Paloma García Casenave: "The essence of Schiller is friendliness, the contact and the international atmosphere"
March 02, 2023
All Knowledge Areas
*Interview by Sonia Alegre, Schiller Alumni
Paloma Garcia Casenave is a professor of foreign languages at Schiller Madrid. She graduated in French Studies and has a Master’s degree in French Philology from Michigan State University. She has been teaching Spanish and French to Schiller students with the same passion and love for the past thirty years.
How has the university evolved since you joined?
I started teaching at The Global American University, Schiller in 1993 and I have been teaching ever since for the past thirty years. I think that the essence of the university is the same, it has the same spirit that it started with, which is about being international and very open. We have always been from all over the world both the students and the teachers. We do have local people too but the international essence hasn't changed, it´s in our DNA. We have obviously been through changes, processes, directors, etc. but the essence is the same and the new people coming also share this same essence which I find interesting: students from a lot of countries and open minded, that´s our spirit.
What courses do you teach at Schiller?
I was teaching French and Spanish for many years as we used to be an official seat for the exams of Instituto Cervantes but lately, I am teaching more French and I am very happy about it. Any student that comes to Schiller already speaks English, some speak Spanish, and whatever is their mother tongue and this way they already have a third or even a fourth language, which for people who are going to be travelling around and in the business world, is a very good advantage these days over other people. Learning French nowadays is very important because it makes you stand out: everybody speaks English but if you go to a French speaking country in Africa, for instance, you have a competitive advantage and an added value.
How does the monthly focus contribute to better learning a foreign language?
I really like the monthly system very much because it´s great for languages. They have three hours a day of class plus activities and homework so it´s very intensive and concentrated and people learn a lot faster and get to a good level very quickly. They really do learn a lot.
How has teaching languages evolve since 1993 to 2023?
Wow, it has changed a lot a lot. My main method, the method I learned at Michigan State University, is the natural approach by which you teach students how to be practical and how to communicate so I was always on this path but things have changed a lot. We now have the European Framework of Languages and we have to be teaching A1, A2, B1, B2, so the method has changed, the way of teaching has changed, and the purpose of the teaching has changed too. Before we used to teach a lot of grammar and pronunciation, and now, we teach them to communicate too so it´s a much more practical approach. I want my students to be able to communicate in a foreign language. My purpose is communication, really.
How does technology contribute to learning better and faster nowadays?
Teaching has changed a lot thanks to technology. At the beginning, when I started teaching, I just had a cassette player! And now we have a lot of tools. For instance, we have the Blackboard, which is great because we have everything inside the blackboard and my students can send their homework through it so everything is focused there, we also have a discussion board where I give them topics to discuss and we can communicate all the time.
For the on-campus classes, it is just a bit different because we are all in the same physical space for 3 hours a day so afterwards, I can’t give them homework, but we now also have series and podcasts, for example, that they can watch after class. Before you could only just go to the library and read, now it´s a much richer experience. Also, another thing we do is we choose a song every day and they like that a lot, for instance. However, while technology is very important and it helps, the figure of the teacher is key. If one day the blackboard or the book didn’t work, the tool of the class is me, that is, the role of the teacher in facilitating the learning is key.
And in regards to the profile of the students in the past thirty years, has it changed?
The profile hasn’t really changed. You always have courses in which you have great students and classes with some not so great. A few years ago, I had a difficult class but in all these years I never had a bad class. I like talking to my students and I love them and I think they love me. But students haven't really changed because we always have an international environment, hardworking people that want to learn and, as we say in the Spanish, they want to “eat the world”, they want to do a lot of things, learn French, etc. Also, the backgrounds are the same or very similar style of people.
Any anecdotes or any students that you remember that you want to share with us?
I remember a lot of students because I love my students! Such as Tamara Ryakina, who now lives in Marbella and has a lifestyle and yoga blog. I run into her a few months ago in Marbella after 15 years. I remember Laura Wrede from Germany, I actually went to her wedding a few years ago. Of course, I remember JR, John Russel von Blouch, one of the most unique characters at Schiller. I remember Christina Schmidt too. I remember John Waguespack, I had people from Sweden too that I remember. And, actually a lot of students contact me in my Instagram account @palomagarciacasenave and I want my students to keep contacting me. I remember a lot of names and some I forgot the names but not the students. I also remember Vicky Martin Berrocal, who had a great sense of humor and always made me smile. She was very funny.
How do the small groups contribute to fostering such a special relationship between teachers and students?
I have between 10 to 20 students per class which helps me getting to know the students better and dedicate proper time to each of them. Also, the way our campuses are designed, helps for this purpose too, even in the new campus in Paseo de Recoletos, 35, which is a bigger campus and even more beautiful than the previous one. In Schiller, the essence is friendliness, the contact and the international atmosphere and this is not going to change. We deeply care about students. I love to have a coffee with my students. I love them, and I like to contribute to their learning and to making them a better person.
How would you like to be remembered by your students?
I always say that the best thing I have done in my life is teaching. I got married, then I got divorced, and I have no children and, although I am very happy with my life, I think the best thing I have done is teaching. My relationship with the students is very close and I always tell them that they should do something that they like, because you are going to be working for a long time, so do something that you enjoy
I would like to be remembered as someone who cares about them. I believe in what I'm doing and I am not just teaching you French: I am an educator and a person that cares about you. So, I would like to be remembered as a teacher who cared about them, whether personally or professionally. And, I must say that I feel really loved by my students too.