WEGO alumna inspires students


Photo by Elizabeth Mastroianni

Humans of WEGO: Spanish teacher Elizabeth Mastoianni on graduation day.

By Philip Calabrese, Reporter

One year ago during a global pandemic, Elizabeth Mastroianni decided to take on the task of becoming a teacher in a time of uncertainty.

I had the opportunity to talk to Mastroianni, a 2015 West Chicago graduate, in her classroom on a Tuesday afternoon. I wanted to know what drew her back to West Chicago Community High School. As she wrote down her 10th-period attendance, she shared her story.

She explained, “In the back of my mind, I always knew I’d come back to West Chicago,” as she searched through her desk, looking for a pencil. She loved the culture and teachers of WEGO, a place where she felt like she belonged. 

Prior to teaching, Mastroianni attended college at the University of Iowa, and graduated in 2019. She then went abroad to teach English in Spain – though she had traveled to Spain twice previously, she wanted to do more there, and teaching seemed like a good fit.

Mastrioanni takes in the sights on one of her three trips to Spain. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Mastoianni)

Upon returning to the West Chicago area, Mastroianni secured a teaching job at Community High School – right at the onset of the pandemic. She spent most of her first year behind the screen, and so the transition to in-person learning was very exciting for her.

Now in her second year of teaching, life has (somewhat) returned to normal, but her goals this year differ for each class. In Spanish 4, Mastroianni wants her students to learn why Spanish is so important. For her native speaker class, she aims to improve and polish her students’ Spanish. For her AP class, the goal is to improve upon all skills. 

Continuing to rummage through her desk, Mastroianni stated, “You all are the best part of the school,” explaining how important she believes her students are, and that they are what make the job so significant.

The hardest part of her transition from WEGO student to teacher was separating her student experiences from her teaching experiences. Working with her former teachers, now colleagues, Mastroianni realized she could use her background as an advantage, and could connect with students in a different way than other teachers might. The approach seems to be working, according to Mastroianni’s students.

Junior Courtney Roxas said, “She has given me wonderful advice about how to become a better person. She also made me love Spanish even more. She has pushed me to work harder in school.”

While interviewing Mastroianni, I also wanted to understand why she chose to teach Spanish. She explained she loved Spanish in high school, and praised her teachers, who were amazing. They impacted her so much, and influenced her to pursue the language as a career focus. 

Her now-retired teacher, Elizabeth Govertsen, told me stories about Mastroianni. According to Govertsen, Mastroianni was the person in class she had to prepare her lessons for. Govertsen explained that even in high school, Mastroianni was eager to teach. Even as a student, Mastroianni’s Spanish was noticeably strong.

Govertsen said, “Nobody was more excited to learn Spanish than Lizzy.” Mastroianni’s progression to teacher seemed so natural because she always put “150 percent” into her Spanish courses.

In fact, it was at Community High School Mastroianni fell in love with the language. Everything about it amazed her: the ways that languages worked, the difference in meaning through different languages, and conjugations. When Mastroianni finally went on her first trip to Spain, she realized teaching the language was what she wanted to do. 

Her previous Spanish teacher, Sarah Gill, described Mastroianni in high school as “committed to her classes and work. She was very energetic and bubbly.”

Mastroianni was a student assistant to Gill the former’s senior year. At that time, Mastroianni was eager to teach, and helped other students whenever she had a chance. The experience was proof that she wanted to be a Spanish teacher; prior to senior year, Mastroianni had hesitations about pursuing a career in language, but the student assistant position confirmed that she wanted to do so. 

In college, Mastroianni’s favorite courses were her Spanish classes. The classes were smaller, which she really enjoyed. She mentioned how positive the college experience was because everyone had the same goal and worked hard to be there. Literature, art, and culture were some of the many classes she was able to take in college.

Mastroianni also danced in both high school and college. She was a member of the dance club, and became president of the club her senior year. A best friend helped Mastroianni manage the club; in addition to having a great time, the duo even raised over $5000 for a charity in Des Moines.

Still, studying Spanish, and taking in the culture behind the language, remained at the forefront for Mastroianni. She has visited Spain a total of three times. Although she had to think about it pretty hard, she told me that her favorite of the trips would have been when she first studied abroad back in high school. The trip marked the first time Mastroianni had ever been on another continent, by herself, speaking only Spanish. Mastroianni truly grew up during her initial trip to Spain because it was her first experience traveling without her parents.

Mastroianni at home with Millie. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Mastoianni)

For Mastroianni, family is key. She sees the importance of family, and values their time together. The Mastroianni family is Italian and Polish. Mastroianni is one of three sisters, who include Abby and Ali, and has a dachshund puppy named Millie (whom Mastroianni has had for six months).

At home, Mastroianni likes to bake; in fact, she had a part-time baking job in college that sparked her interest. She loves trying new and fun recipes. 

In five years, Mastroianni sees herself teaching Spanish at Community High School, perhaps focusing on higher levels of Spanish. As she leaned back on her chair, envisioning the future, she also joked about owning three more dogs. However, when asked where she saw herself in 10 years, Mastroianni knew exactly what she wanted: a home and family, a bunch of dogs, and a great career – teaching at WEGO – with a master’s degree. 

I enjoyed my time speaking with Mastroianni, but wanted to gain an even better understanding of her life and journey to becoming a Spanish teacher. I returned to her room a week later, on a stormy Wednesday afternoon. She had just started to get her lunch ready when I arrived, and so we walked to the Spanish office to cook her chicken with onions and peppers.

There, Mastroianni explained how the Spain trip she took right out of college was the most impactful. She was teaching English-to-Spanish speakers, and lived on her own for 5 months. Mastroianni described the experience as “more intense” as her food warmed up in the microwave. 

She talked about traveling with her friends and teachers, and recalled drinking coffee and talking with her host mom. She was shocked by how well she could converse in Spanish.

As she finished the story, the microwave beeped and she pulled out her lunch. She explained she was eating leftovers from dinner, and that she prefers heating up leftover food rather than making her lunch. 

Dachshund puppy Millie. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Mastoianni)

As we walked back to her classroom, we talked about her dog, Millie. According to Mastroianni, the puppy is finally adjusting, and now is fully potty-trained. Millie still wakes Mastroianni up at 4:30 every morning to be taken out for walks, a fact which seems more daunting every day as the weather outside becomes colder outside. Mastroianni grabbed a fork as she explained that, previously, she wanted to get a dog, but she had never thought about getting a dachshund until a family friend introduced her to Millie, sending a picture. Mastroianni was smitten. She went to visit Millie on a Tuesday, and by that Thursday, Millie was her dog. Mastroianni explained the adoption process was so fast, it came as a shock to everyone, even her students. As she was eating her hot meal, she told me her siblings have dogs as well: her sisters have three pit bulls and a boxer.

I flipped the subject, and asked Mastroianni if she had any struggles so far as a teacher. She said, “This year it’s been harder to organize,” and explained there was more time during online school for her to plan her lessons; now, she has to tackle even more day-by-day.

Despite the busy schedule, Mastroianni is thankful she has not yet had to endure any major issues. During the interview, someone walked into the classroom to give. Mastroianni some papers, and yet she did not skip a beat. She still was able to get the point across that there will always be small issues here and there, but luckily, she yet has had to deal with a bigger issue. As the thunder rumbled outside, she said, “I can’t complain at all.” 

Although a brand-new teacher at Community High School, Mastroianni has already impacted the lives of many students. She is an alumna with a great story: she followed and reached her goals. Mastroianni is a great role model for students who are chasing their dreams. She is young, ambitious, and kind. West Chicago is lucky to have a teacher like her.