My work as a graduate student at Teachers College is inspired by my own educational journey. As a queer Taiwanese American man who grew up in a low-income, single-mother family, teachers were a valuable source of compassion, encouragement, and guidance. I want to provide the same mentorship to other young people.
I began to seek out opportunities to teach and mentor underprivileged youth by volunteering in Taiwan as an English teacher in the summer of 2011. Three years ago, I returned to Taiwan and extended my efforts to expand opportunities for youth through education with my experience working as a Fulbright Scholar at He Pu Elementary School.
While teaching with Fulbright, I also partnered with National Quemoy University to develop my own creative writing program for college students built on in-depth, individualized feedback and, after only one year of experience, won a second Fulbright to expand the program to university campuses across Taiwan. While specific to the schools and regions I worked in, these experiences have not only given me a deeper sense of how teachers can make a sustainable and positive difference in their local communities through the simple act of mentorship and teaching but also opened exciting paths that I continue to explore at Teachers College.
Perhaps the first important turning point in my life that led me to pursue a career in teaching was my decision to volunteer at Everett Middle School. At Everett, I had the opportunity to work directly with a small group of underprivileged students and to engage them in academic and enrichment activities. During each class, we read short pieces from writers of different social, cultural, and national backgrounds. I chose this approach because my students, if not immigrants themselves, come from immigrant families. I wanted them to recognize and value their own heritage and see it reflected in the literature we studied.
The best part about working at Everett was getting to know the stories, interests, and passions of my students. As a result, I developed a close and constructive relationship with them that built on the process of recognizing and respecting each other’s cultural backgrounds. In retrospect, I believe these experiences taught me two things: every student has experiences worth sharing, and it is incredibly important for teachers to build lessons that honor those experiences and backgrounds.
These experiences have been crucial to my development as a mentor, a teacher, and a person. I will use this scholarship as an opportunity to make a difference not just for myself but also for underprivileged students who never had this kind of pedagogical experience. As I pursue teaching, I want my students to find empowerment in their writing skills and in education in general. I want them to love the process of writing so they can have the power to witness something, process it with words, and share it with someone else. I want them to love the communication through writing that enables us to transmit thoughts across borders, generations, and cultures. I want to continue this work as a mentor and teacher, and I see my work at Teachers College as part of a long journey encouraging people to find their own power as well as their place in society.
We are proud to announce Alexander Lee is one of the current DiversityJobs Scholarship finalists. Vote for his essay (Facebook and other social media sharing options in left column) and/or leave comments of support to help us with the selection process.