1 for whatever reason, it’s counted like a sick day. In short, you gotta be there.
On September 1, 2010, however, S was not in his school. He and I were sitting on the couch in his parents’ living room hitting ‘refresh’ on his computer over and over, waiting for a website to update with a list telling him which part of the country to go to. Just like we had done every day for the previous week.
Sometime around noon on the 1st, the list was posted. S was posted to a school on a tiny island in the southern Cycladic archipelago. And we had to boogie to get there, because the clock was ticking.
We had already packed up the car earlier that morning with whatever we thought we would need for the year. (Oh, who am I kidding. We have a mini European car. It was packed to the gills with whatever we could cram into it.) I even took a photo.
We hugged the in-laws and the chow chow mix goodbye –
and started on the nine-hour drive to Peiraias, the port of Athens. We drove straight through, stopping only for coffee in the glorious, though time-forgotten, hamlet of Paradeisos (‘Paradise’) with its beautiful springs, and for dinner at some crappy highway rest stop near Lamia.
We arrived in Peiraias port around 3:00am and went straight to our hotel. We set our alarm for 6:30am and passed out. We were extremely lucky to find a ferry going the next morning; there are only a few boats each week to the island. So first thing in the morning we drove the short distance to the port and boarded the ferry with our car; the ferry left at 7:30am. Nine hours later, we arrived at the island.
The island's port.
S had spent a fair amount of time on his phone, calling around to find a place for us to live. So we drove straight off the ferry and up to the village where we would be living. We couldn’t spend the first night at our new home – which we wouldn’t see for a few more days – because tourists were staying there. The second day, while S reported to work – after having missed the 1st and the 2nd and having those days cut from his sick days – I wandered around and found our new home. I admired it from the outside. We spent that night in another room belonging to our future landlord, and the next day we finally saw our new home. S was lucky to have me around to set up house while he was at work.
We lived on the upper level, behind the bougainvillea.
You might think “wow, that’s crazy – finding out on September 1 where to go, based on a website!” However, this actually represents a minor improvement over the way he found out what school to go to for the school year 2008-2009. On September 14, when he was assuming he’d been forgotten, he received a text message on his cell phone saying “go to Zakynthos to teach.” (Zakynthos is an island in the far west of Greece.) He thought it was a joke played on him by a friend. It wasn’t. The school system actually sent him to Zakynthos by text message.
If you’re wondering what’s up with all the moving around… S is a tenured teacher. But he doesn’t have a school of his own. Many teachers in Greece don’t. Getting a school of one’s own – which would mean you could buy a home, your spouse could have a career in the same city, your children could have a stable life, etc. – is becoming increasingly rare. Instead, they prefer to stick you in a series of one-year positions, moving you all over the place at their convenience. As of this year, he’s now in the somewhat privileged position of knowing that he can’t be moved more than about two hours in each direction from where we are now. Someday, he may even get assigned to a particular school for longer than a year. If that happens, we might be able to start our life!
When S and I fell in love, we decided that we would stay together, no matter what happened. But most teachers don’t do that. We know many teachers who live apart from their spouses and children.
One of the teachers at S’s school lives here in town during the week, but drives all night on Friday to spend the weekends with his wife and two adolescent daughters in another city.
A good friend (who was a witness at our wedding) who worked at S’s school in 2009-2010 was pregnant while her husband lived a 9 hour ferry ride + 6 hour car ride away. That year they really only saw each other long enough to conceive little Evita.
A teacher at S’s school who is in my Turkish class lives here during the week but takes a bus 5 hours each way on the weekends to see her husband and children in another city.
The German teacher at S’s school, who is married and has a two year old son, uprooted her husband, who had to quit his job, in order to work here – her husband is still unemployed – all to keep their family together.
These are not isolated stories at all – this is pretty much the norm for teachers in Greece. It is very common that teachers who love children and dedicate their lives to other people’s children never manage to have their own because of this system.
S is the son of two teachers. Although his mother spent the last decade or so of her career as a school principal, she started out in the classroom at a time when school was six days/week (Saturday was a regular school day) and there was no planning period. The first school to which she was assigned was in a small village where there were no houses or apartments to rent. The place where she had to live didn’t even have a toilet. She was hospitalized for exhaustion toward the end of her first year teaching. So I suppose one could say that things have improved.
Somehow I think further improvement is called for.
Our home on the island.
The village where we lived on the island. Both our house and the school are in this photo.