Mar Ponce Galán is a teacher with extensive educational experience. After studying Philosophy at the University of Salamanca and working in several countries, she moved to England, where she has worked in several boarding schools such as Eton College (2018) and Tonbridge School (2020 to present). She is, since 2022, the Head of Spanish at Tonbridge.
Did you imagine you would be teaching Spanish in England when you were studying philosophy at university?
Not at all! In fact, I didn't even know if I wanted to go into teaching. I did philosophy because it became my passion when I discovered it in high school, but teaching was not in my plans. I have never been a person who was always clear about my future career, and I have changed my mind several times during my life.
You have taught in both co-educational and non-co-educational schools, did you notice any difference between teaching both sexes?
This is not an easy question to answer because the non-mixed (boys only) schools I have taught in were public schools and the mixed schools were state schools in rather impoverished areas in London, so the difference I have seen has unfortunately been more cultural and socio-economic than gender. I have to say that I have a bit of a thorn in my side that I have not yet taught in girls' schools.
What would you say is the most difficult part of A Levels? And why?
Without a doubt, what our students find most difficult is the translation into Spanish. It has to be very precise and they lose points very easily, which is very disappointing for them; but they find it very rewarding when they see that little by little they improve their skills. In terms of content, they find it difficult to learn the subject of the Civil War and the dictatorship, not so much because of the complexity as because of the time it takes; it takes too long.
What advice would you give students to help them prepare better?
When they come to the first year of A Level they still come with a GCSE mentality, and they think that what they do in class and a couple of homework assignments a week is enough. I always tell them the same thing: that they need to be independent learners and start exposing themselves to the language, whether it's watching films, reading newspapers and magazines, or doing extra reading, listening or grammar exercises. They don't listen to this advice very much, but after the first exam, which is usually quite bad, they understand what I have told them and start to work in a more mature way.
A classic thing to do is studying Volver, by Pedro Amodóvar. Why do you like this film and what do you think students can learn from it?
I love this film for many reasons. I have been a fervent admirer of Almodóvar since his beginnings and this film in particular is very special, both for the performances of the actresses and for the themes it deals with. I find it a very endearing film in all its harshness. What I like most about Almodóvar's female characters is that they are always driven by passion, even when they make serious mistakes, they are driven by love.
What other Almodóvar films would you recommend to people who are motivated to see more?
Depending on the person and the age... I'm a big fan of his early films, but I'm aware that they are not for all audiences, such as La ley del deseo, Entre tinieblas, ¡Átame!, ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto? But for more orthodox audiences I would recommend La flor de mi secreto or Todo sobre mi madre.
Are there any contemporary books in Spanish that you have liked recently?
I am in the habit of paying tribute to writers who have passed away, and this year I have reread Todas las almas by Javier Marías, and La madre de Frankenstein by Almudena Grandes, both wonderful. I had a particularly good time discovering Eduardo Mendoza and his Sin noticias de Gulb. Although the last thing I read was Saramago's Caín and Levantado del suelo. He is not Spanish by birth, but he is by adoption and is one of my favourite authors.
And what places do you think are good places to travel to and learn Spanish?
We are lucky that Spanish is spoken in 21 countries, so the idea of learning the language by travelling is very attractive, don't you think? The linguistic and cultural richness that you can get from not being puristically anchored to a place seems like a dream to me.