Teacher Feature: Will Slade, English Language Center Instructor
- May 19, 2023
- English Language Center
- Ellen Stader
[Editor's Note: This story is part of a Texas Global series celebrating the work of faculty members in the English Language Center at The University of Texas at Austin.]
In addition to exceptional classes in language learning, the English Language Center (ELC) at The University of Texas at Austin offers social and cultural immersion activities as well as options to customize courses for particular groups. These factors set the ELC apart from other English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, as do its more than 20 experienced faculty members. Among that number is Will Slade, a nine-year faculty member at the ELC at Texas Global.
As an undergraduate at The University of Texas at Austin, Slade traveled to Guatemala and realized his high school Spanish classes hadn’t prepared him to communicate effectively with native speakers. This realization not only spurred him to properly learn Spanish but also helped him relate to his future students as an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor for the ELC at Texas Global.
Slade majored in English, took a writing consultant position at the University Writing Center and studied abroad in Costa Rica. After graduating, he taught English in Ecuador with AIESEC, an international, student-run organization that facilitates work and cultural exchange programs.
When he came back to the U.S., Slade taught high school and community classes in Texas. While participating in curriculum development and adult ESL classes through Austin Independent School District and Austin Community College, Slade earned a master’s degree in foreign language education from UT Austin in 2011.
How did you become an English Language Center instructor at UT Austin?
In 2014, I had recently shifted back to teaching adults after having taught high school for four years and elementary school for two. I was working all over Austin for different intensive and community ESL programs when one of my friends from the UT Foreign Language Education graduate program, Crystal Kusey, let me know that UT Austin was hiring ESL instructors. We were both hired and started right away. It was a fabulous whirlwind!
What types of classes have you taught at the ELC, and for whom?
In our English Language Program, I have taught writing, grammar, reading/discussion and listening/speaking classes to students from all over the world. In the Academic English Program, I’ve taught listening/speaking and grammar to students who aspire to complete graduate degrees.
With scholarship programs, I’ve worked to guide recent high school graduates from Saudi Arabia through the college application process, expanding their academic reading and writing skills for greater success when they complete their degrees at universities in the United States. I’ve also worked with students from Japanese and Chinese universities to broaden their understanding of U.S. culture.
Through the International Academy, I’ve taught in-person and online reading and writing classes for Chinese and Taiwanese accounting and engineering majors as well as listening/speaking classes for a variety of specializations. And of course, I teach language classes to University Housing and Dining and Facilities Custodial Services staff members.
I’ve also participated in our Teacher Training Institute to provide courses about the U.S. education system, communication skills, listening/speaking, and grammar to teachers from Mexico and Uzbekistan. And, in my spare time, I provide administrative assistance to the CELTA program, coordinating the free ESL classes taught by the CELTA trainees.
What is your best teaching memory?
There are so many. My experience teaching the University Housing and Dining and Facilities staff has provided some really rewarding memories. The students practice speeches, dialogues, and interviews, which can help them with their confidence and fluency. At least one student went on from this practice to earn a promotion in her job!
I also love seeing students connect with each other across different cultures and backgrounds. Students’ prior impressions and stereotypes fall apart, and they come away with lifelong friends and a greater appreciation for other cultures.
What has teaching taught you?
Teaching keeps me on my toes and keeps me humble. I have learned that I don’t know what a student is going through in a particular moment (or week or year), and I always try to practice patience and build relationships.
What did you learn over the years that you didn’t know when you started teaching ESL?
I have learned that students need different things from a class, and even the same student may need something different in one class than they do in another class. As a result, I always try to balance structure and flexibility, preparing to adjust and revise my plans to meet students where they are, so I can help them reach their goals.
What do you wish more people understood about learning a language?
I think people underestimate the commitment and intentionality that helps a person really learn a language. But at the same time, many people sabotage their learning to protect themselves from feeling like a failure. I think many people focus too much on homework and grades rather than focusing on the communicative benefits of practicing a language with others.
What has motivated you the most in this work over the years?
Seeing the “lightbulbs go off” for students motivates me to provide examples, explanations and activities that facilitate those Aha! moments. Also, the enthusiasm and brilliant ideas that my colleagues share inspire me to build from and adapt what others are doing in the classroom.
What do you find most difficult about teaching?
Some courses are challenging because of the amount of preparation required; others demand a lot in terms of assessing and providing feedback on written work or oral presentations. I love the ELC because the variety among classes and students never fails to challenge us and engage our whole brains and our whole selves.
What do you like most about teaching?
I love interacting with students and helping them move toward their goals. I learn so much from my students about the topics they are passionate about, the cultures they come from, and the languages they speak. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do this rewarding work.