Philadelphia, PA – Thirteen Greek schools make up the educational system that provides for a Greek language experience in the Philadelphia area. A few are full-time, private, and self-sustaining, like the Odyssey School in Wilmington, Delaware, but for the most part, the Greek schools in the Philadelphia area are managed through the Greek Orthodox churches, which are part of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of New Jersey.
For some time, many of the Greek schools, have been in search of Greek language teachers. Often enough, churches are short on help to teach their children the Greek language. In fact, the lack of available Greek school teachers has been on a dramatic rise these last few years and has become a crisis.
All across the Philadelphia area, church board members and school directors are making phone calls, putting up ads and reaching out to the community at large. They utilize church bulletins, websites and social media to get the word out – we are in dire need of modern Greek language teachers!
According to Androulla Kasapis, principal of St. Demetrios Greek School in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, this problem has been existent for over twenty-five years, but is getting worse. She stated that the problem can be attested to several factors. First and foremost, although the teachers are paid $15.00 to $20.00 an hour, in reality, a teacher may only work two to three hours a week. This hardly qualifies as even part-time, since part time is considered 15-20 hours a week.
While the significantly low amount of hours is one of the biggest obstacles, another important factor has made the issue almost unresolvable. Elias Pantelidis of St. George Greek School “Aristotelis” in Media, helped shed some light on the matter when he pointed out that since the mid-1980s, more and more Greek families have relocated out of the city and into the suburbs.
On its face, it does not seem as this would be a problem, but most Greek teachers, especially over the last ten years, have been Greek college students who teach in the Greek schools for extra cash. However, they attend colleges and universities and reside in or near the City, and for them to travel to the suburbs for two or three hours a week does not make sense, since most do not have automobiles and rely on public transportation.
Pantelidis stated that the Odyssey Charter School, a full-time Greek language school, has allowed its teachers to work during after-hours for the other church Greek schools but, as Pantelidis points out, there are still not enough teachers to provide a permanent solution to the crisis In his opinion, the best way to handle the crisis is for better cooperation among all the churches within the Greek-American community, both big and small.
A possible solution would be alternating the hours classes are held at the different Greek schools so current and future teachers would be able to pick up more hours. In other words, if one school held classes at 4:30 to 6:30 and another school moved their hours from 7:30 to 8:30 one teacher could add on more hours in one day thus making the job more lucrative and appealing, and both churches would have a position filled.
Unfortunately, this simple solution is met with heavy resistance. The attitude is “why should we change our hours, let the other schools change theirs,” instead of “this is the best for the community and our children.” Also, some churches evoke an exclusivity attitude and are reluctant to permit their teachers to teach at other church Greek schools.
Some attempts have been made to discuss the issue, but the lack of cooperation still persists. For example, if one church is having a problem filling a teaching position, the director is ready to “cooperate” with the other churches in attacking the crises, but, once the position is filled, they forget there was a problem and discussions cease. Their needs were filled until the next time the crisis arises, then they are ready to cooperate. The problem will never be resolved if all of the school directors and representatives, whether they are seeking teachers or not, are ready to sit down and discuss the issue.
The lack of Greek teachers for the community is a severe crisis that needs to be addressed immediately. Today, most of the qualified teachers are at the age of retirement with few or no replacements in sight. While some churches make due with less qualified teachers, other churches, especially ones with smaller communities, are left in a state of disarray.
The benefits of a Greek school and our children learning the Greek language and culture, is beyond reproach. For almost 400 years, the Greeks, through their “κρυφό σχολείο” (the Secret School) kept the Greek language alive. For fifty years, we Greek-Americans may not be able to keep the Greek language alive. If a solution to the Greek teacher crises is not found, the existence of the Greek language in our community may be at an end. It is the responsibility of every member of the community to act and address this crisis.