Jasmine Harper has been teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) at the High School of Language and Innovation, located in Bronx, New York, since January, 2022. SmartStart Education hired Harper after contracting with the school to fill a part-time, maternity leave position which advanced to a full time role. This past school year, she taught two classrooms of 10th-graders on her own, plus co-taught and aided two additional classes. Currently she is teaching an ESL summer school course for incoming 9th graders.
Harper did face challenges upon entering the classroom mid-year. She said students were leery of another person stepping into the role since the position had been vacant for two months with short-term substitutes filling the void. “I was definitely tested,” she said. “Students said didn’t trust I’d stay and continually asked how long it would be before I left too. I had to continually reassure them I’d be there for the balance of the year. I worked at building rapport, and spent extra time helping the students who were struggling as well as giving extra work to those who wanted to be challenged. We eventually found our groove and trust was gained.”
Prior to working for SmartStart Education, Harper worked in the New York area as an adjunct lecturer for the Continuing Education at Herbert H. Lehman College as well as and ESL instruction specialist for the College of Mt. Saint Vincent. She spent over 15 years of her career teaching ESL instruction at these colleges. Her roles included teaching students how to communicate in social settings as well as engaging in academic tasks. She was instrumental in helping students learn how to use the English language in both social and cultural settings to help them gain linguistic and cultural competence.
How High School Has Changed:
She began her early career as an ESL high school teacher at Banana Kelly High School where she created and led an innovative ESL program focused on hands-on, problem-centered learning as well as teaching Spanish to 10th grade students. When asked how high-school students today differ from those she taught over ten years ago, Harper said, “Students today are slightly more immature and some have impulse control issues. I think the pandemic, in large part, created a social void for many of them. In addition, students today are more distracted by technology such as smartphones and laptops. They’ve become dependent on these devices and this year, the school had to implement a no cell phone policy in the latter half of the school year.”
Harper said technology is good and bad. “From a teaching standpoint, students are able to complete assignments electronically, and nothing gets lost in the shuffle; however, they are less used to writing with paper and pencil.” She indicated she stresses the importance of practicing the use of paper and pencil given the end-of-course exam is administered that way. She said she even locked up the laptops one day and made her summer students complete lessons the old-fashioned way. She said none really complained and all completed their work.
Harper’s passion for educating diverse groups of people is what keeps her coming back to the classroom and why SmartStart Education knew she was right for the role. “Working for this company offered me the perfect opportunity to get back into the classroom,” she said. “I really like the school, and the staff is very nice.” She said she had no problems integrating into the school and staff was glad to have her. “A long-term substitute provides students with the consistency they crave and gives administrators time to focus on other issues by eliminating the time-consuming task of trying to find qualified substitutes.”