“I was debating so many career paths. I reflected on the things that meant the most to me, and I discovered that learning is the huge part of who I am.”
Lorraine Zhong enrolled in the NYU Teacher Residency in 2019 shortly after graduating from college. She tutored a little in college, but the main driver for becoming a teacher was not about teaching – it was about learning and her experience as a student growing up.
“I’m an Asian American and was first generation in NYC public schools. As a first-gen student, teachers would always assume I was good in math and science, and less good in English and history because of how I looked. I saw my peers feel the same way. We have become so focused on these stereotypes.”
Early in her schooling, Lorraine became steadfast in the belief that no matter what someone looks like they can succeed academically.
“In an urban community, there are many societal pressures and stereotypes placed on students based on various factors of their identity such as ethnicity and gender. I witnessed how these pressures negatively impacted the academic growth of my peers. Now I am inspired to use my position in teaching to motivate and encourage students to pursue their true interests and challenge the societal norms.”
Creating equity in the classroom
The Teacher Residency gave Lorraine a deeper meaning of equity. Before the program, despite her awareness of injustices and systemic discrimination, she didn’t know how to combat these issues in the classroom. She was unsure how to bring equity into the day-to-day of teaching.
“What I learned from the Teacher Residency is that equity is about how we provide students different forms of support to reach the same goal. It has to be about high expectations and high support. We do not lower the bar. It’s extremely important to acknowledge that all students can succeed, and as teachers we are here to boost them along.”
Lorraine’s approach to equity is to build a connection with students, help them understand and articulate their goals, and then work toward those goals together. This method is part of a larger desire to support students, especially those growing up in urban environments, to become the agents of change in their own learning and their own communities.
“The idea is that you can set the bar high for all students, but every student requires a unique set of supports to reach that bar. This plays a part with the systemic racism or privileges that students carry with them.”
Lessons on equity find their way into Lorraine’s favorite subject: chemistry. She studied chemistry in college, which is when she saw the strong connection between chemistry and other subjects like literacy and math.
“Chemistry is such a universal content area; all the skills are applicable.”
Though not all students are given the opportunity to learn chemistry, or – as Lorraine experienced growing up – not all students are treated as if they belong in chemistry.
“I love teaching chemistry and exposing more students to it. Students get so excited when we do experiments. Being hands on adds a lot of variety to the classroom, and prior to this year [in the residency] I didn’t realize how important that hands-on aspect was.”
While she’s still new to the classroom, Lorraine sees that chemistry can be a conduit to other essential skills for students.
“High school students are different; their motivation is different. Not only am I teaching them this content but I’m trying to develop their study strategies and academic skills. A lot of students didn’t know how to do things like write emails. So now I do a weekly life skills activity where we learn about emails, taking notes in college, and speaking with professionals.”
Overcoming apprehensions and finding community
“My primary apprehension about teaching was that students would not take me seriously in the classroom due to my identity, specifically my age and experience. I worried that students would not show me the respect that they show other teachers because I was a recent college graduate with no classroom experience.”
Lorraine was also concerned that she was new to San Francisco. She recognized that she didn’t know the community, which was a vastly different place from where she grew up in New York City.
“NYU [Steinhardt faculty] helped a lot here. A lot of our discussions were about what supports from the community we could apply into the classroom. I took time to get to know the things outside the school that are here, like the museums. I also learned how to walk with students around the building just to get to know the school community.”
Lorraine noted that students saw her differently from what she expected – as truly part of the school and their class – because of the Teacher Residency’s immersive classroom model. She made time for conversations with students, sometimes in groups and sometimes one-on-one, to build bonds and understanding of each other. She even created a student-led project to encourage kindness throughout the school.
“I joined lunch, and we joked around. It all helped to build respect.”
Toward the end of the immersive year, Lorraine reflected on these initial concerns and how the students became increasingly comfortable talking to her. She started to see her age as an advantage.
“Over time, I learned that respect is a two-way street and it is something that is earned and developed. I spent months building relationships with my students and used my age as a means to connect with them on a deeper level. I also owned up to my lack of experience in the classroom and encouraged my students to teach me as much as I was teaching them. In the end, what I was initially apprehensive about worked in my favor as it made me a better teacher and ally to my students.”
Just as she conquered these apprehensions with new skills and approaches, Lorraine plans to never stop learning. She believes that her impact is magnified with the support of others.
“This past year as a resident intern, I have learned so many strategies and ideologies that were completely new to me – some of which I had reservations about implementing in my classroom because they were outside of my comfort zone. However, it is those techniques and strategies that have helped me develop my teaching style and also better understand the needs of my students.”