My TESOL Journey

By María José Barragán Ortiz

ITBE asked our two 2023 scholarship recipients to write a short article explaining their background and their journey so far in the field of TESOL. This article was written by graduate award winner María José Barragán Ortiz.

I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to the Illinois TESOL-BE team, not only for this award, but for their support and inspiration over the years through their commitment to support research and instruction in the field of bilingual education. This is a recognition that encourages me to continue the journey of serving others and contributing to the field of multilingual and multicultural education. 

Why/how did you get into the TESOL/Bilingual Education field? What is your educational background?
My TESOL journey began as a very young girl in an ESL classroom in my hometown of Spain. There, I developed a profound curiosity about the English language and its cultural contexts. Over the years, this curiosity turned into a passion, and I graduated in English Linguistics Studies and Literature from the University of Seville in Spain, where my interest in psycholinguistics and second language acquisition began. At age 25, I completed a Master’s Degree in Education and a Master’s Degree in Linguistics and Cultural Studies a year later.
I have also been very fortunate to be able to achieve grants that allowed me to be part of learning environments and research teams on language acquisition and social-emotional learning in different countries: at the University of Seville in Spain, at the Jagiellonian University in Poland, and at the Oxford University Language Centre in the United Kingdom, where I received an Oxtalent Award in the category of innovative teaching and learning with technology.

What is your current involvement in the TESOL/Bilingual Education field? Can you tell us about your employment experiences in the field, memberships, or leadership experiences in TESOL/Bilingual Ed?
I currently serve as a dual language psychology teacher at the high school level, while working on my PhD in Psychology in the field of psychological development and psychoeducational intervention in the family, school, and other developmental contexts. For the last decade, I have served as an ESL and dual language teacher in elementary, secondary, and adult education. As part of my professional experience, I have also served as Multi-Tiered System of Support Tier II coach, social-emotional interventionist, and professional development facilitator in the field of psychological safety and teacher wellness. I have been a teacher and student mentor for years, as well as part of different leadership teams (Dual Language Seal of Biliteracy and MTSS committees).
As part of my research, I continue to be a speaker at international conferences where I talk and collaborate with other educators and stakeholders on the importance of building relationships (starting with the one with ourselves) in order to create safe learning environments of respect and rapport that are conducive to social-emotional and academic success for all. I strongly believe that the key for building safe and nurturing relationships is to master the one with ourselves first, and, last year, I created my own company The Open Window - Conscious Leadership through which I provide educators and individuals with mentoring and social-emotional wellness coaching. 
For the past years, I have also served as a Board Member and Director of Events and Activities for the Chicago chapter of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls (UN Women). Within this position I have been able to work alongside other community leaders in order to provide spaces and opportunities to support women and girls internationally through local advocacy, education, and fundraising. My work was recognized by the Women Leaders of Hanover Township for my contribution to the community in education through the creation and facilitation of bilingual social-emotional groups for students. 

What is your professional area of interest, research, etc.? How will the Graduate Award help you pursue your goals?
I specialize in the field of psychological development and psychoeducational intervention in the family, school, and other multilingual and multicultural developmental contexts. My life journey has been defined by a deep passion for the intersection of languages, cultures, and human rights, and, through my research and service, I hope to continue working towards the vision and mission of making every single learning environment a safe space where individuals can thrive. I believe we can all build a safer and more sustainable world not for the younger generations but with them. 
This award not only represents the economic support to continue the life-long journey of learning as an educator and advocate through post-graduate studies but also the recognition and support from colleagues in the field, who see the value in what teachers are doing every day to be of better service to our students and our communities. This award encourages me to continue the journey of serving others and contributing to the field of multilingual and multicultural education as best as I can.

Where do you see yourself in one year / 3 years / 5 years?
It is hard for me to see in which part of the world I will be, but what is a clear vision is that I will continue learning and doing research in order to better serve multilingual and multicultural communities across the globe. I hope to be able to provide the world of education with advancement towards teachers' and students' psychological safety in multilingual and multicultural environments, and to continue to share my vision and mission of building relationships (beginning with the one with ourselves) as the core of safe educational environments of respect and rapport, that are conducive to academic and social emotional success for all. I will continue to bring this message to every corner of the world because I believe educators can be the most powerful leaders in every single community and the ones who can lead a conscious approach of education that is based in the radical notion of compassion and love.  
Spring 2023 - Volume 51, Issue 1