In Memoriam: María Sara Rodriguez Caldeyro

imagesToday the EFL Uruguayan community was awaken with the sad news of the passing of Maria Sara Rodriguez, author, teacher educator and innovator with a career that took her from her native Uruguay to Brazil and Mexico.

I didn´t have the chance to work with her or to have her as my tutor, I just attended some of her last conferences and I was introduced to the world of CLIL in a series of workshops she held back in 2008. However, I had learnt English with her. She belonged to the group of authors behind the acclaimed “Snap” series for young learners so in a way I owe her my first steps with the language. Those songs created by Ma. Sara will forever accompany me and countless others.

María Sara was a passionate educator, a leader in the field. She believed in learning as a lifelong process, so in spite of her remarkable achievements, she had embarked on a distant MA programme with the Open University, UK, which she was about to finish. She was courageous and unafraid to speak her mind even if that meant losing her job. She held Ethics above all. A lesson that in this day and age we need to be reminded of. 

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6 thoughts on “In Memoriam: María Sara Rodriguez Caldeyro

  1. I had the honor of working with her and she was one of the most knowledgeable ELT people I ever met here in Uruguay.

    She was always at the vanguard, generous with her knowledge, always willing to share, teach and learn.

    I can honestly say, that I wouldn’t be doing much of what I’m doing if it weren’t for her. She showed me the world of ELT to me and opened many doors for me.

    Thanks, Maria Sara!!
    Thanks a lot!

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  2. I had the opportunity to learn from her. She was such a passionate, brave woman, so strong and confident! She will always be in my heart and in my classroom.

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  3. La conocí en su Carrasco natal hace más de cuarenta años, cuando se desempeñaba como Profesora de inglés en el ANGLO. En esa época, pese a su juventud, podían ya apreciarse sus cualidades de gran mujer y distinguida docente. Su muerte prematura significa para mí un tremendo desgarrón, que me será muy difícil subsanar.

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  4. Dear Ms. Rovegno,

    I write this entry from Mexico City to thank you sincerely for letting us all know about the very sad news concerning Ma. Sara’s passing in March 2014.

    I first had the chance to become acquainted with Ma. Sara’s untiring work and efforts to enable teachers of English to be come fully qualified professionals here in Mexico City 20 years ago, when she —as the Academic/Marketing Director of Heinemann ELT— first brought Adrian Underhill in order for him to give a series of lectures right after the publication of the first edition of his ‘Sound Foundations’. Even though said lectures were given in various different forums all around the city, I was fortunate enough to attend them all (as English phonology had always been a personal obsession of mine and no one in Mexico ever dared teach the first thing about it). The whole experience culminated in an event called ‘The Best of British’, where I had the opportunity to participate as an active audience member in Adrian’s demonstrations of how to approach both the teaching of segmental and suprasegmental phonology in a humanistic manner. Thanks to Ma. Sara my life as an ELT practitioner started changing for the better in 1995.

    Four years after that, we finally made personal contact (for it always seemed to me that the universe had it in store for the both of us as part of our life experiences) in February 1998, at ‘The Best of British’ organised in Mexico that year. I was growing increasingly unhappy and dissatisfied with the job I held at the time and was feeling rather miserable because I was down with the flu or something that day. I accidentally came across a colleague of mine —who had recently quit is job as the coordinator of English at the school where I was still working— and we had a chat about how I was thinking of quitting, too . . . but was unsure as to what my next move would be. Erik (to whom I’ll always be indebted for the piece of advice he gave me that particular day) remained thinking for a moment after listening to me and then told that I had to make to make the time in order to introduce myself to Ma. Sara Rodríguez, as he’d had a conversation with her earlier that weekend and she’d told him that she was thinking of expanding her team of professional tutors within the next few months. Erik considered that my profile and trajectory up to that point could be of interest for her. I mustered the courage to forget about my terrible, terrible disheveled appearance and approached Ma. Sara shortly before the beginning of the lecture she’d be giving that day to introduce myself and ask her if she’d be willing to interview me and evaluate the possibility of my joining her team of tutors. She kindly invited me to pay her a visit at her facilities the following week to be able to talk extensively about her project and what she had in mind.

    The following week during our first official meeting, she explained to me what her expansion plans were for the following year and how she would be needing a few more tutors to be able to also expand her professional offer re: the teacher education courses she was running in Mexico since the early 1990s. I got very excited when she said that in order for her to be able to determine whether or not we could work together she’d like me to first take a brief test and then carry out a live observation of one of her tutors (i.e. Philip Knighton, to whom I’ll always be indebted, too) so that we could discuss my notes over the phone the same evening in which I’d carry out the observation. The test I was given had been designed by her and it required candidates to analyse in-depth a set of pedagogic materials with regard to a series of professionals parameters established and indicated to you as part of the exam rubrics. I’d never encountered an exam of the kind myself, but did it to the best of my ability nonetheless. As a coincidence, I’d been reading a professional reference book at the time in which the author explored the notion of discourse analysis as a central tenet of cutting-edge, state-of-the-art approaches to second language education the world over. In all honesty, the book was beyond my full grasp at the time and I was having trouble following the author with full comprehension. However, something in the materials I was analysing reminded me of some of the ideas I’d encountered in said about about the nature of discourse, and I decided to end up my analysis by referring to what I incipiently could articulate with regard to discourse views of language and their pedagogical value in second language education. Having completed the exam tasks, I turned in my work and left Ma. Sara’s office for the day. No sooner had I opened the door to my place than Ms. Sara was calling me on the phone to express her surprise and enthusiasm as a result of what she’d read re: the exam she’d given me that day. I was even more surprised than her ! The part that had caught her attention in particular was the one in which I tried to elaborate how the pedagogic materials provided for the exam tasks attempted to mirror some of the principles regarding the treatment of language as discourse so as to enable learners to become far more competent language users. Ma. Sara explained to me how in all her years of work in Europe, Brazil and Mexico she had never found a teacher who possessed some initial notions re: discourse analysis and their pedagogical value. We spoke on the phone for about three hours that day. She said she was definitely impressed and more than interested in working with me, but stressed the need for me to carry out the observation we had discussed at the beginning. We ended the call by making all the necessary arrangements for me to do the observation in question. The session I observed a few days later was on how to integrate the teaching of segmental and suprasegmental phonology into one’s daily classroom practice. The contents and materials used throughout the session I observed, all reflected the thinking of Adrian Underhill and his work in ‘Sound Foundations’. I felt right at home and recognised all of the thinking behind the work done with the course delegates that evening. Later, when I called Ma. Sara to discuss my notes, I explained to her what I had observed and how I definitely thought that I could dictate sessions that were identical to what I’d observed for I knew and understood all the theory underlying the work that she was trig to do re: the teacher education services she offered in Mexico until the day that she decided to go back to Uruguay in 2004.

    As a result of my emphasis on what: I knew and I thought and I understood and I had read and I had studied and I had done before, etc, etc. she at once realised that my actual comprehension of what she was trying to do was basically null, since all I could think of was my own self and and how I had concluded that all the processes that she was trying to foster and promote all focused on the tutor. She got furious and her tone changed in a split second. We talked for three more hours all of which focused on how little my understanding of what she was trying to do and achieve from a professional perspective actually was, and how on the face of everything that my conclusions actually revealed she thought we could not actually work together in any capacity. She asked to go see her the following week and thus ended the call. My heart sank down in the deepest feeling of depression and confusion. What had gone wrong ?

    In any event, I visited her at her facilities the following week and she proceeded to tell me that even though my professional trajectory showed great and unusual enthusiasm, interest, curiosity and even a penchant for innovation, it was clear that I knew significantly much less about the nature of educational philosophy, the psychology of learning, current language theory, etc. than I liked to think, but I was not even aware of it, which made me both incredibly arrogant and unprofessional. That second interview proceeded in much the same tone for a few more minutes. Although I was devastated by what she said to me, I was also furious that she had jumped to a series of conclusions that were not necessarily warranted by what she thought she knew about me up to that point. I left by saying to her that even though I was in full agreement with her about how infinite my ignorance was re: all the fields, theories, constructs and dimensions that she had identified up to that point, I was not going to defend myself to her regarding all the conclusions she had drawn about me even though I considered she had no elements what so ever to be able to determine who I really was on the basis of a few minutes of conversation. I asked her if, in light of how she felt about me, she would allow me or not to join any the courses she was running at the time for me to continue my education or whether she found me so displeasing that she did not even want to see me around as a student. Apparently, my interest in studying with her even after everything that had transpired between us up to that point startled her. Her tone changed —slightly— and she said that I would be more than welcome to join any of the courses on offer. The course she thought I could join had been running for a few months and the participants had been given a pile of assignments that I’d have to submit, too in record time. ‘How much time do you think you’ll need to turn in all these assignments ?’, she asked. My (naïve) reply ? ‘A month’. She looked at me in exasperation and proceeded to tell me that I had ten days to submit all the assignments I was being given and how if I didn’t I should just forget about ever joining any of her courses.

    It was obvious to me that she was testing me, not only in terms of the assignments themselves, but also in terms of my personality traits. Ten days later, I sent all mys assignment by fax and I thus joined the foundation course leading to the L7 LTCL DipTESOL, a profoundly advanced PG qualification for teachers of English looking forward to becoming TESOL specialists.

    About four or five months after our strange and turbulent beginning, we started to slowly, but surely become very good, close and even very intimate friends. One summer afternoon, over lunch, Ma. Sara asked me if I was still interested in working with her as one of her tutors, to which I immediately replied I was not. She asked me why and I explained to her that the professional awareness that I had gained after our first five months studying with her, it was completely clear to me why I was not fit for the work her tutors were required to undertake. She smiled and said that it was my profound level of awareness and respect which would now and always make me an excellent tutor, for I’d always be careful and alert to the interpersonal and educational dimensions which underpinned her work as a teacher educator. I said we could consider it later and our conversation continued along lines that made it evident right there and then that she was having a very hard time living in Mexico and she would leave any given Sunday if it all came to that. I made a resolution with myself in that precise instant: to quit my job and forget about everything I was thinking of doing at the time to follow her and focus 110% percent on learning everything she was willing to teach us for as long as she was with us.

    The following week, I let her know what I had done (quit my job and put all my other personal projects in the freezer) to be able to follow her and study with her full time. She beamed, but told me I was deranged. Nevertheless, a few weeks after that, I accepted her offer to join her team of tutors on “condition” that she provided me with individual support for me to be able to do a fully professional job and overcome all my professional lacunas re: all the areas of our profession I was not one hundred percent confident in and knowledgeable of. She accepted with great enthusiasm, and thus began a personal journey of 900 hrs. of shadowing (which I was able to do in record time thanks to her support) which culminated in my becoming the only Mexican tutor she ever allowed to work with her while she lived with us in Mexico.

    We worked together untiringly since the autumn of 1999 till the summer of 2004. I guess I could write an entire book narrating our professional and personal experience during the five years I was able to spend by her side as a professional colleague, a human being and a friend.

    I have privately cried her absence on many occasions since she decided to go back to Uruguay, but I understood full well why she’d decided to do it. The news of her passing are just painfully shattering and the knowledge of her final absence is only greater than her previous absence from our lives ever was. Nevertheless, all of us who had the opportunity to be her learners, colleagues and friends in Mexico will forever rejoice in the knowledge that our lives changed profoundly after being touched by her endless kindness, fierce respect for the truth, infinite knowledge and professional talent, sharp intellect, unmatched and authoritative knowledge of our profession, acuity as an applied linguist, implicit trust in the other, great sense of humour and unfailing faith in everything that professional decency and Education have the power to change. As one of her learners and colleagues of ours once put it, “… there is life before and after Ma. Sara”. In my personal case, the resonance of my colleague’s words have always reverberated in mind for how true they are, have been, and will always continue to be. Ma. Sara had a way of touching and changing you in such a profound manner that your life was never the same after having been taught by her.

    May our dearest friend’s soul rest in peace.

    Eduardo Valdés García Torres
    May 2015
    Mexico City.

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    • Thank you Eduardo for the wonderful memories! Ma Sara certainly had this incredible influence in everyone she met. She was a force to be reckoned and loved shaking the foundations of establishment bringinig in innovation and critical reflection. She is certainly missed my many all over Latin America!

      Cheers

      Silvia

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  5. I never met Maria physically but we talked on video and phone, we had met on an online video conference on elt focusing on how we could help students and young teachers better in 2010. I was honoured first by her experience and input to the group we Co-hosted on that forum. I could say she did it all. I’m Nigerian and in Turkey at the time.

    Moreso, I met her in the second week after my wife asked for divorce and she seemed to ask jeez, what are you doing here, mend your life but she spoke words of encouragement that healed me permanently then, onwards.

    I’m impressed about her life and her struggle with mundane worlds and people in this world and that said, it’s unimaginable to find someone who never learnt from her.

    Blimey, she said blimey.
    Then I said yes, what’s the spelling of that expression.
    Lol Sara! Repose en Paix.

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