Mrs. Jessica Hunt is the key that opens education’s door for Hardin Valley Elementary’s English Language Learners. A big heart, a humble confidence and a love of our mother tongue makes her a cornerstone of our community.
Adam: Where were you born?
Jessica: I was born in Greenville, Ohio then we moved to Portland, Indiana when I was three. I lived there until I moved here to Knoxville when I was 18.
Adam: What was your elementary school mascot?
Jessica: We were the General Shanks Generals.
Adam: Who is General Shanks?
Jessica: He was someone important in a war, but I don’t remember which one. We studied it in 4th grade but that was a while ago.
Adam: We’ll have to Google that one.
Adam: Where did you go to college?
Jessica: I went to Johnson Bible College here in Knoxville.
Adam: What did you major in?
Jessica: I did a triple major. I majored in Bible, Elementary Education, and ESL Education. Everyone majors in Bible and then you have your chosen major as well.
Adam: Wow. Did you do it in 4 years?
Jessica: I did it in five including the internship.
Adam: Still, so impressive!
Adam: How many years have you taught?
Jessica: I started here in November of 2010 so about 9 years. I was at a daycare before I came here.
Adam: How many years were you there?
Jessica: Two months *laughter*. I was only there a little while.
Adam: What year did the elementary school open?
Adam: What subjects are you teaching?
Jessica: I teach ELL, which is anyone whose first language is not English. I teach them reading, writing, speaking and listening.
Adam: Wow. And that’s all grades?
Jessica: Kindergarten through 5th grade.
Adam: You have all the kids or a percentage of them?
Jessica: There’s a qualifying exam that we use to screen and they can qualify or not. Then, we test them every year to see if they’ve progressed enough to exit.
Adam: What clubs do you sponsor?
Jessica: I teach enrichment when it’s offered here. I’ve done drama and French a couple of times. Currently, I’m doing floral design.
Adam: How many languages do you speak?
Jessica: I speak one fluently and I can butcher some French and Spanish. I’m also learning Chinese along with my son right now.
Adam: Are you doing Mandarin or another dialect?
Adam: Why are you learning Chinese?
Jessica: My oldest son started taking Mandarin lessons online because his new school (where he’ll start kindergarten) is a Mandarin immersion school. I’ve been learning alongside him as he’s taking the classes.
Adam: That’s so cool.
Adam: Why did you get into teaching?
Jessica: I took a class in high school called Cadet Teaching. I went back with my 5th grade teacher who is one of my favorites and he had a brand new student that was from Mexico who spoke absolutely no English. Because we were from such a small town at that time, there was just zero support for him. He just was expected to sit in a 5th grade classroom all day and do his thing and that wasn’t okay with me. When I was there every day, my teacher paired me up with him to attempt to get some work done and he was not prepared to do 5th grade level work in English. It just wasn’t okay and I wanted to help. I looked into the ESL and here I am!
Adam: What would you do if you weren’t teaching?
Jessica: I worked in a floral shop in high school and I really loved that. I really, really did. I’d probably do something like that. Floral design for weddings or something like that.
Adam: You’d be exhausted today! *laughter*
Jessica: I worked a Valentine’s Day or two and it was not my favorite.
Adam: What’s the second busiest day for flowers?
Jessica: Valentine’s Day was pretty bad. Second busiest would be the Christmas season. Poinsettias are everywhere.
Adam: Who was your favorite teacher when you were a student?
Jessica: My favorite was probably Mr. Tarr from high school. He taught grammar and several different literature courses.
Adam: Was it the subject? Was it Mr. Tarr?
Jessica: Both. Yeah, I’m an English nerd. I took grammar for fun. It was actually a remedial course and I took it because I thought it would be fun. *laughter* Mr. Tar was a grouchy old man that would just lay it out like it was, and we just loved it as high schoolers. He was just so much fun. He was not a silly teacher, but we LOVED him.
Adam: Did he get why you guys loved him?
Jessica: Yeah, I think he got it, but I don’t think he wanted to entertain that.
Adam: Which educator have you learned the most from?
Jessica: Carrie Arana. She taught ESL at Farragut Primary for many years. She’s actually one of our downtown people for ELL now. She took me under her wing when I first started and showed me how to do paperwork and differentiation and everything that goes along with ELL. I was kind of thrown in with two days notice in the middle of November. I was taking over for somebody and it was a little overwhelming. She helped me through all of it.
Adam: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Jessica: Probably my kids.
Adam: All three?
Jessica. Yeah! Even those surprise twins in there. The day before my first ultrasound, I was joking with my husband because I had this weird feeling. I asked him, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we had twins”? Then the next day there they were.
Adam: Would you guys like any more kids?
Jessica: Not currently, maybe one more in a few more years.
Adam: In your family you’re one of how many?
Jessica: I’m the oldest of three. The oldest by a long shot. My brothers are 22 and 21.
Adam: What do you consider a successful student to be?
Jessica: One who tries. If they can try, they can get there.
Adam: What’s the difference from a good teacher and a great teacher?
Jessica: A good teacher can come in and teach and do their job and the kids can learn. A great teacher would be one that makes learning fun. One that can make the kids want to keep learning, not just to complete the tasks and be done.
Adam: What improvement would you most like to see made to public education?
Jessica: I know it’s a Knox County problem, and is probably a national problem too. There’s just not enough funding and support for ELL teachers.
Adam: What would that look like?
Jessica: More staff. In Knox County, ELL is growing rapidly. The problem here is that the colleges are not putting out ELL teachers fast enough.
Adam: It seems like we’re falling behind in all teachers. Any idea on how to remedy that?
Jessica: I really don’t. ELL is just one of those things that a lot of people misunderstand. They think they have to speak all the languages. We have 32 languages at this school. There’s no way I could know all 32 languages. You are an English teacher only. It’s a big misconception. People think that because they don’t speak Spanish, that they can’t be an ELL teacher. I don’t speak Spanish. I can speak enough Spanish to help fill out a school enrollment form. Beyond that I can have a very minimal conversation.
Adam: I would agree with that. That’s a very good point. How much is money a solution with the ELL teachers?
Jessica: I don’t see how it could hurt as quickly as we’re growing, I’m sure the budget is not growing fast enough to keep up with the staffing needs. It takes so long to get approval too. In August we get X amount of new students, and usually we can’t get approval to hire help until October or November. By the time we get someone hired, it’s January. I was fortunate that my help came in September of this year.
Adam: What is something that you could use in your classroom?
Jessica: Supplies are always helpful because I don’t have supply lists like classroom teachers. I sponge off of whoever has extra supplies. Paper, pencils, crayons, glue, things like that are helpful.
Adam: What hobbies do you have?
Jessica: I don’t have a lot of hobbies really. I enjoy watching TV.
Adam: Any particular shows?
Jessica: Not really, just anything that’s funny. The Office is always a good one to go back to. I enjoy that. Parks and Recreation because it takes place in Indiana. I get all those references. They’re pretty funny. I spend a lot of time with my kids and I teach full time as well as part time in the evenings and mornings so I don’t have a lot of time for other hobbies.
Adam: What hours do you do secondary teaching?
Jessica: I teach from 5:00am – 6:30am in the morning and then on Friday and Saturday nights I usually teach from 9:00pm – 12:00am, 9:00pm – 1:00am, 9:00pm – 2:00am, somewhere around there.
Adam: How’s that?
Jessica: Online teaching is a whole different game. Some skills and things crossover, but it’s a lot harder to hold someone’s attention when they are on the other side of the globe. Sometimes the parents are helpful and sometimes they’re not. It just depends. I’ve met some really great kids.
Adam: What’s a good way for a student or a parent just spoil you?
Jessica: I like nice notes. I love notes from my students and their parents and things like that. I save them all.
Adam: I still have some of mine hanging up.
Jessica: Yeah, I save them too. They mean a lot.
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