When Jacqueline Wiley befriended a girl who spoke Spanish as a child, she didn’t know it would begin the path to her future career.
Fascinated by the conversations her friend would have with her mother in their native language, Wiley began studying Spanish and continued through college, somewhat accidentally earning herself a bachelor’s degree in Spanish as well as English because she kept picking up additional language classes at Fairfield University.
During her undergraduate career, she also dabbled in a few education classes.
On Sunday, Wiley, now a Spanish teacher at Manhasset High School, will be honored by the Harvard Club of Long Island as one of a dozen Distinguished Teachers of 2018 at the club’s annual University Relations Luncheon at the Heritage Club at Bethpage.
The luncheon is open to the public, although Harvard Club of Long Island members and their guests have priority for the limited seating. Admission is $65 per person for the public.
Wiley, of Sea Cliff, later earned her master’s degree in secondary education from Queens College and began teaching middle school and high school Spanish 12 years ago.
Nominated by Manhasset alumnae Julia Henry, a member of the Harvard University class of 2020, Wiley said she prioritizes positive learning in the classroom and tells her students about her personal life in Spanish to engage them in modern conversation and usage.
“What I like to do is use the language naturally in the classroom by telling anecdotes about my dog or my son or something about my experiences in Spain,” Wiley said. “Sometimes I would just work it in the beginning of class, sometimes relevant for new vocabulary. It’s not just about the lesson; it’s about making the language relevant to them and enjoyable as well.”
Wiley said she encourages her students to respond and converse with each other in Spanish as well, building from their mistakes and learning from each other outside the textbook.
“When I went into it, I don’t think how I learned it in the classroom was effective to be able to speak it, communicate and like it,” Wiley said. “I try to create an environment that the kids feel comfortable talking and making mistakes in, trying to use the language regardless if it comes out perfect.”
Henry, who served as vice president of the Spanish Honor Society at Manhasset Secondary School, said she nominated Wiley because she is the reason Henry is still pursuing Spanish at Harvard and looking for summer internships in Spanish-speaking countries.
“A ball of energy in our fifth-period class, when many students start hitting a wall of exhaustion, Mrs. Wiley’s class was anything but a normal Spanish class,” Henry said of her former teacher. “I came to realize how hard [she] was willing to work for the benefit of her students: morning meetings, after school churro sales, Spanish movie nights. She always went above and beyond.”
Wiley was awarded the prestigious Father Leeber Scholarship for Spanish and was on Fairﬁeld University Dean’s List every semester. Before teaching at Port Washington and Levittown schools, she also taught English in Madrid, Spain.
Subsequently, at Queens College, after earned her master’s degree in secondary education, she was honored for outstanding foreign language instruction. More recently, she has studied TESOL Education, linguistics, German and Italian.
In 2015, she won a scholarship from the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese for a two-week program of study and volunteer work in Antigua, Guatemala.
“It’s been a really wonderful place to work because it’s such a joy teaching the students,” Wiley said of Manhasset schools. “They make class really fun because there are so many really motivated students that like language and want to learn it. It makes my job easy when a student is motivated and enjoys learning. It’s been a wonderful place to work for that reason. When you have students like Julia, it’s a joy walking in every day to teach a lesson.”