July 10, 2015

Interviewing Affective Educators: Sosô Uribe Conti Ranzi

I am very happy to present you an interview with an educator, and an entrepreneur I deeply admire: Sosô Uribe Conti Ranzi, who happens to be my sister, my partner, and the General Director at Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo, the school we both founded here in São Paulo, Brazil.

But how could I interview her if I know pretty much what she will answer? In order to make the interview more natural and revealing I decided to invite my dear friend Naoko Amano to interview Sosô. 

Naoko is the founder of Yellow Banana Kids English in Kishiwada, Japan. She was a fantastic host when I visited her school in 2013. Naoko is also part of the iTDi family and I am grateful to Barbara Sakamoto for having introduced us to each other. 

It is with great honor that I have connected these two lovely educators and here I present this interview: 

Naoko: Congratulations on the 20th anniversary of your school! I saw the great pictures of your special flea market. Could you please tell me more about your feelings about this anniversary?

Sosô: Oh Naoko! It’s a feeling that is really hard to put into words! It was a great pleasure to see kids speaking English spontaneously and confidently. Families were together and everybody was communicating and having fun in English!

Naoko:Yes! I was able to see that all the families are so happy to be there! That's wonderful, Sosô. What are some of your unforgettable memories of these twenty years?

Sosô: There are so many! It's rewarding to see that people that worked here left their mark and have made this school a better place. It's beautiful to know that students that studied here with us are starting their professional careers and that deep inside I  know that our English classes have contributed to their success! Another lovely memory was when we rented this house we are in right now! Moving to this new house was a big step for us, because we grew 4 times in size!

 Naoko: That's really inspiring, Sosô. I've heard about you a little bit from your brother Juan, whom I always meet in congresses here in Japan. But I'd like to know more about you. How did you start teaching English to children?

Sosô: Wow….that was a looong time ago…. I started my first class on May 10th 1996… 19 years ago. I was only 17 years old then! I started teaching a 2-year-old boy called Christian and I fell in love with teaching as I saw that I was much more able and creative that I thought I was. As a result, Christian learned much faster that I could imagine.

Naoko: Oh! That is a very interesting story. Can you recall any of the classes you had with him? 

Sosô: I used to spend the whole afternoon with him and we did everything together - we cooked, played outside, we made projects, played with his power rangers, watched movies, and sang songs. He liked hunting treasures and playing with his wild animals figures. I remember that once we made a huge cardboard boat and played there for hours!

Naoko: That must have been fun. But how did you go from teaching this very first student to opening the school with Juan? 

Sosô:  As I started teaching more and more students, Juan and I had a turning-point conversation in which we decided to open our own school. At the age of 17, I was reading Brazilian laws concerning hiring people.

Naoko: You were so young then. How many students are learning English at Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo now?

Sosô: Currently there are 252 students from two to twelve learning English with us. We have 102 students having classes at their homes while 150 come to our school. 

Naoko: That is a lot! I am sure you have 252 students, parents, and teachers smiling. That’s wonderful!

Sosô: Thank you, Naoko. I love teaching and I also love managing the school!

Naoko:What do you currently do at Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo?

Sosô: Today I am the General Director, which includes thinking about our growth, envisioning new challenges, checking the quality of our classes, and learning about families' satisfaction. 

Naoko: I saw in many pictures that you always have a puppet with you. How did you start using them to teach English? 

Sosô:  In 1996  Juan and I bought six hand puppets which later became our logo. We always had them with us and they called everybody’s attention. Today we have more than 80 puppets here at school. The educators who work with us learn how to use puppets in our initial course, but they are not supposed to use them every class. We are always watching many puppeteers, taking courses, and getting better and better at it. 

Naoko: Eighty puppets!? That's a lot! I saw your fantastic and heartwarming DVD in which you also use puppets. What made you film it? How did you film it?

Sosô: That was a dream-come-true project! In 2008 Juan filmed me telling "The Gingerbread Man" and we put it on YouTube. Many families watched it and told me that I had talent telling stories and that I should record a DVD. I let this dream rest for almost 4 years until I met the Cama family in October 2012. Together we decided to pursue this dream and we came up with different storytelling techniques to teach English to children through fairy tales. After 18 months, the DVD was finally released and now kids from all over Brazil can learn English with us!

The DVD was filmed in a cinema studio with professional microphones and movie cameras. I had my “actress” day starting the first story at 7 am and finishing with the tenth one at 9 pm. By then I was exhausted, but really happy!

Naoko: It sounds that must have been both exciting and hard work! What were some of the most difficult aspects while shooting the videos?

Sosô: I guess it was during the shooting of “The Three Little Pigs” when I had to make the second pig look down to the camera (I was behind a wall - and I couldn’t see where the camera was). Editing Hansel and Gretel was also a challenge as we had to make the narration match the scenes. :)

 Naoko: I love your warm voice and your friendly way of telling stories. I immediately felt drawn to your story. Is there anything in special you pay attention to when telling stories with puppets? 

Sosô: Oh Yes! Besides the story itself, I pay attention to the voices, movement of the puppet’s mouth and body, and  possible jokes or charades I will tell. While storytelling in the classroom, I make sure to take into account the comments of the students too! It’s really fun! You should definitely try it too!

Naoko: Wow, it seems to be very difficult and I certainly need some training myself, but I’m interested in it. On the DVD, your puppets are really alive and we felt as if we were in the story!!

Naoko: What are you doing in the picture you look like a ninja?

 Sosô: Just posing for the picture! We had to use this outfit, so our hands and heads wouldn’t appear in the video. 

Naoko:  I was also very excited to see you using kamishibai in your storytelling. It is a beautiful Japanese technique we rarely see here in Japan.  How do you like telling kamishibai stories?

Sosô: Kamishibai stories are really different and everybody loves them, as they do not exist here in Brazil. I always have a great time telling them!

Naoko: I am glad to hear that people love our tradition. Here in Japan, we usually tend to look for new techniques from overseas, but we definitely should reconsider our work in the light of our own Japanese tradition.

Naoko: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me.  You have inspired me a lot.  I was able to feel your passion for teaching as well as your gentle and beautiful heart. I’d also like to thank Juan Uribe for giving me this wonderful chance. 

Sosô: Same here. It was really nice “talking” to you and telling you a little bit about the school, myself and the DVD! :) Come visit me here in São Paulo!

Naoko: You too here in Kishiwada! 

Wow! What a great interview! 
Thank you so much Naoko and Sosô.
I sincerely hope that your families can meet each other some time in the future. 

Would you like me to interview any educator you admire? 
Tell me and I will give my best as always! 

Sending everybody a kamishibai hug from São Paulo, 


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