Kostoulas, Achilleas (MA and PhD alumnus)
Hello and welcome to this space!
I am a language teacher educator, currently working at the at the Department of Primary Education of the University of Thessaly in Volos, Greece. I am in this space because I graduated from the University of Manchester in 2015, but I have been around in one way or another since 2004, and I don’t think I ever really left.
Most of my work, research and teaching, has been about trying to understand English language education as a complex phenomenon. This means, in broad terms, understanding how lots of different people with diverse agendas interact with each other and with their context, against a background of societal expectations, institutional rules and establised routines, and somehow produce activity that is never entirely predictable, but not random either. My latest attempt, with Juup Stelma, to explain how this happens is in The Intentional Dynamics of TESOL, an upcoming monograph that we expect will be published in 2021.
My studies in Manchester
My connection to the University of Manchester started in 2004, when I applied for the MA TESOL programme. That was a time of major changes in the Manchester MA community: some of the people who helped to build the MA programme were retiring, but their legacy was still there (and I think that it still is, to some extent); and new people, like Juup Stelma and Julian Edge, were coming in or returning. However, it was Richard Fay who had the unenviable task of guiding me through my first semesters and helping me make the transition from the Greek academic culture to the UK academia. It’s been a long time now since we first had coffee in Monastiraki Square in Greece, and I consider every moment we spent together a privilege.
My MA dissertation was supervised by Juup Stelma, at a time a relatively new addition to the group. Juup and I soon realised that we had a very similar way of looking at TESOL, and the world, and of being puzzled by the same things. We also found out that we tended to think in complementary ways – each pushing the other to make additional conceptual steps as we struggled with the same puzzles. It seemed only natural that we decided to continue our collaboration, as I started a PhD.
I began my PhD studies in October 2008, at about the time my daughter was born. Looking back, I am surprised at how I managed to juggle my roles as a teacher, novice researcher and even more novice father. I did have a lot of support though, not just by Juup (now my first supervisor), and my second supervisors, Julian Edge and (when the latter retired) Susan Brown, and also by an incredibly supportive cohort of students, including the caring Magdalena de Stefani, the brilliant Paul Breen, and the warm-hearted Mariam Attia, who always looked out for me. Also, knowing that the next cohort of PhD students included superstars like Eljee Javier and Lou Harvey did keep me on my toes. Anyway, after several ups and downs, and a break, I evenually defended my thesis in November 2014. Richard was my internal examiner and Adrian Holliday was my external. In the viva, they put me through a fierce line of questioning, and I pushed back hard, but I came out of that room knowing that I had earned that doctorate.
I did a lot of work that I am proud of while I was affiliated with Manchester. This included an article with Magdalena and Paul reporting on our collaboration as a cohort, some contributions to the Researching Multilingually project, and several book chapters and conference presentations connected to my PhD. I eventually revised my thesis, and had it published as a monograph, A Language School as a Complex System. But the one thing that I treasure the most from my Manchester experience has been the powerful sense of belonging that comes from being part of this community.
Life after Manchester
When I started my doctorate, my motivation really was not to get an academic job – I just wanted to continue doing the things I found intellectually rewarding: figuring out my professional context, and working with people whom I admired.
For my sins, however, I did get a job fairly soon. In September 2015, I started work at the University of Graz. In that post, I was expected to do research on the psychology of language learning and teaching. Some of the best work I did there was the publication of an edited collection (with Sarah Mercer), Language Teacher Psychology, and some research on language teacher resilience. I had always considered myself an applied linguist, but my work in Graz made me question whether this was really the best way to describe myself and my work. This thinking eventually led to the publication of the edited collection Challenging Boundaries in Language Education, where the authors of the individual chapters and I collectively try to redefine our field.
Since July 2020, I have been working in the Department of Primary Education in the University of Volos in Greece, where I am associated with the Centre for Research on Greek Language and Multilingualism. I also teach at the Language Education for Refugees and Migrants programme at the Hellenic Open University.