June 2017
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Jennifer Alicea, University of Puerto Rico, Ponce, Puerto Rico

My name is Jennifer Alicea-Castillo, and I was born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico. I learned English in the public school system of my island, and I am very proud of this. None of my immediate relatives is bilingual nor have I lived in an English-speaking environment or outside my Spanish-speaking country.

I had my first teaching opportunity at 16 years old. I was working in a tutoring program helping ESL students in junior high school improve their skills. That experience helped me to discover that I was born to be a teacher. I have been teaching for the last 20 years. I have worked in private schools and in the public system of Puerto Rico. Also, I have been an undergraduate and graduate professor and research mentor at different universities.

I have a bachelor’s degree in secondary education with a major in English and a master’s in education in teaching English to students of other languages (TESOL). I obtained a doctoral degree in education, curriculum, and teaching from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in 2008. In 2012, I finished a postdoctoral degree with the University of Jaén, Spain in teaching English as a foreign language. Right now, I am an associate professor and the director of the Planning and Institutional Research Office at the University of Puerto Rico, Ponce Campus. There, I am the liaison with Middle States on Higher Education agency, and I oversee the institutional accreditation.

Jennifer teaching in Nicaragua.

I really enjoy teaching ESL, but my favorite class is Oral Communication. I like to see how students improve their skills, how they deal with language-related insecurities, and how at the end of the semester, they are convinced that they have what it takes to speak English and be understood. I had the opportunity to travel to the United States, specifically to Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, as part of a course called Study and Travel. This course aims to help ESL students enhance their oral communication skills in real-life scenarios. These were rewarding experiences for me and for my students.

English has been an important part of my life. It has opened many doors for me. I have been part of PRTESOL since I was an undergraduate student. I have served as vice president (2009) and president of the Southern PRTESOL Chapter (2010). Then, I became the public higher education representative for 2 years (2014, 2015) and PRTESOL vice president (2016). Right now, I am the PRTESOL president. This is a big responsibility, but I am enjoying this journey to the maximum.

I had had the honor of presenting at the Nicaragua TESOL and at the Dominican Republic TESOL annual conventions, as well as in many conferences and workshops at different PRTESOL activities, private and public schools, and universities. I have participated three times at the Faculty Resource Network program at New York University, where I had the chance to learn new strategies, activities, and methods to expand my teaching repertoire.

In retrospect, I can definitely say that the English language has changed my life. I am who I am today, professionally speaking, thanks to this language. I cannot imagine myself in any other profession.

Jennifer with one of her groups in Puerto Rico.

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