Mr. Kyriakopoulos is an English teacher at Garneau.

Photo: Matthew Tse

Q: What courses do you teach?

A: Well, originally I was a visual arts and photography teacher. Right now, I’ve been focusing on English. I’ve been getting English timetables so I teach English. I teach all levels and all students of English. Sometimes I only think English and I want to go away to maybe France or Greece. Too much English.

Q: How long have you been teaching at Marc Garneau?

A: This is my third year at Marc Garneau. I’ve been teaching overall for over ten years now, so I’ve had the pleasure of teaching every single grade and every single level in both visual arts and English. I have plenty of things to share with students who want to learn.

Q: What do students need to know about you before having you as a teacher?

A: Well, they don’t really need to know anything. They should know what they were supposed to learn last year so they can build upon what I’m ready to teach them for that year. For example, Grade 8 students should know that high school is going to be harder and you’re probably going to fail if you don’t do your work. Grade 11 students should know that it was easier in Grade 9 and 10 than it is in Grade 11. Every year is a progression and every year gets harder. They should know that just because you had one teacher doesn’t mean that it’s not your responsibility to learn. It’s your responsibility as a student to learn things; you can’t just count on the teacher to help you all the time.

Q: Did you always want to be a teacher?

A: No, I did not. I wanted to get into the publishing industry originally. I did get into the publishing industry for a few years, but then Heather Reisman and Indigo Books put a lot of people out of business, including my boss. So I had to go somewhere else that had something to do with what I knew and that was English. Lots and lots of English.

Q: As a student, were you very interested in English, since you mentioned you wanted to go to the publishing industry?

A: Yes and no. I was good at it. One of the main lessons in life is you have to do what you are good at. Sometimes I enjoyed it, other times I didn’t. Too much of it is not so good, as you could probably tell from any student in any English class. But it helps you understand things. It helps you understand the world, it helps you understand your other assignments, and it helps you understand people and communication. It’s pretty important and that’s why we take it every year.

Q: I heard you stopped a political science degree in the middle of it, may I ask why?

A: See the above answer. During my undergrad at York University, I found there were many people with many ideas on how to control people and serving private interests and not enough ideas on how to work with people to improve life in cities, states, and international relations. My idea of politics was more democratic and more mistaken than I expected by the end of my second year of university. As a teacher, I’m a public servant and to me that means I serve the public interest. That’s more along the lines of what I thought politics should be about when I was an undergrad as opposed to what I found.

Q: What is your advice to students about learning from teachers?

A: That it is a 50-50 proposition. They have to be ready to learn and they have to do work and if that work is done, they are going to learn from any teacher they have, whether it be good or bad. That’s because bad teachers help students get better as individuals, just as good teachers help students push past their limits.

Q: What’s the worst part of your job?

A: It’s a little bit difficult to answer the question because sometimes good things are bad and the bad things are good. I guess the worst part is when you see students not paying attention because it makes you think you are failure as a teacher even if you didn’t do anything to deserve that feeling. At least, that’s how I feel anyway.

Q: What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned while teaching here?

A: The biggest lesson is that you can’t just teach everybody the same way, not even in the same classroom. Sometimes people get things quicker, sometimes they get them slower, and sometimes they don’t get things. So you have to make sure by monitoring and checking on students, and they have to know that you are checking. They have to know that they are responsible for doing work.

Q: What has been your funniest moment in your teaching career?

A: Funniest moment. I don’t think I have one. It’s hard to think funny during exams. But every now and then, in every classroom, maybe once a week or once a month, something happens that makes me laugh. Sometimes it’s a student that doesn’t really understand something, and it’s that moment that they understood it and I don’t remember doing anything to help, but it just came like magic. That’s one of those moments. That happens a lot actually when students just seem to magically understand at a certain moment. It’s like a story my father used to tell me about baseball players and coaches. This coach kept on telling this one baseball player how to hit properly to get on base. Every time, the baseball player got out, but the coach kept on telling him how to do it. The one time the coach told him how to do it, he did it properly and the coach was wondering, does it take me a thousand and one times to tell you how to do something or is it that one extra time that you’ll get it? So no matter what, I’ll still have to tell you something a thousand and one times because the next time you’ll get it.

Q: What kind of experience have you had as a teacher at Marc Garneau and how have you changed over the years?

A: Marc Garneau has different levels and different programs. Sometimes students don’t really interact with each other. You have to understand that some groups like to be with themselves. You also have to understand that Friday is a short day and everyone is waiting for them. You have to understand that religious holidays also interfere sometimes, such as fasting, and you can’t push people when they don’t have the energy to actually do the work. That being said, you can’t excuse people who don’t take responsibility for their actions. Again, it’s a 50-50 relationship. The students who aren’t ready to learn will not learn. The teacher who pushes isn’t doing his job properly either. You have to understand that the student has to be ready in order for the lesson to be processed.

Q: Do you approach teaching photography and English differently, if so, how? Is one more enjoyable than the other?

A: Photography has a visual medium versus the text medium of English. The goal is for students to gain insights into the discipline or language by the end, so I will change my methods on a need basis in order to reach to the same result.

Q: What do you do in your spare time when you are not teaching?

A: In my spare time, usually I go out with my wife and I forget I’m a teacher. I don’t teach my wife and she doesn’t teach me. We just hang out. We go to different places in the city. Sometimes we see shows, sometimes we see movies, restaurants, the beach. We like the beach. I just spend time with family.

Q: Any book that you think students should read?

A: Personally, I think the Grade 12 book, In the Skin of a Lion, is one of the most important books for anybody to read in high school. It deals with themes which at Grade 12, you’ll be able to understand. It deals with the city, the immigrant experience, and being a citizen of the city. It gives you that sense of civic pride and responsibility. By Grade 12, you are ready to vote. Being a citizen should mean something at that point. And being able to understand where you fit in is what In the Skin of a Lion is about.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Percy Jackson series?

A: Cultural appropriation is sometimes the only way some people get exposure to cultures different than theirs.

Q: How do/did you cope with writer’s block?

A: I don’t believe in writer’s block as a magical concept or some kind of anti-education or anti-production demon. Whatever seems to be impeding your desire to write should be removed. If you can’t write at night, write in the daytime. If you can’t write at home, write at a friend’s place or at a cafe. If you can’t write indoors, write outside in a park. If you can’t write with pen and paper, write with a computer. If you can’t write with a computer, just talk, record your thoughts on your phone, and then copy them down later. If none of these things work for you, then you’re really good at making excuses and maybe you should go into politics.

Q: What are the best ways for students to improve their writing?

A: Firstly, practice. Second, practising different methods and techniques. They can then use feedback from readers of their writing. Another useful method is to read different difficulty levels of writing (i.e. below your level, at your level, above your level). And lastly, repeat steps one to four.