Alumna Spotlight: Johari Murray’s Not a Language School

Originally from New York, Johari is an all-terrain language teacher with her MA ’02 from Teachers College in Deaf and Bilingual Education.  She has taught English and Spanish from k-12 and on the university level. With her background spanning private and public schools as well as urban and rural communities, she has reached a childhood goal in opening her own language and culture immersion center Johari‘s Not A Language School in Spain.

Johari Murray graduated from Teachers College a decade ago but her Master’s in Deaf and Bilingual Education continues to shape her life. Just a year ago Johari fulfilled her lifelong dream of opening her own school, an accomplishment she says she could not have made without the experience gained during her time at Teachers College. Johari’s Not a Language School opened its doors in September 2011 in Caceres, Spain, where Johari lives with her husband and two children. After a year of being in business Johari reflects on the experience of embarking on such an endeavor and the rewards of seeing her hard work pay off. “People come here with a very high affective barrier,” she says. “With the mindset that they can’t speak English. Then progressively they build up confidence and start seeing themselves in a more positive light and taking more risks. They move toward a greater independence in their language use. That’s really rewarding.”

While her feelings as the school opened were a mix of nerves and excitement, Johari describes herself leading up to the opening as very focused.  “I had tunnel vision. I had my business plan; I had my financial plan; I had the resources; I knew that I had a margin of flexibility; I knew that I was able to adapt to different, unforeseen changes. So the feeling that I had was a solid focus on my goal. This was what I wanted to do and I knew that I had to accomplish it.” Since it’s opening, the school has been successful in reaching students with a new approach to learning a foreign language. Rather than follow the traditional local models of twice-weekly language classes, Johari’s school takes a more bicultural approach to English language learning by providing activities such as movie nights, food-tastings, and book clubs where students can participate in American culture through community and cultural events. The idea is to capitalize on the incidental language learning that occurs when students are immersed in a culture in order to better prepare them for an ever-globalizing world.

Johari has always had a passion for education. After graduating from Teachers College, Johari worked for several years as a communications specialist for bilingual students who were deaf and hard of hearing. She moved to Spain in 2006 where she worked under the leadership of her husband, Dr. Agustín Barrientos to help set up the Department of Spanish as a Foreign Language at the University of Extremadura. When she learned about a community course offered by the Fundación Mujeres for women interested in starting their own businesses she saw an opportunity to carry out her dream of opening a school. “I took the course and prepared a business plan that went into every imaginable detail and with that under my arm I just stepped forward. I found a location and I dug in deep and opened my doors to my immersion school,” she says.

Johari attributes her ability to attempt and accomplish her life goal with her time at Teachers College, where she was always encouraged to take the next step. “One of the most important things that I’ve taken away from Teachers College is an action plan. Not just to make the observations and to make the analysis, but to take the observations, take the analysis and then do something with it.” Johari looks forward to the future of her school and the opportunities it will bring both to herself as an educator and to the students she serves.