Elisenda Maroon was born in Barcelona, Catalonia. She is Catalan, and is trilingual in Catalan, Spanish, and English. She graduated from the English philology department of (UB) Universitat de Barcelona. After graduation, she has taught English in five different high schools. After passing competitive and rigorous government exams in 2011, she became a public high school English teacher. At present she is a “provisional” teacher; it means that she has not been assigned to any particular high school permanently, though she will always be assured of a position in some high school. So far since she passed the exams in 2011 she has taught at two high schools. Last year she taught students aged 11 – 16 in INS Roda de Berà in the village of Roda de Bera. She hopes in the next school year that she will be assigned to a high school nearer to Reus in Tarragona, where she lives at present. Elisenda has been teaching English in primary and high schools for ten years. She has also taught adult classes in private academies from time to time. She also volunteers at eTwinning (http//:www.etwinning.es) which provides great opportunities for her students to use English. While she has never lived abroad, she spent 15 days participating in a government-supported program for teachers in Totnes, United Kingdom. Elisenda participates in one or two EVOs organized by TESOL each year. In 2009 she participated in the NNEST EVO. Elisenda’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org | October interviewer: Terry Doyle
- I’m glad that you have accepted our invitation to be interviewed for our blog. First, could you please tell us about your linguistic and educational background? What languages did you speak while growing up at home and in school? When did you start learning English, and how did you become so highly proficient in English? Finally, what led you to your decision to become an English teacher? At what age did you make this decision?
Thanks, Terry, for inviting me to be interviewed. I will start at the beginning. I was born in Barcelona. At home I spoke Catalan, and I watched TV both in Catalan and Spanish. When I was 3 years old, I started school where my lessons were in Catalan, but my friends used to talk to me in Spanish, so I could speak both languages. When I was 12, I failed one of my English term exams, and then I felt a bit uncomfortable and worried about my English level. It was the following year that I decided to take private lessons in a private academy near my home. I continued learning there until I was 18. Then, I took the FCE (the Cambridge English: First or First Certificate in English) exam, but I failed it. However, that was in June and in September I started my studies at the University in Barcelona. There I studied English Philology, where almost all the subjects were in English. I didn’t take the FCE again because I thought it was just a big business and I didn’t need to pass this exam in order to find a job. I can say that I became proficient in English through studying hard and practicing this language one day after another at University.
About being an English teacher… when I was 17, I had a plan to study either Economics, English Philology, or Social Studies to work in a mental hospital. Those were my favourite options… But finally, I decided to become an English teacher and also in my free time to do some kind of community volunteering, which I would always be able to do. However, I wouldn’t have been able to work in a high school if I hadn’t studied to be a teacher. That was my thought then, and I think now I chose the correct option. I’m volunteering now… but with senior citizens, not with people with mental illnesses and so on.
2) You have been teaching English in public primary and high schools for about ten years. Could you tell us more about your schools? I heard that getting this job wasn’t easy since getting a job as an English teacher in your country is very competitive. Could you tell us more about this process? What are your main responsibilities in this job? What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?
I was very lucky because I finished my degree when I was 22. It took 4 years, and I finished it just as I had planned beforehand. After graduation, I sent out a lot of CVs and in October, I started working in the Public School where I had been a student. I was substituting for one of the teachers there, who had had a child. Although it was the first time I worked as a teacher in a curricular school, I had given private lessons at home and some lessons in an academy, so I was able to succeed and enjoyed this job very much. I have wonderful memories of that year, and of the following one, when I substituted for another English teacher who was pregnant, too. The name of the school was Josep Tous in Barcelona. I was there almost two years. When I finished substituting for these two English teachers, I received a phone call from the State School. One has to put his/her name on a waiting list and wait some time until they phone you to work as a substitute teacher. Until then I had worked in different schools for short periods of time until I passed my public examination (oposición). I had to study very hard for two years to pass the exam but finally I passed it! Passing this exam enables me to have a stable job in a High School forever (so long as the law doesn’t change!). I am working now in INS Roda de Berà, in the village of Roda de Berà in Tarragona.
I have also always been a tutor. Tutors are always in demand, and I always want to do this kind of work because I like working with teens and their families. The main responsibility in this job is to be able to work with teens; they can be easily affected by your gestures and words, so you have to be careful to say what you mean in the proper way. Also, they are sensitive and their education is put in jeopardy by a lot of things: TV, different sort of parents, classmates, the type of village they live in, etc. You have to be a good role-model for them. You should not get too close to them, nor should you be too distant. It’s difficult sometimes.
I just enjoy all my work: working with people, especially with pre-adults, how people can be so different, how teens make their way to become adults, how I can help them and teach them to be strong in life and have values. It involves much more than teaching English. In general, their English level is very low, I must admit.
3) I met you in a NNEST EVO, so you are familiar with issues related to nonnative English teachers? How important is the NNEST/NEST dichotomy in your position? Did any of the issues that you heard about in the NNEST EVO resonate with you? Is there an active group of teachers and professors interested in NNEST in your city and country?
I think we met (virtually) in the 2009 NNEST EVO. It was my first EVO and since then, I have participated in one or two every February. In my case, I’m not so involved in NNEST issues but I can tell you that in my case, working in State Schools, it is not a problem if you are not a native speaker of English. In fact, most of the teachers are Spanish. There are no teachers or professors interested in NNEST issues in my city. In the same EVO in which I met you, I met a professor from the University of Lleida who is working on NNEST issues. His name is Professor Enric Llurda.
I can also add that if I wanted to work in a private academy, then, maybe there I would need to be a native speaker of English, as it is something students like; these students prefer to enroll in those lessons because the teacher is native. I was told once that I could not work in a certain private academy because I was not native speaker of English. I totally disagree with this practice. In fact, I once had a native teacher who was “a disaster”. I think that not everybody can be a teacher, and not a language teacher, but it has nothing to do with nativeness.
4). NNEST teachers all over the world use various strategies to become better teachers and to improve their professional status. What do you feel is or are your greatest strength(s) as an English teacher? What strategies have you used to develop these strengths?
I totally agree with this. It’s true that as I’m not a native teacher I continually want to keep learning and practicing English, not to lose my current level. As I don’t like travelling, I read books in English, I follow websites in English, and I watch TV series in English from time to time (right now I’m addicted to “LOST”). I also join an English corner meeting every Thursday. I’ve been doing it for three and a half years, and I love it. It’s a way to get to know new people as it’s an open group, and we really have fun speaking in English. After three years some of the regulars have become good friends, and that’s great.
I feel that the greatest strength I can develop is my ability to use different strategies to be able to get to all kinds of students. It’s important to use a variety of activities (oral, written, games, summaries, kinesthetic learning…) to get all the students involved in class. Therefore, I constantly use a variety of activities, depending on the various students and their particular learning styles.
5). You have told me that you are Catalan. Could you tell our readers more about Catalonia and the Catalan people, your language and culture. Also, I have read a little about Catalan independence movements in Wikipedia. Could you tell us more about this?
That would take a very long time to explain but… to make the story short… Because of our past dictatorship period, some ideas still remain because they benefit some powerful people from Spain. Because of this there are many unfair rules forced upon the people of Catalonia. Apart from political and economic issues, if we focus on our language, there is a group of people who would like Catalan to be abolished. We Catalan people feel that it’s very important to have multilingualism and multiculturalism in a country. Catalan is our language. I use it every day (at home, in my job…). It’s part of my identity, and I’m happy that I could become more skillful with languages because both Catalan and Spanish are my mother tongues.
Our school model of teaching both languages (Catalan and Spanish), apart from English and in high school sometimes French or German, has been considered one of the best examples of immersion. Our students can speak both languages, but it’s true that they choose one depending on the language spoken at home. If they make mistakes, they make those in both languages, so there is no more difficulty for them when learning at school.
Why do we want to be independent? Because we have been receiving a lot of abuses, legal, political and economic ones, but also because we have been treated with disrespect for long enough. Some Catalan people can feel more or less Spanish, but for me, I don’t feel Spanish and don’t want to be, because I don’t like the stereotypes of the majority of the people in Spanish society. I feel Catalan. Moreover, most Catalan traditions are very different from the Spanish ones. For example, I don’t like Flamenco music, and I don’t like bullfighting. I don’t identify with all these traditional ideas from Spain. Can we only offer the torture of an animal as the symbol of our country? No, thanks.
An article I recently read discussed what happens when Spanish people make very big accusations about Catalan people and Catalonia; there’s a small response from the law enforcement, but nothing happens. If it is the other way around, there have been fines and big debates about it. And it’s just disgusting how television from Madrid and other places in Spain manipulate the information to get the citizens fighting against each other. It’s really amazing how people can believe everything that is said on TV or the Internet.
I’ll give you an example. I’m working with a lot of Valencian people. Once, we were talking about independence and they said that in Valencia, a lot of people just believe what is said on TV, and that they had some arguments at home because their own parents didn’t believe their explanations even though they have been living here in Catalonia for some years… But their parents prefer to believe what TV was telling them about the mistreatments of Spanish people… Wow! I can’t believe it!
6). How does your Catalan linguistic, cultural, and social background influence the way you teach English? Are your students Catalan, too? In your school and in your English classes, is Catalan or Spanish the L1 or do you use three languages while teaching?
When I teach, I use English and Catalan. But if some student usually speaks in Spanish, I just reply in Spanish. My Catalan linguistic background helps me to make the learning of English easier for my students because whenever I consider it necessary, I compare the two or the three languages.
7) Is there any particular memory in your childhood that persuaded you to become an English teacher?
There is no particular positive memory that really stands out. However, as I mention above when I was 13 I failed one of the English terms, so the next term I decided to enroll in a private academy… After that, my English improved. Then, when I was 17, I wanted to be either an English teacher or a Social worker, and finally I decided to study English Philology, a decision which I have never regretted.
8) Teaching is a very rewarding profession. What memorable experiences do you have as a teacher?
Yes, I agree that teaching is a wonderful and rewarding profession. I wouldn’t change my profession for any other so far. I could tell you a lot about nice students, nice parents, nice presents and so on… But for me, what is really rewarding is what happens on any ordinary day,… when I leave my school and I see I have helped some student with something personal, when I prepared an activity and it has been a success, when I talk to a student and there’s a good feeling between us (as a person, not as teacher-student)… For me, it’s just good work, well done, and I feel so happy that I can explain something in accurate words. On the other hand, there are also awful days when a student has been rude, when I am very angry because s/he hasn’t worked… But, it’s OK, and I can manage these bad days and just disconnect once I’m out of school. The good thing is that the good days and good moments far outnumber the bad ones.
9) What advice would you give to young university students who would like to become an English teacher like you?
They have to have a strong personality and they have to like the job. Also, they not only have to be good at teaching the subject (being a good communicator and being proficient in the subject), but they also have to be able to work with PEOPLE. It’s social work. Therefore, I think that teachers should be able to enroll in psychology classes at University because that’s part of your day as a teacher. For instance, some years after having finished my degree, I thought about studying “psico pedagogia” (psycho-pedagogy), but how strange… you have to have graduated as a Primary school teacher to be able to enroll in courses on “psico pedagogia”… I don’t understand why! What about Secondary School teachers?! I think that nowadays there must be some tutors who could teach me this, but they are too expensive. However, psychology is really, really very important for all teaching levels, so I still hope that I will have a chance to take courses in this area.
10) Let me move from talking about your academic work and teaching to something more personal. How have you managed to balance your work and your family responsibilities? What do you like to do for fun?
I must admit that for me it’s been very easy. In Catalonia our timetable is very good. Three years ago we received a new timetable: students go to High School from 8:00 to 2:30. Teachers work that time plus two hours on Wednesday afternoon, with some changes to this schedule but in general it’s like that in the whole of Catalonia. That’s a great schedule to be able to meet family responsibilities as well as for students to organize their days and their private extra activities.
For fun, I like doing sport. I go to the gym three or four times per week. Also, I like surfing the net to find new material for my lessons. Moreover, as I mention above I’m also involved in a volunteering programme. Since March of 2014, I’ve been volunteering in a home for senior citizens.
Thank you very much, Elisenda, for a very interesting and informative interview. I have learned a lot about Catalonia and Catalan language and culture. I certainly hope that Catalan people are successful in preserving your language and culture. I was also very interested in your take on NNEST issues. It’s interesting to know that you don’t feel any discrimination or problems as a non-native teacher in your school, whereas in private language schools, you have experienced discrimination. This might be an important theme for us NNEST blog interviewers to pursue in future interviews with other EFL teachers. Thank you very much, Elisenda, for your contribution to our blog.