Mary Aebischer. Photo by Marshall Smith

Mary Aebischer, department head of the modern language department at Idyllwild Arts Academy, opens “Spotlight on Leadership,” a new IA speaker series.

As part of the Academy’s outreach to the community, and its desire to build understanding and bridges between town and gown, the series will focus on both the academic and arts programs.

Sponsored by the Associates of Idyllwild Arts Foundation, the spring series is designed to acquaint community members with IA educators, programs, calendars of performances and exhibits in the various departments, and to discover volunteer opportunities.

The series takes place at 10 a.m. the second Monday of each month in the Fireside Room in Nelson Dining Hall on campus. There is no charge for attendance.

Aebischer describes herself as an educator passionate not only about teaching but also about how to teach.

“I did all my coursework in pedagogical training,” said Aebischer. Pedagogical training focuses on teaching students not just subject matter but how to prepare for life — including teaching social skills, social norms and social inclusion. 

“When you teach a language, you’re also teaching world view and culture,” said Aebischer. “Sometimes that includes facing difficult issues. It’s about learning how interconnected we are with the larger world.”

When asked how that could play out when teaching Spanish to teens, she elaborated. “Cultural identity and language are tied. For teens to understand other cultures, especially those of Central America, it’s important for them to know about children their own age who grow up in those cultures — for instance, those leaving horrific and difficult situations, and migrating, often alone, to better their lives and those of their families. Children, sometimes as young as 10, leave their homes in Honduras and El Salvador trying to get to the United States. I try to sensitize my students to their plight and that of humanity.”

Aebischer came late in life to a teaching career. “I knew at 15 I wanted to study psychology,” she said. She was born in Mexico City to a father posted there working for the U.S Department of Agriculture. She was schooled in Mexico and Costa Rica in dual language schools. She came to the U.S. to go to college – at Baylor in Texas and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. For many years, she worked as a psychotherapist in psychiatric hospitals and in private practice as a family therapist. 

After receiving both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, she obtained teacher certification and subsequently a doctorate at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco because of the holistic nature of its coursework.

Said Aebischer of her career change, “Teaching is a very nice way to be alive. It’s a transformative experience both to and from the students. I could make a lot more money with a psychotherapy practice but it does not stir my heart.”

To hear Aebischer’s story and the heart of her teaching theories and practice, attend the lecture at 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 9, at the Fireside Room in Nelson Dining Hall.