From Student to Teacher: Story of English Language Learner’s Success Inspires His Adult Students

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September 3, 2019 by HCDE Communications

When adult learner Emmanuel Nieves Aviles returned to school 10 years ago, the native Spanish speaker never dreamt he would someday be teaching English as a second language. Aviles moved to Houston from Puerto Rico after teaching there for almost 20 years. In Texas, as he acquired a new language, he discovered his teaching certification didn’t transfer.

Bold and bent on providing for his family, he enrolled in basic ESL classes at Harris County Department of Education’s Baytown Learning Center. Several semesters later, he progressed to advanced ESL with teacher Laurie Jensen.

The Switch: Student to Teacher

Something strange happened one day when his teacher was discussing his academic future. Aviles couldn’t believe his ears when Jensen advised him that he could teach the ESL class himself and was well-equipped with his past teaching experience.

HCDE Adult Education Baytown Center Manager Guillermo Medina recalled the day he addressed the accomplishedyet- nervous student in his office.

“I called Emmanuel to my office for a brief interview,” said
Medina. “I saw his potential, and he’s been with me now for
nine years.

“I’ve hired many teachers in 17 years as manager, and
Emmanuel has been outstanding and one of my best

Recipe for Relating

Empathy allows Aviles to relate to his students, as he has traveled the road himself.

“Students have many things going on in their lives, worrying about childcare and the money they need,” he said. “I try to keep them on track the best I can.”

Sometimes that means phoning disgruntled students whose adult problems get in the way of coming to class.

“I can’t lose them,” said Aviles, throwing up his arms in show of mock despair.

Aviles packs a punch when he addresses his students. He challenges them by introducing math word problems through everyday situations.

A lesson in buying a Lexus includes analyzing whether the used car salesman is offering a bad deal or not.

“Is the car affordable?” he asks. Heads nod yes.

Throughout the exercise, students are adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing while also being introduced to percentage rates. They get a dose of reality when realizing they can’t afford $2,000 down and 48 payments of $200, plus substantial interest.

“Wake up and do the math,” says Aviles, walking students through his own journey of buying a used minivan. “Take the car back.”

Heads nod yes again as students understand the rationale of high interest rates.

Similar exercises involve measures for recipes. Is there enough milk to make all the meal? Will there be enough for four people?

Student Talk

Student Jordan McCain, 29, has enrolled in the GED class to take care of his growing family with the addition of a third child this year.

“He’s good,” McCain said, pointing at his teacher. “He makes math easy to learn.”

Student Jecenia Chavez, 20, works in retail and is pregnant with her third child. In the past, she has suffered with depression. Her children keep her centered.

“The only thing that can stop me right now is me, and that’s not going to happen,” she said.

Aviles encourages her to believe in herself, she said.

“I want to get my certification to be a phlebotomist and get more medical training after that,” Chavez said.

To keep himself centered and humbled, Aviles need only to think about the first day he walked into his ESL class with a limited number of English vocabulary words.

“As teachers, we need to be facilitators,” he said. “What do I gain if I ignore them?

“I’m here to help them overcome their life obstacles.”

(HCDE Adult Education is the largest, no-cost adult education program in Texas, with a variety of health care and construction career training options in Harris and Liberty counties. Students may also take English as a second language classes and high school equivalency degree classes simultaneously in a traditional classroom setting or online. HCDE offers free adult learner classes this fall beginning as early as mid-September.  For more information, go to

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