A Voice Among the Nations by Jessica Stanley

When I was about 9 years old, a man told me that I would grow up to be “a voice among the nations.” You could accurately call that man a prophet because sure enough, as I graduated university with a degree in English, I was led to my first adult job teaching at an International School in Houston, Texas. At first I was overwhelmed by the massive learning curve of trying to re-learn my own language by dissecting its parts so that the adults I was teaching could understand it. It hit me then that as a child, I never thought about past participles or vowel patterns. I simply absorbed it. As a new teacher, I thought constantly about how I could make learning English a fluid experience instead of an arduous task. Daily, I used games, roleplays, and realia instead of drilling structures into my students’ heads. I learned a tremendous amount about adults’ comprehension abilities and my own strengths and weaknesses.

The school graciously sponsored my CELTA certification in my second year and my knowledge of teaching flourished. At the same time, my passion for understanding other cultures increased exponentially. Taking your students to a Texas rodeo, riding roller coasters with them, and eating countless meals at their dinner tables changes you. It’s cliché, but it truly changes your mind and your heart. I began to have an even deeper respect for those instructors who take the time to break down English into directly applicable bits for students’ needs. I’ve always been the curious type. I want to know why things work and behave the way they do. For myself, understanding a machine and using a machine are equally important. It’s complex, but it made sense to me that by making English understandable, consumable, that I could help my students daily needs. My desire became to give them voices that could accurately explain the side effects of their son’s cancer medication to their doctor, that would better their employment opportunities by translating their resumes, and that would simply help them learn to study the driver’s handbook so they could drive for the very first time.

My desire became to give them voices that could accurately explain the side effects of their son’s cancer medication to their doctor, that would better their employment opportunities by translating their resumes, and that would simply help them learn to study the driver’s handbook so they could drive for the very first time

Passion is a strong, driving force, but so are student loans. I needed to move onto a job that would give me a chance to be financially free by the time I was at least 40. The Houston Public Library Specialist position was a God-send. Working with adults to do research, apply for their passport, learn technology skills, search for jobs, and help give access to millions of resources that would improve their lives- it was a wonderful fit for me. Houston is currently the United States’ most diverse city. From the abundance of oil companies located here to the world-renowned Medical Center to NASA, many families are drawn here.  Houston homes more than 2 million people; 1 in 4 of which are foreign-born.

For a couple of years, I organized the technology instructors in creating a unified and clear curriculum for the classes they offered across the library’s 40+ locations. Once my supervisors discovered that I had a Cambridge certification in teaching English to adults, they tagged me to start classes at the downtown location. When that small class proved to be growing, I began to build curriculum for the system’s future instructors. My hope was to design a plan that would equip library employees to start conversation groups, and eventually full ESL classes, with simple handouts, clear charts, and engaging activities that would focus on learning English realistically. See- we don’t have textbooks, grades, student laptops, admission requirements, and each of our programs are completely free. So, I’m incredibly grateful for Debbie Heppelwhite’s Alphabetic Code Chart and others who have created dynamic tools and graciously granted our new instructors access to them.

Houston’s growth isn’t slowing down. The need here for English classes and free access to effective resources is vital to helping new immigrants, visitors, and international families thrive in their new home city. Thank you for helping a young teacher provide a beacon to Houston’s beautiful international community. 

Jessica Stanley

 

About Jessica 

I am a Library Service Specialist for the Central Houston Public Library specializing in Adult programs. As Houston has grown rapidly over the last 5 years, the city has become the #1 most internationally diverse city in the United States. So of course, the library is naturally an institution for literacy and a connection point for resources and people. Our library offers everything from passports to fitness classes, gaming zones, music production, and more. Personally, I have tutored and taught English for approximately 6 years. Previously, I worked for a school under Berlitz. I also received my CELTA certificate during that time. The library caught wind of my qualifications for teaching English and decided that they had to begin expanding their outreach to internationals through English classes. Previously I organized the Technology Instructors but now it’s time to work on training instructors for our English and Citizenship offerings for the Houston community. Long story short – that’s how I found Debbie Hepplewhite’s Alphabetic Code Charts – I’m now composing a manual for explaining Grammar concepts to non-certified instructors.

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