Throughout her time teaching Spanish at ECFS, Esperanza Caño developed a pedagogical approach that leaned heavily on experiential learning — international trips, visits to museums, immersion experiences, and hands-on projects into her lessons. Caño also displayed her commitment to always embracing personal growth by engaging in a myriad of immersive professional development opportunities around the world. We spoke to Caño about her experience as a teacher and how she’s stayed busy since retiring in June 2023 after 36 years as a teacher at ECFS.
Caño at the Alhambra, Granada, Spain
What brought you to ECFS, and how long did you teach at the School?
I was teaching at a school in Queens, but my husband, Tate Librarian Tom Carey, grew up in Riverdale and we moved to the neighborhood when we got married. At first I was just hoping to find a job closer to our new home, but when I interviewed at ECFS, I loved that teachers had such a broad ability to shape their lesson plans and curriculum — I could teach how I wanted and choose my own textbooks and materials.
The rest is history — I stayed at the School for 36 years, teaching students from 7th to 12th Grade. Most recently, I taught a 9th Grade intensive Spanish class and a 12th Grade class centered on contemporary Spain and Latin America, primarily through film, music, and current events. I loved the freedom that I had in the classroom, the joyfulness of 9th Graders, and the intuitiveness of the seniors. ECFS students are like sponges — they’re so into it.
What kept you at the School for so long?
The School supported me with a lot of professional development over the years. Over the summer I’d go to Spain and take classes; one year I was presented with the Southwind grant to study the pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago in Galicia, Spain; I was fortunate to take two sabbaticals during my 36 years teaching, and I had the opportunity to do a Fulbright teacher exchange in Argentina in 2005. All of this learning helped me maintain my engagement and excitement in the classroom.
I also had a great department that I was lucky enough to be a part of, with mentors and colleagues who helped shape the teacher I am — Margarita Leicher, Luis Merlo, Camillo Riili, Leticia Zervas, Alicé Montera, and many more.
What was your favorite project to teach?
The project that immediately comes to mind is about the Spanish Civil War with my senior contemporary Spain class that incorporated history, art, literature, and poetry. We’d watch films about the war, read poetry and hold discussions about what we learned. Then, History Teacher Bob Montera would come in and speak to the class about the broader context of the world at the time. The students would study the propaganda posters from that time period in Spain, researching them and presenting their learnings with the class. Sometimes students would even create their own posters. The whole lesson incorporated information about the impact of fascism on Spain, compared the country in the 1930s to modern day, and explored what the country had to go through to develop to where it is now.
I also took a number of international trips with students. I partnered with one of the French teachers, Diane Russcol, to take trips to France; traveled to many different areas in Spain, and even went with students to Cuba. Seeing my students successfully use their Spanish in every interaction during these trips was so uplifting and rewarding as a teacher.
How have you been filling your days since retiring?
As soon as I retired, I went to Spain and spent the whole summer there visiting my younger daughter and other family, traveling to various cities, and doing a wine tour with my husband, before spending some time in France with friends. In March, I’m excited to go back to Italy — I am taking some Italian classes to prepare for that trip! I love to travel and have been filling my time with taking and planning more trips. As a matter of fact, I just returned from a month in Argentina. My former students that I’m still connected with reach out whenever they’re traveling to ask where they should go, what they should do, and what suggestions I have for the country or region they’re visiting. I love hearing from them and seeing pictures of them in various Spanish-speaking countries!
What message do you have for your former students?
When I think of myself, I think of myself as a teacher. It’s really such a big part of my identity. I’m a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter — but being a teacher is at my core. And ultimately, my students are the people who made me a teacher. So my message is, thank you for helping me become who I am — I really mean that. And I’d love to stay in touch!
Thank you Esperanza for all your years teaching at ECFS! If any former students want to get in touch with her, please contact the ECFS Alumni Office at [email protected] to be connected.