From the courtroom to the classroom, Harriet Hubacker has worn many hats over her lifetime.
Finding her calling as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher after retiring from consumer law 23 years ago, she says, is the most rewarding experience of all.
For her passion and dedication to seeing her students thrive, she received the Texas Association for Literacy and Adult Education (TALAE) Adult Education Teacher of the Year Award last Friday.
Hubacker, who has taught ESL for adults at HCDE since 2002, was nominated for this honor by her colleagues and supervisor, Adult Education Manager May O’Brien. She received the award during the annual TALAE Awards Ceremony on Feb. 11 and was among hundreds of adult educators nominated for the recognition.
“I was very surprised. I thought May was wasting her time,” Hubacker said humbly. “I like giving awards to others. I don’t like getting them.”
The Outstanding Adult Education Teacher of the Year Award is given to a practitioner with five or more years of adult education teaching experience who understands the characteristics of the adult learner and who is committed to the adult and continuing education profession.
“When you’re passionate about something, you will go above and beyond,” said O’Brien. “We hire a lot of part-time teachers because it’s to supplement their income. Not Harriet. Harriet doesn’t do it for the money. It’s her passion.”
Yeanette Conde, a student in one of Hubacker’s advanced ESL classes, agrees.
“What makes her a good teacher is her patience, level of instruction, training, and dedication to students,” she said. “She’s strict, but she’s so good. She uses so many tools to teach us. She calls us if we miss a class and holds us accountable.”
Conde, a civil engineer from Venezuela who taught underprivileged youth in her country and who currently works as a teacher for undocumented, unaccompanied minors through the Office of Refugee Resettlement, says she understands the demands of teaching.
“It’s because of my experience that I can ‘grade’ Ms. Harriet because I have taught before,” said Conde. “If you have a teacher who is boring, you leave the class. That’s how a teacher can be measured.”
A resilient and active member of her community, Hubacker says she has taught in some capacity throughout her whole life but prefers teaching ESL students.
“What I love is that they aren’t just there to get a grade,” she said. “They want to be there, even the ones that are having a hard time. The students are so involved and so grateful for everything. I find I learn as much from my students as much as they learn from me.”
When COVID-19 hit in 2020, HCDE’s adult education program had to move online.
“With her technology skills and teaching expertise, Harriet was a key resource to help other ESL teachers navigate this challenging shift in a very short period of time,” said O’Brien. “She prepared training materials and trained over 40 ESL teachers, so they were ready to deliver virtual instruction.”
“Teaching makes me feel good. It involves my creativity, and it makes me feel useful,” said Hubacker. “I just love coming up with a different idea for something. A lot of teachers aren’t creative, but you have lots of opportunities to try [something new]. I guess that’s why I like ESL.”
A lifelong learner herself, Hubacker is an accomplished humanitarian and educator who holds five degrees, including master’s degrees in speech and applied linguistics, a Juris Doctor degree, and bachelor’s degrees in physical education and English. She welcomed the challenge of teaching virtually.
“My great joy these days is watching those heads pop up [on the screen],” said Hubacker of teaching virtually. “I can’t explain it. I love it, I love it. I guess that’s what really motivates me.”
Conde, her student whose ultimate goal is to be a certified bilingual teacher in Texas after she perfects her English, says that educators like Hubacker are memorable.
“Ms. Harriet is inspiring,” said Conde. “To live a long life and to still have a sense of purpose like she does is a matter of spirit. It’s important to be inspirational to the people who surround you. I hope to do that with my students—in English.”
To learn more about HCDE’s adult education program, hcde-texas.org/adult-education or call 713-692-6216.