Bookstores, taxes & Swiss PD, with Vicky Loras
A recent Brad Patterson brainstorm led to the collaboration on an amazingly simple, yet hugely insightful blog challenge: PLN interviews–my interviewee, Vicky Loras. Vicky is a Greek Canadian (or maybe Canadian Greek? – she was born in Toronto and moved to Greece with her family when she was 8) teaching in Zug, Switzerland. Vicky’s blog has been extremely popular among ELT educators and every who knows her (that’s almost everyone online) loves her enthusiasm, passion and liveliness (whoops, now please ignore her answer to question #1). I first met her on Twitter last year thankfully, as she has been one of the most supportive and encouraging members of my PLN ever since. Without further ado, learn more about, Vicky Loras.
1) If your students were to label you with 3 adjectives, what might they be?
Vicky: Lively (very animated at times!), enthusiastic and hmmmmmmmm…sorry.
Tyson: Not so easy, is it? And we ask our students to answer questions like this instantly.
Vicky: ha ha yeah!… in love with what I do (but it’s not an adjective)
Vicky: Yeah! Thanks. What a dufus I am.
Tyson: I think those adjectives describe you, even just through our Twitter interactions!
Vicky: (will stop saying dumb things in between so you’ll have less time editing)
Tyson: Haha. You wish. Everything’s going in verbatim. 😉
2) What would we find in your refrigerator right now?
Vicky: Definitely chocolate (bars, chocolate boxes, in any kind of form), milk and Coke. – Tomatoes and mozzarella – my favourite for salads.
Tyson: So, a healthy mixture.
Vicky: Yeah! ha ha
Tyson: How much Coke do you drink and what kind?
Vicky: I drink around two cans per day, regular Coke.
Tyson: Wow. That’s a lot.
Vicky: Yes, I know, have tried to cut down, but it is difficult. I tried Light Coke but aspartame doesn’t agree with my stomach : )
Tyson: Light Coke? Hahaha. You Europeans.
#3 – If you weren’t a teacher, what might your profession be?
Vicky: (cont’d)…I liked all the “Objection your honour” hype, but thinking back on it, I think I would be too low-key for this profession. I think that an attorney should be dynamic and a powerful character. I’m too quiet I think! So I guess, when I missed Law School for a small percentage of a grade and found myself in ELT, it happened for the best. I completely fell in love with teaching!
Tyson: Working in a bookstore is awesome, I have to say.
Vicky: Yeah, you know better! I’d love to do that. I think I’d even sleep in there.
Tyson: Still, I doubt I’d want to own one. It’s a lot of headaches in terms of finding regular business (sales through the store itself aren’t the majority; you need to find adoptions at schools for regular orders). Having said that, I love being surrounded by all the materials.
Vicky: Yeah, I agree.
Tyson: How are taxes in Switzerland?
Vicky: Oh it’s great! Especially here in Zug, it’s a tax haven..lowest taxes in the whole country.
Tyson: Nice. So you could open a bookstore there then. Overall though, doesn’t Switzerland cost a lot in terms of living expenses?
Vicky: The supermarkets are really cheap. The only bad thing is you have to pay private companies for your health insurance that costs around $300/month, and medicine is soooooooooo expensive, but you get the money back after a while, well not all of it, but most of it. But overall it is affordable, contrary to what i thought before coming here.
Tyson: Interesting. I’ve always gotten the impression that it’s expensive to live there, but great to travel from there, since by other countries’ standards, you’re wealthy.
Vicky: I’m nowhere near wealthy, as I started form square one, but it is a country that has a lot of opportunities. I guess in a couple of years I can really start saving. That is the good thing, you can actually have a savings account here with money in it ha ha!
Tyson: Imagine that!
Tyson: Ok, shall we move on? LOL
#4 – What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession, or What has been your most difficult class as a teacher?
Vicky: (cont’d)…it kind of lessens the loneliness. You have this feeling of a community. I feel it an essential part of my teaching. First thing in the morning, I check my e-mails and Twitter. I consider them equally important. (I think I took a detour there).
Tyson: I see your point about the isolation, but thankfully we have a lot of community building that’s happening through Twitter. Here in Toronto, there’s also that lack of community sense that I feel is strong in Europe, but maybe not. Do you find the teaching community in Switzerland (or just Zug) not well connected?
Vicky: Oh I must say, I am very fortunate in that respect. There is always something going on here. So many things, that sometimes I do not have the time (or financial back-up) to attend everything. We have a very strong association, the English Teachers’ Association of Switzerland, that runs great events and also Cambridge exams, which also organise great things. In terms of professional development, Switzerland is tops in my book! I am fortunate because I also like these things and try to attend as many events as possible.
Tyson: Sounds awesome! What are the next 2 or 3 events in Switzerland coming up?
Vicky: Hmmmm….gotta check but I am not exaggerating when I say that almost every weekend there is something going on. I am positive there is something going on, on Friday May 20th, Saturday the 21st (unconnected), but I cannot remember exactly what kind of events. Last weekend I was at another event on teaching with documentaries.
Tyson: That’s awesome. And those two organisations sponsor and pay for everything? That must be a lot of work for volunteers.
Vicky: Well, we usually pay an amount but it is a small one. If I choose to go to lots of events though, it can be a great deal. It is definitely worth it though. And yes, there are a lot of teachers volunteering their free time, doing amazing stuff. There is a great sense of community and helping, which is also a Swiss thing. (Neighbours help each other so much and it has really touched my heart. They inform you about things happening! They are awesome.)
Tyson: If you have this sense of great community there, why do you feel as though teaching is an isolating profession?
Vicky: You know, if you are at home, or preparing at school, and it gets too much, you feel alone. It can be the pressure, or pushing yourself to the limits to do your best. Other teachers have told me this and from other places as well. But all you need is to hang in there, or for a great lesson to happen and you completely forget all about it. Or a brief moment (or a longer time ha ha!) on Twitter (where I am)or other kinds of social media to feel connected again.
Tyson: I think you are lucky to have the extracurricular TEFL events to attend and connect with other teachers there. I aspire to have that many events available to Torontonian teachers!
Vicky: I wish you that with all my heart. It helps in many aspects.
#5. What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?
Vicky: (cont’d)…I have seen “Amelie de Montmartre”, a French film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, way too many times – I have lost count. I love everything about that movie. The central character reminds me strongly of myself as a character. The soundtrack is amazing and I play it whenever I need something relaxing to listen to. The book I have read a million times and underlined in it and fallen in love with, is “Istanbul” by Orhan Pamuk. He is undoubtedly my favourite writer and this book is fantastic, as he looks at Istanbul from many aspects. His personal experiences, other people’s, artists’ and famous writers’ experiences. Istanbul is definitely a place I would love to visit and I think I will be very touched by such a trip.
Tyson: I have zero familiarity with any of these titles. Haha.
Vicky: I think you would like them. I kinda have a feeling you would.
Tyson: Not exactly well-read.
Vicky: Naaaaaahhhhh I am sure you are.
Tyson: I admit it. I accept it.
Vicky: I’m a boring nerd ha ha!
Tyson: I’m a nerd too, but more for electronic things.
Vicky: Ooooh cool!
Tyson: In any case…moving on…
#6. What’s the last ELT resource you used?
Vicky: Well, I must admit it has been David Crystal’s Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. I love this book. I have wanted it forever and I was really lucky to win it at a draw at TESOL France (many thanks to all of them). It is amazing, simply amazing! It has so much information on English (and other languages), because my adult students are really interested in the origins of words and such. (I also had it signed by David Crystal, after Andy Chaplin suggested it, and Mike Harrison came with me because I was too shy to go on my own! I babbled something really silly but he was so nice and kind!) Another one which is clearly ELT and I use often is Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage. It is so well-written and my students use it too sometimes.
Vicky: (Ty’s thinking, God, why did I choose this woman? She’s driving me nuts!) Ha ha!!!!
Tyson: Yes, both great resources. No, no nuts.
Vicky: David Crystal even joked about it.
Tyson: Practical English Usage is one of the books used during the CELTA courses here.
Vicky: Isn’t it great?
Tyson: I saw Michael Swan at TESL Canada actually, but I can’t actually say I’ve really done much but sift through the book.
Vicky: Oh wow! Super! Crystal said, oh that is a lovely book to put under your table, if one of the legs is shorter than the others. I laughed my head off!
Tyson: Haha. I’m sure I could benefit from some reference books like it or Scott’s A-Z, but I just don’t pick them up.
Vicky: Yeah, I haven’t read any of Scott’s either. Oh no, I’m lying, I’ve just read Teaching Unplugged.
Tyson: That’s different. It’s a book of activities, which is the type I tend more to look at.
Vicky: Yeah, it’s good.
Tyson: So, thanks Vicky. It’s been a pleasure interviewing you.
Vicky: Thank you, I hope it has! I really enjoyed it!