Staff Spotlight - Chiara Biondi
Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in the Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to French and Italian teacher Chiara Biondi about her teaching career.
Why did you begin teaching?
I came into teaching because I love people. When I was a little girl I wanted to be either a pizzaiolo, because I was absolutely fascinated by the guy making pizzas and spent hours watching him, or a teacher. I had loved my teachers since primary school. In the end I was a really good student and I wanted to study as much literature as I could. My biggest dream was to move to Paris and study comparative literature at the Sorbonne University. That really drove me to learn languages. You can study fictional works of art in their original languages. A lot of my classmates could read in four or five different languages. It was a life changing experience. The beginning of my career was focused on doing research and spending a lot of time at the library working on my Masters research paper and writing articles and essays. I loved that, but I was really missing the interaction with people. I decided to use my language skills for communication, so that other people like me could, one day, experience and love literature the same way I did. Reading a book in English, French, German, Italian or Latin doesn’t make any difference to me, and the will of sharing this passion led me to language teaching.
What languages do you speak, and what language would you like to learn next?
Italian is my first language and French is my second, though they honestly are the same for me. I can understand and read German, but I don’t speak it very often and I’m a bit out of practice, and, of course, there’s English as well. I love to read in all of these languages because it really gives you an insight into the mind of the author that even the best translation does not provide.
Irish is definitely the next because I love the culture and I love the celebrations around Seachtain na Gaeilge. Everyone is speaking Irish, the music and performances are amazing, and I absolutely want to be an active part of it as soon as possible!
What do you enjoy most about teaching languages?
Teaching languages is different from teaching other subjects because every day and every class are different. Languages are what people make of them, and so if you have a class with a lot of linguists then it’s going to go one way, but if you have a class that’s more reserved and you need to push them, then it’s a different challenge. Every year I create a different programme even though I teach the same syllabus, and we adapt it to the personalities of the students in our classes. I think it’s amazing because you never do the same thing twice and it’s an experience that we create together with the students. It’s so varied and that makes it really enjoyable.
What brought you to Dublin?
I left Italy in 2007 with a one-way ticket to study at the Sorbonne University and to fulfill my dream. After 8 years in Paris, then, my partner and I decided it was time to find a new home; sometimes you feel that you’ve given a place what you have and the city gave it back to you. So we sat down to think about where to move next. We really love James Joyce and we thought about his journeys across Europe: he lived in Italy for a while, teaching in Trieste, he lived in Paris as well, he was from Dublin, so we decided that that was of course our next destination. We both visited Dublin many times for English learning programmes and we loved the city. The thing that I remember the most was that when I moved here in 2014, I remembered the route from the airport even though I hadn’t been here in 12 years. It felt like home and it just clicked.
How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19?
That has been the biggest challenge this year, and I’m really thankful for the Modern Foreign Languages department here in Alex. We meet every week and exchange new ways to do our language activities. We’ve had to upskill to new technologies a lot, and we convert many of our games and activities into a digital format so that the students can still play, enjoy and interact.
I’m also a member of the JCT Modern Foreign Languages team, where we exchange ideas on a national scale. I really enjoy the webinars we have and hear all of the brilliant ideas that different teachers have come up with.
Why did you choose to teach at Alex?
Alex was a tip from an Irish friend; I mentioned that I wanted to apply for a language teaching position, but I didn’t know any school in Dublin. He made a list of schools for me and Alex was at the very top. He told me, “You will meet great people there,” and he was right! When I came here I was absolutely delighted with the welcoming atmosphere and how solid the Alex community is.
What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?
Teaching a language can really have a highlight every day if you’re lucky enough. It’s fantastic when the class flows: everyone’s speaking in the target language, and everything just keeps going; it’s such an empowering and rewarding feeling!
If I had to choose one moment, I once met a former French student from Alex at a French film event in town. I knew then that I hadn’t just taught her for an exam, but that I had left her with a love of the culture and the language. She was there to enjoy the French culture just like me, and it was amazing. We’re here to give students a different kind of journey through language learning and that was a great example of that at work.