After 13 years, we cannot believe that we will say goodbye to our very own Jon Eckblad this Friday. While Jon has worn many hats at University Settlement, you may know him as our program’s assistant director. You may not know that he started our school blog here at usadultliteracy.com, over ten years ago! I’ll never forget all the videos he created for our program and the blog. Throughout his time here, Jon captured our uproarious holiday parties, garnered participation from his colleagues to make grammar videos, and showed us how easy it is for students to advocate for their own education and other programs. Jon is a reason we have a YouTube channel today, starting from his first video for our program. Professor June Foley of the NYU Gallatin Writing Program had the honor of interviewing Jon as he reflected on his fondest memories, what he’s learned about running an adult ESOL program, and what he’s up to next.
How did you first get involved with University Settlement Society?
When I first moved to New York, I worked at some for-profit ESOL schools and after a couple years I felt like I wanted to explore non-profit work. So I think I just looked for jobs online, applied to University Settlement, had an interview, accepted the job, filled out my W2 (or is it a W4?), and the rest, as they say, is history.
Can you tell us about your various positions and responsibilities over the years?
I started as a part-time ESOL teacher, then I became a full-time ESOL teacher, then I became Curriculum-Technology Specialist, and finally Assistant Director. I’ve really been a jack of all trades: teaching and subbing, writing curriculum, interviewing and hiring, doing advocacy work, making videos and doing blog posts, ordering books and supplies and taking inventory, registering and testing students, arranging and leading workshops, going on field trips, helping write grant proposals and funding applications, updating computers, doing data entry, filing papers, hauling boxes and office furniture, serving food at class parties, co-leading teacher orientations, doing class observations, participating in union negotiations, revising student resumes, making calls to NYCHA about repairs, collaborating with other University Settlement programs, making work schedules, attending tons of meetings (both in person and on Zoom) and writing countless emails.
Has there been one aspect of your job that’s your favorite?
Of course, it’s the students. I’ve always enjoyed meeting and interacting with people from all around the world and trying to help them reach their goals. I also really get a kick out of assigning writing assignments—having students write on certain topics, revising, then having them read aloud in class and having their classmates respond. And then submitting to the Literacy Review, which a few of my students were lucky enough to get into.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Scheduling. My sense of time is really hazy, and I simply cannot wrap my head around multiple days, dates, hours, and locations.
Any special memories? Any special memories of colleagues and students?
My memory is very bad, but I always enjoyed attending the Literacy Review readings at NYU with my students. And often, when I’m walking around the Lower East Side or Chinatown during my lunch break, I run into former students. It’s really great seeing familiar faces by accident—it feels like I’m living in a small town where everyone knows each other rather than a metropolis. It’s also been a pleasure to see current and former students become my colleagues. Quite a few have gone on to work for other programs at University Settlement and three now work in our program, Meribeth Gao, Khanbibi Ybrash, and Mayra Mantilla. Mayra is actually going to be my replacement, which I think is great! It’s also been great working with director Lucian Leung and program associate Leanne Fung, who have been working in the program a year longer than I have. I started in 2009 and they started in 2008, I think.
What are some things you’ve learned from your experience?
I’ve really become a more disciplined and detail-oriented teacher and administrator, which is mostly due to the influence of Lucian. I think I’ve also learned just about everything that goes into running a free English program in NYC—and let me tell you, there’s a lot that goes into it.
What do you plan to do now? Will it involve travel?
Yes, in September I’m going to Greece, where I will hike to the top of Mount Parnassus and also consult with the Oracle of Delphi about next steps.
Anything you’d like to add?
I’m grateful for the opportunity Lucian gave me to become Assistant Director, and also the guidance both she and Jennifer Vallone, who is the Associate Executive Director of Adult Programs, provided me over the past few years. Additionally, I’m at ease knowing that my old duties will be in the very capable (more capable than mine, to be honest) hands of Mayra, who will do a great job and who has already done so much for our program. I also want to wish everyone a happy and successful school year and I’m sure I’ll see you all around…