Thursday, February 9, 2017 at 5:40pm
Royal Olympic Hotel, Athens
Thank you, Dudley, President Reynolds. I’m delighted to be here. First of all, let me say, to everybody, welcome to Athens. It is, as you can see, one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It also is the city that gave us the concept of the academy. So I think it’s entirely appropriate that you are here today thinking about the future of the teaching of English.
I also want to recognize our partner from the Greek Ministry of Education, Secretary General Pandis, who is here with us as well so thank you. He’s here also representing his Minister who is a great champion, I should say, of the partnership between the United States and Greece. So thank you, Secretary General.
It’s a real pleasure for us to have TESOL here in Athens. It’s great to see such an incredible turnout of English-language teachers from around the world. As Dudley said, my wife, Mary, is one of you so I have to respect teachers!
I also want to give a huge shout-out to the State Department RELOs or Regional English Language Officers who are here with us tonight. John, I know you’re out there somewhere, we have colleagues from Delhi, from Moscow, from all over the world. And as somebody who has put almost three decades now of his life into working as a diplomat, I can’t tell you what a fantastic force multiplier our Regional English Language Officers are for the spreading of American values and telling America’s story which is such a big part of what we do.
All of you have a reputation as outstanding professionals of the English language, which precedes you here. And, certainly, at a moment when the demand for English language learning around the world is continuing to grow, I think there are great arguments for the kind of convocation that you’re conducting today; I gather, not only here, live in person in Athens, but also with hundreds more streaming online – to put together best practices, think about the future of the profession, and think about how to be the most effective possible teachers.
At a time of serious economic hardship here in Greece, continuing education of young people is both a priority and a challenge, especially for those whose studies had been interrupted when they were forced to leave their homes. I am particularly proud, I saw Lydia Stack somewhere in the audience here when I came in, Lydia comes to us from my home state of California, from Stanford, but she’s devoted the last two weeks or so to travelling around Greece, working with Greek educators who are, in turn, helping to teach displaced people, the refugees, tens of thousands, millions of whom passed through Greece over the past two years and tens of thousands of whom are still living here. So, I really that collaboration that we have as an example of both the United States at its very best, showing the world the openness and the commitment to human betterment that makes us, I think, so exceptional in the world, but also, bringing the kind of technical excellence and teaching tools that you all work with every single day.
I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say this to you, but English language learning really is a way to open doors and build new societies. I’m especially glad to see here this evening some of the colleagues from Kiev, from Ukraine, who I worked with in my previous avatar when you had a very strong commitment from President Poroshenko to building English language learning as part of building a new society, of building a modern, democratic, European Ukraine. And it’s a wonderful example of how English language opens doors. It’s also very appropriate because the Greek Prime Minister, Prime Minister Tsipras, is actually in Kiev today. I saw pictures of him arriving on Bankova Street this morning. Everybody was wearing very thick wool coats and there were a couple of inches of snow on the ground. So I’m sure the Prime Minister will be happy to get back to Athens this evening!
As demonstrated by my presence here today and all of the members of our Embassy team, the State Department is emphatically committed to supporting the teaching of English language around the world. I’m glad we also have experts here this week from the State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs who work with all of you, who work with the TESOL Association. I know, as I said, from my own experience, our English Language Fellows, various undertakings to be established as part of the larger U.S. Government around the world, not only in the State Department, but with Fulbrighters, with visiting experts, all of these folks who bring to international audiences their own personal examples, their own knowledge, Peace Corps volunteers, all of whom are part of helping to open doors and build bridges between the United States and the rest of the world.
I am told that, to date, more than 1,000 English Language Fellows have conducted projects across more than 80 countries – including teacher training, programs, program evaluation, needs assessment, teaching workshops, and seminar design. And I hope that your discussions today and tomorrow can help to catalyze further thoughts about how best to do what you do in a way that facilitates learning, that takes advantage of new technologies. I always say to people, you know, I’m getting old enough now that people ask me, “well Geoff, what was it like when you started being a diplomat, how have things changed?” The single most important change is right here in your pocket – it’s the smart phone and how that has changed how individuals relate to each other, how information is conveyed. And I’m very excited, as I said, about how these technological tools are brought to bear on the task of education. But, again, as my wife, Mary, always reminds me, at the end of the day it comes down to the teacher.
So, thank you and I really hope you enjoy your time here in Athens, it really is a wonderful city.