Interview with Cactus Teacher: Italian teacher Angela Puddu takes time to speak to Cactus about her love of teaching and her Cactus students.
You’ve been teaching for 30 years, what is it about teaching that keeps you motivated?
I started to teach when I was very young in Italy; I taught my siblings and cousins how to read and write actually, when I was in secondary school. This is when I realised I had a vocation for it and I told my parents I wanted to pursue teaching. Once I was old enough I got a teaching diploma and started teaching privately to children and adults, until I eventually moved to England to better my career prospects.
The youngest student I’ve ever had taught? 3 years old. The oldest? 92! She was a retired psychiatrist.
I teach because it is my passion. I don’t teach for money, and what keeps me motivated is the personal need to learn new things. When I step into the class and I see my students waiting for me, I need to have all the answers to their questions, so I have to be ready. I spend several hours in my own time to prepare, so that I can always bring something new to the table.
Be it Carnival/Halloween/Christmas, I usually try to link language learning to a topic outside of language. I try to link language to their profession, and offer assistance when I can. My legal experience for example has come in handy when I have had lawyers learning the language.
How would you describe your Cactus students?
Motivated. They are from many different cultural and professional backgrounds, of all ages, of all nationalities. They can be journalists, bankers, students, writers – their motivations vary; many have a partner who speaks a foreign language, they want to become closer to them and their families.
And they are adults; their attitude towards learning is different to children. Some of them come to class tired after a day’s work, so I never organise classes that are heavily grammar based. The best type of teaching is when the students don’t even realise they are learning. Students are always at the centre of a teacher’s needs – my students are at the centre of mine – keeping people that are so different to one another collectively engaged is a challenge I enjoy.
Why are cactus students different? They interact with each other differently, they adapt to each other, they become friends – some become couples. A lot of my students have become my friends.
What do you find most challenging about teaching?
The most difficult thing is a class in which there are students with different learning abilities and learning paces. Different backgrounds can often equate to different academic histories, therefore different learning behaviours.
As a teacher I have to make sure than each students feels equally as important – some students require extra assistance. From the very first lesson I try to help students find confidence. I say: “I give you the tools and you have to be confident in using them, that’s all you need to learn and speak.”
A failure for me as a teacher would be a student who stops studying because they feel they are falling behind or that they are not good enough- my job is to fight this attitude and instil both assurance and knowledge.
A diplomatic and tolerant approach is key. Without these two skills, both teaching and learning become a difficult affair.
Seeing a student learn as a result of my work is very rewarding: it’s like planting a seed and watching a flower bloom.
How do you see the role of having a second, third or fourth language impacting young people in the future?
I think it’s very important to learn a language, especially when young. If we learn a language at an early stage, the mind opens and develops, not just in a linguistic but also in a social sense.
Having an additional language under your belt also inevitably means better and more job opportunities. Travelling for work becomes much easier and more productive, and even when you travel to a country where you don’t speak the language, you sometimes enjoy yourself less- or at least that’s what I find.
Undeniably, lack of language knowledge is a barrier between people; linguistic ability is a gateway into the culture and consequently into the minds of the people you meet.
Why should people learn Italian?
Obviously Italy is my country: I love my country and my culture, I am passionate about it and that’s why I love and teach Italian.
On an academic level however, I can assure you after years of teaching that Italian is not easy to understand or to speak, if you don’t study it. If you want to enjoy the culture and its people, you need to learn the language, it says so much about who we are. In order to understand its infamous body language, you need to speak the verbal language.
For retirement purposes – it is economically convenient. If you want to marry an Italian, the role of family is very important, and older generations of Italians do not speak English. And last but not least, because Italian is a fun language! My students laugh a lot.
Angela Puddu is from Sardinia, in the south of Italy. She graduated with a Diploma Magistrale from the Istituto Magistrale of Cagliari in 1977, and also achieved a Law degree from the University of Cagliari in 1993. She works for an Italian Law firm, but her great passion is teaching. Her career as a teacher goes back to 35 years ago, before she left Italy, where she taught English, Italian, Latin and Law. She moved to London 22 years ago and started to teach Italian Language and culture first privately and then in language and business schools. She is a passionate lifelong learner herself, regularly attending courses for teachers. Throughout her career as a teacher, Angela developed the ability to provide suitable individual learning opportunities and support for adult students who were relocating to Italy for business, or who needed to be able to communicate in Italian for various other reasons. In her spare time, Angela volunteers with vulnerable young people for Camden Youth Offending Team, enjoys regular visits to the theatre, and likes to read books regarding poetry and history, philosophy and psychology. She loves to travel and to learn constantly, from diverse cultures around the world. Her favourite hobbies are writing stories for adults and children. She also published a book in Italian, L’Essenza.