Xenia's own story and Mike's story

Submitted by Xenia Metaxa, adjunct professor, Saint Louis University, USA, and academic director, XTMPI Private Institute, Limassol, Cyprus

Part One

You see, I used to dream a lot before the war. Dreams! We were poor; poor in material things, but rich in dreams. We created miracles with our dreams, we travelled everywhere with our dreams. Those dreams were carved under the brilliant Mediterranean sun. And we were not afraid. This soul bravery of ours had to do with our tree climbing, our barefoot races in the fields, our struggle to find solutions to our problems, to love with our bare souls. Yes, we used to dream and we were not afraid…until the war sirens and the army tanks taught us how to be afraid… that summer of 1974; and then we were in danger of forgetting how to dream.

That’s when learning English came to my rescue. I was 10, devastated by war and death. But learning English saved me. It allowed my mind to travel around the planet. I met people who knew how to look at fear straight in the eyes, who taught me that I can step on my own feet and feel strong and see life from different perspectives. I felt like flying without wings, I gained a new voice that gave me access to a new world, other than my tiny island; a world I did not know, a world I was eager to meet.

The English language transferred me to the USA with a scholarship for a BA in English language and literature. My love for freedom in a country divided by war, was mingled with my love for the English language. This new language liberated my mind and opened my eyes.

Yes, I became an English teacher, eager to open the eyes of other hopeless children in my island. So I came back in 1989. I was still poor. But I kept dreaming; in my own tiny school, consisting of a round kitchen table, a little board, and passionate love for children and teaching. And time flew by . . . 2015 is here already. I am 51 . . . back in Cyprus, still dreaming, still listening to the war sirens reminding me that I live in the last divided island on the planet.

But there is a huge difference today. I am the founder of an English language school with 1000 children. I have an MA in TESOL, a PhD in Education, four children of my own, thousands of students that I taught, and teachers that I trained. I have been passionately teaching English in the last 27 years to more than 6.000 students of all ages. I daily receive gratitude for enabling my students to love English and to change their lives through English language learning;

Yes, learning English opened up windows not only to my own dreams but also to my students’ dreams. It sent them to universities, offered them degrees and employment. It gave them a voice; it changed their lives… So, the siren today still reminds me that I did indeed make a difference. . . .Today I am able to say . . . CHEERS TO ENGLISH . . . my savior. 

Part Two

He was unique, but he did not know it. You see his self-worth was nonexistent in his eyes. Deserted by his mom at the age of six, having a younger brother to nag him and a father whose sadness and liver cancer prevented him from being adventurous and fun, made him really angry.

So there he was, sitting outside my school on the pavement, obstinately denying to enter the school; denying to be bothered by teachers, rules, and orders. There he was, rooted on the pavement, stigmatized by his fate, unwilling to learn English—a skill, which according to adults was, “to change his life for the best.” There I went too, on that same pavement, on that Monday and mundane afternoon. There I sat beside him, giving permission to his father to go and leave us alone . . . simply to be, to exist, to coexist in that moment of  his desperate attempt to show that HE could do as he pleased and that NOBODY should change his mind.

Sitting there in silence, we discovered that human connection is possible. What could I possibly say to ease his pain? What could ease the pain of a gone mother? Yet, in my soul, I could see the spark in his blue eyes. I could see the brilliant mind through those angry, stubborn, sky blue eyes, and I knew deep inside that the wait was worthwhile.

Sometimes what a kid needs in such moments is simply having someone not giving up in believing, not giving up in waiting, not giving up in being there at all moments . . . good and bad; obedient and disobedient. And I did. I waited up for Mike, I offered my hand, my heart, and my ears. It was a hard struggle; for me and for him. But I knew, that day on the pavement when we shared a first smile and a tender look that our bond would last forever. Mike followed me into class, spent eight years in my English language school, passed all his English exams, and made it to university.

His father died; his liver failed the fight. And Mike suffered again. A lot. And he still does. Yet, his memories from my school and from learning English are filled with light and laughter, love and learning. That’s why he comes back, every time. To say hello, to share his present state, to cry. As English teachers we owe to make a difference. Along with the English language, we owe it to children to offer a sense of community, genuine feelings, and a sense of belonging.

Excellent teaching techniques; innovative methods; student-centered, communicative approaches to language teaching are of course vital; yet, without the genuine care and the deep understanding, my Mike and all the Mikes in the world would probably remain on the pavement; maybe not physically, but definitely psychologically. So, every time a student gives you trouble . . . simply think of Mike. The rest you can deal with, I am sure, as clever professionals.