If you can do what you do best and be happy, you're further along in life than most people.
“Chinese?!” “History!?” I’ll never forget the puzzled yet adamantly resistant responses from my parents when I declared I would no longer be studying boring economics, or the incredibly difficult computer science. I would be pursuing what I loved.
“What will you do with that major?” My mother continued “What can you do with that major?”.
Going to college has been the American way for centuries, yet, for myself and many other African-Americans in the U.S, our bloodlines are still poisoned by the ill effects of slavery and centuries of racial inequality. Thus many of my peers, myself included, came from households where their parents did not graduate from college. Hence there was an added motivation, moreover a duty, to succeed not only for personal victory, but also for family and our very race. Failure was never an option.
Upon attending the College of William and Mary, commonly known as the “little ivy”, I majored in business and computer science to appease both of my parents. I’ll never forget, one day, sitting in a computer science class staring glassy eyed at my professor lecturing away. My colleagues were frivolously typing away at their notes. I thought to myself, “Dear God, I hate this class!…This is not for me”. I walked out and never returned to another computer science lecture, ever. I changed my major that day and I have never regretted the decision.
It is only natural that The College of William and Mary excels at history and cultural studies as it is located in Williamsburg, Virginia; a site only 5 miles from Jamestown, VA, the first permanent settlement in the United States. Williamsburg is scattered with remnants of the founding history of my nation. Thus studying history at William and Mary was exciting because it was literally everywhere, and fostered an even stronger interest in the subject for me.
在威廉玛丽，我找到了我人生中的第二份热爱——教学。在学校，我注册并加入Sigma Gamma Rho联谊会，这是由七位女性教育家创建的黑人联谊会。在这里，我不仅感受到教育精神，更了解到教师在社会中的重要性及关键作用。在美国这样一个教育行业和教育工作者都被低估的社会，这是一件值得被载入史册的事件。但联谊会也暴露了我（所代表的种族）在经济和种族教育上与其他种族的差异。这使我大部分的社区服务时间都是和当地的高危青年及移民一起工作。
It was at William and Mary that I also found my second love, teaching. I chartered and joined Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., a historically black sorority founded by seven female educators. This sorority not only engendered an educational spirit but also showed me the important and crucial role of teachers in society. This was monumental, especially in a society such as the United States where education and educators are undervalued. My sorority also exposed me to the economical and racial disparities in education in the U.S. I spent the majority of my community service time working with at risk youths and immigrant populations in the local area. 在威廉玛丽学院的时光塑造了今天的我。我学会了相信自己，坚定自己的决定。我学到了很多关于国家和人民的历史知识。我认识到：教育不仅仅是孩子及其家庭的事情，站在更高的层面上来看，教育应该是整个社会共同关注的事情。我清楚的知道，这段求学经历将指引我在未来的日子里不断前行。
My time at William and Mary helped shape who I am today. I learned to trust in my decisions and myself. I learned a wealth of knowledge about the history of my nation and my own people. I also learned the importance education plays not only in the individual lives of children and families, but on a larger scale, society. I knew moving forward that this experience would be something that directed and guided me for many years to come.
After college I decided to dedicate one year of my life to serving my community and those in need. I served in the AmeriCorps program as a full-time teacher, working in various communities, educating children and adults. After my service in the AmeriCorps program I moved to Alexandria City where I taught high school history to recently immigrated students. For most of the students in my class, English was their second or third language; so many were learning English and history simultaneously. It was a challenging yet rewarding experience. Through my work with Alexandria City Public Schools and the AmeriCorps program as well as my invaluable experience at William and Mary, I knew that teaching was my calling. Through my teaching experience I was also able to discern and pinpoint areas where current educational practices were lacking. I knew it was only through perseverance, openness to change and a daring spirit that education could be modernized.
Oprah Winfrey was once quoted as saying "We can't become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”
Although I had found my calling in life, I was not happy staying stagnant, and I knew there were more and better opportunities for growth in my city…my country…and yes, in the world. Moving abroad to teach in China was a pivotal (I think you've already used the word monumental) decision in my life. It is an unforgettable life experience, which has allowed me to immerse myself in another culture and emerge with a more global understanding of the world. (I would stay away from talking about how I would never regret it; I'll explain later)
When I first interviewed with JPED Academy, I had already interviewed with several other high schools in Beijing. I remember the uniformity of the interview process in the other schools. The questions were the same, the set up was the same, and the attitudes were the same. JPED, however, was different. I got lost on my way to Changping, and arrived late to the interview. I remember rushing, no running to the school for fear they would cancel the interview. I got to the gate flustered and was met by a very pleasant young woman, Ms. Duan. I was sweaty from the summer heat and breathing quite hard. I’m sure I was not a pretty sight, yet Ms. Duan was so pleasant and understanding. She took me to the cafe and gave me time to cool off and a refreshing drink. With concern and empathy Ms. Duan asked “Are you alright?” as I struggled to catch my breath. It was a simple question, but for me an impactful one. In the world of interviewing not just in China but in the US as well, I was a “candidate”. The idea of just being a candidate, to a certain extent detaches some of your own individuality and uniqueness and filters you into one of two groups, people who don’t work here, and people who do. However, that brief interaction with Ms. Duan, made me feel like I mattered, even though I did not work there yet. The interview was a conversation with someone who truly wanted to know me. This feeling has continued throughout my entire career at JPED Academy. It is a spirit that not only inhabits the teachers and students, but it is the culture of our school.
Compared with many other teaching experience or opportunities I have ever had, I can honestly say that JPED allows teachers to operate, educate and thrive as the individuals that they are. They do not attempt to mold people into boxes; rather they embrace and grow the qualities and abilities unique to each teacher. My first year with JPED was transforming. With many of the schools in the US and even my previous school in China, teachers were often told what they could not do, but JPED started my teaching career by telling me what I could do. That type of trust and confidence, can only breed successful teachers.
When I think of education, I cannot help but reflect on that of my own. Despite my nostalgia, I hope that education in the future will never be like that of my childhood. Yes, it helped me become successful, but the world is changing. People are changing, and what worked before does not mean it will continue to work forever. I appreciate our school for attempting to create and design a program that seeks to create education for all. Growing up in the United States, education and teaching methods were polarized. They fit one type of student; any student who could not adapt to that teaching style was a “problem” child or had a “disability”. In today’s world, so many things are advancing, modernizing and changing, why is it that we feel education should not change?
I can say that the average JPED student is… well… not average. However, in general there is no “average” or “standard” student. Our JPED strives to create an inclusive school for each individual student. One of the privileges of starting and growing with the school is you get to see things change, students growing and learning in action. I have worked with our starting class of 11th graders since the beginning. I can say I have never had that opportunity in my life, watching a child grow and develop. It has been an amazing journey. There are so many stories and experiences I have shared with just my current 11th graders that I cannot focus on just one. Our school is very student-centered and it affords the opportunity for teachers to participate in creating a totally student focused learning experience. I am honored that the parents, students and JPED have entrusted me with such a precious opportunity as being their educator.
Over the course of my 3 years at JPED Academy, I have watched our school strive in our endeavors to create an innovative and student-centered environment rich with learning. I often reflect back on my previous teaching experiences as they have shaped who I am today, but I also look optimistically forward to the future of innovative education at JPED, in China and the whole world.