Paula Stinnett TESOL

Walker County teacher Paula Stinnett, who is also a Fort Oglethorpe City Council member, was chosen to find and schedule 50 mentors for the 2019 TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) conference, which was held in Atlanta this year. / Contributed

Thousands of teachers around the world help children learn English as a second — or sometimes third or fourth — language. Every year, many of those teachers gather at the annual TESOL conference — Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

This year, teacher and Fort Oglethorpe City Council member Paula Stinnett, who teaches English as another language in Walker County schools, not only attended the TESOL conference, held in Atlanta March 12-15, she helped organize a part of it.

The annual conference attracts nearly 7,000 attendees and offers 1,000 learning sessions to choose from.

“About two years ago,” says Stinnett, “it was suggested that I apply to be a team leader. I did so, not really believing I stood a chance. Then I was notified that my application had been selected out of hundreds submitted.”

TESOL sent Stinnett to Chicago to train under Jack Hardy who holds a Ph.D. in applied linguistics and was one of the organizers for the 2019 TESOL conference.

“I was in Chicago for a week in March 2018” says Stinnett. “But the real work began that summer with obtaining and scheduling 50 speakers for mentoring sessions with groups of 10 conference attendees per speaker. The choice of who to invite was mine. I tried to vary the list so there were different areas of expertise so as to have topics to attract lots of people. These people come from all over the world — they are authors, university educators, even television hosts, such as David Harrison, the keynote speaker for the entire conference.”

Stinnett says there are more than 80 students in the Walker County school system who are served by the system’s English to Speakers of Other Languages program (ESOL). “Many more students are multi-lingual,” she says. “These students bring a rich cultural background to this area. Through their eyes, classmates are able to learn first-hand about other countries they may or may not have the opportunity to visit.”

Of her experience as a team leader for the TESOL conference, Stinnett says the big lessons she learned were “do not procrastinate. When working with people, anything can happen. Get everything accomplished and prepare to be flexible, even at the last minute.”

The biggest challenge teaching ESOL, says Stinnett, is overcoming bias that pops up from time to time. “All God’s children, great and small, he who made them loves them all’ is often my response to adults who have unkind things to say,” says Stinnett. “Kindness is so easy. Everyone should try it.”

Tamara Wolk is a reporter for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.