A few years ago, I had an op-ed piece printed in the Boston Globe, a copy of which sits framed in my kitchen. What was the topic, you may ask? Educational reform initiatives in Boston’s pilot schools? A call for our local media to focus less on the tragic stories of our city streets and more on the lives of the young community activists who I have been lucky to help educate? Rich topics, for sure, but no—it was a response to a food section article that critiqued Chinese food as a ‘sodium-laden mess.’ In my short piece, I made sure to make the distinction between Chinese and Chinese-American food and ended with the offer for me to ‘call mom’ if Globe readers had any lingering questions about the difference. Curious—no one has written me yet.
I’ve learned when you need to go to the true experts. In the field of education, now in my twelfth year as a teacher, I know these experts are not necessarily the traditional authorities as represented by a district curriculum, principals or school boards, but often colleagues, parents, and especially my students—who have always been quick to tell me what they think their education should be about.
Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Northern Virginia, I am my parents’ second child. My father emigrated from Taiwan as a scholarship student in engineering and my mother came to the U.S. from Malaysia to have a risky surgical operation, one that still causes a cousin of mine to tear up in recollection. From Green Acres elementary to my secondary education at McLean High School, I eventually made my way through William and Mary as a history major.
I feel fortunate to have received a strong public education and I have been committed to continuing that tradition. I spent the first two years of my teaching life as a wilderness therapeutic counselor (or chief, as the kids called us) for adjudicated youth at the edge of North Carolina’s Uwharrie National forest Imagine a circle of sullen boys sitting in a ‘huddle’ in a cold winter drizzle, cursing their lot, all too often each other, and glaring at one Chief James. After that formative experience, I rewarded myself by attending Brown University to learn the craft of teaching, to take advanced history coursework, and for the luxury of indoor plumbing.
Moving to the Boston area, I taught history for one year at Concord Academy and then made my way to my particular interest in teaching—the urban context of the Boston Public Schools. I taught for four years at the Boston Day and Evening Academy, a competency, diploma-granting high school for over-aged students. I then was hired to develop and teach the senior capstone course at the Boston Community Leadership Academy, one of Boston’s small pilot schools. The hallmarks of my work with my BCLA students included the focus on community leadership, participatory action research initiatives with community-based partners, and the pride my students had in writing their 40-page research papers and completing their digital portfolios. Along the way, I earned National Board certification in social studies and history and was selected to serve as a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow through the U.S. Department of Education.
My future teaching path in education continues to unfold. Currently, I am working as a teacher on assignment through a peer assistance program in the Boston Public Schools, which provides targeted, collegial support to other teachers in their classrooms across the city. I feel fortunate to have served on the History/Social Studies Standards Review Committee for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, for which we reviewed and rewrote the organization’s history standards for accomplished teaching. I am also currently doing additional work in the Boston Public Schools by directing the district’s K-12 Civics initiative and in the Office of Teacher Development and Advancement by developing a district-wide teacher leadership resource website.
Beyond teaching, I enjoy eating Chinese food (and Chinese-American food, occasionally), biking about the city, and offering mangoes to special neighbors who deserve them.