This article is part of a series introducing new Middle School teachers. In December: an interview with French International Track teacher David Pruess.
She was born in Albania, has lived in four different countries, is multilingual… with her unique qualifications, the new Ecole Bilingue Middle School Spanish teacher Irena Ademaj couldn’t find a better place to work!
Irena didn’t have it easy in life because of the political turmoil taking place in her native country- where she lived in until she was 12 years old. Albania is a very small country near Italy and Greece. Irena moved with her parents to Greece, where she spent her middle school years. “Languages were always a part of my life. I grew up learning and speaking several romance languages,” she says.
Once in Greece, she picked up the language (and a different alphabet) in six months, while also taking private English classes. Her gift with languages has served Irena well all her life.
The Ademaj family eventually moved to the US, where some relatives were already living, and Irena started her life over in Chicago. “I moved to the States as I was entering high school, it was a great experience. I was the ‘cool kid’ who spoke four languages!”
Irena went on to study Spanish and Political Science at DePaul University in Chicago, and also earned a Masters in International Relations. She was attracted to the field of diplomacy but for visa-related reasons, she wasn’t able to work for the State Department. That didn’t discourage her from working internationally, with a stint at the Albanian-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce in Portugal.
"Inquisitive and Curious"
“After travelling and working in various countries, it became evident that my home was the US,” says Irena. She decided to settle in the Bay Area, where many of her graduate friends had moved, too. That’s when Irena started teaching Spanish. Her first experience was in a public high school in East Oakland, where she learned a lot, she says. After about a year, she ultimately decided to work with middle schoolers at Shu Ren International School.
That’s when she fell in love with teaching students who are middle-school aged: “compared with high schoolers, they are just not as worried about fitting in!” she adds. So when a position opened at Ecole Bilingue Middle School, Irena was thrilled. At that point, she lived close to the school and French always had a special place in her heart. It’s one of the many languages she can read and write well, and she has traveled to France many times.
After a few months at EB, Irena is really positive about her time here. The European and international vibe that she finds here reminds her of where she comes from, and most importantly, she really enjoys teaching EB students. “They are so inquisitive and curious! For instance, they actually knew some things about Albania - my home country - when it would not be necessarily the case in a typical American middle school.” What she has realized is that her EB students remind her of herself when she was young: smart, internationally-minded, and multilingual.
Irena teaches 6th, 7th and 8th grade Spanish and also, for one hour a week, 5th grade Spanish.