Vol. 10, Issue 2, December 2009

On the Job

LaNysha Adams

LaNysha Adams

Number of years in the field:  In 2002, I started substitute teaching in English and ESL classes in San Diego, California at a local charter high school while I was finishing my interdisciplinary B.A. in Linguistics & Rhetoric. In 2009, I completed my M.A.  in TESOL at Teachers College, Columbia University.

First job in the field:

After substitute teaching in the public school system, I decided to go abroad for a year and I was able to land a position teaching ESL in Preston, England. Wanderlust got the best of me and I spent the summer of that same year (2005) teaching English in Spain to adults.

How did you get into the field?
While obtaining my B.A. in Linguistics, I was perplexed by the incongruent nature of my near fluent writing level in Spanish and my lower level speaking ability. At the time, I was taking a morphology course documenting the use of Armenian from a woman in my community. In documenting Armenian, I would ask a native speaker questions about how to say phrases in Armenian while recording our conversation. I would then transcribe what I heard, and write an essay every week explaining the grammatical patterns that I observed.  Everyone in the class was documenting a different language and for our final paper, we had to describe the grammar of our respective language and compare its structure to English. In showing my project to the native speaker I worked with every week, she (an English teacher herself) encouraged me to teach English in Armenia so that I could share my knowledge of English grammar while learning Armenian. One of my future goals is to teach English at a University in Armenia through the Peace Corps.


Current job position:  National Research Coordinator (full-time) & English Instructor (part-time)

Current place of employment:  Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) & American Language Program, Columbia University

Location: New York, NY

Student Population: Adult restaurant workers & professionals and students from the Columbia University community

What are your job duties at ROC-United?
I am responsible for the coordination of collection and analysis of data from eight ROCs around the country.  At present, I am analyzing quantitative data (SPSS) and qualitative data (NVIVO) collected from over 4000 restaurant workers. My data analysis efforts have contributed to the publication of The Great Service Divide (2009) and Behind the Kitchen Door (forthcoming 2010); both reports have been used to support federal policy for paid sick days and to increase the tipped minimum wage in the WAGES Act (H.R. 2570). I am currently writing four reports to be released in February 2010.
My most meaningful contribution to ROC-United’s mission to date has been the development of the “English for Restaurant Workers” curriculum I designed for our training program in New York at the CHOW Institute, which provides free training for both front and back of the house restaurant skills. We have implemented “English for Restaurant Workers” in each of our affiliates in Southeast Michigan, Portland (ME), Detroit, Greater New Orleans, Chicago, New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Washington, DC. While our training program only offers one course, one of my future goals is to establish a fully functioning ESL program within the CHOW Institute. I am responsible for training instructors and updating the curriculum (annually).

What class do you teach at the ALP?
In the evenings, I teach a Level 8 Academic Writing class in the American Language Program (ALP). The classes are focused on writing thesis-driven essays, and most of the students have to pass a high-stakes exam at the end of the course. 

What do you like about your jobs?
Because I wear several different hats, I am able to make connections across varying fields. My work at ROC-United is really about social justice and fighting to change working conditions in the restaurant industry. Yet so much of that work involves changing the way people – workers, owners, consumers – think and do business. In the ALP, my role is to facilitate my students’ understanding of structure in academic writing and to encourage them to think critically in and of English. For the curriculum I developed and update for the CHOW Institute, I love designing real-world tasks so that restaurant workers can make academic, political, and industry specific connections while learning English.

What are the challenges you face?
Resistance! While I encourage resistance to inspire critical thought, it’s a double-edged sword because some people resist the very idea of being critical. When teaching writing to non-native English speaking adults in the ALP, the students resist being taught new forms of writing (i.e. thesis-driven essays, dialectical journals, précis) because they are unfamiliar with these styles and structures. When teaching writing to non-native English speaking restaurant workers, they resist the idea that they have valuable things to write and say because many of them are not valued in the workplace. Every time I teach, the biggest challenge I face is resistance to being critical – of others’ ideas, of the media, and of oneself.

How does your M.A. in TESOL relate to your work?
By taking advantage of research methods and statistics courses at Teachers College, I was able to gain extensive experience in SPSS and with research design. Most of my work as Research Coordinator builds on the skills I learned in these courses, and each report that I write is similar to the 100-page project I completed for Assessment in the Applied Linguistics/TESOL Program. Furthermore, the skills I developed while bridging theory and practice will last for a lifetime. Praxis is necessary to positively change and co-create new ways of thinking, learning, and doing business in the world.

More Information about the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United):
The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) is a national restaurant workers' non-profit organization, comprised of restaurant worker organizations across the country. http://www.rocunited.org

The CHOW Institute at the Restaurant Opportunity Center of New York (ROC-NY)