By Min-Ling Li, IEA Program Coordinator
Growing up alongside my older sister and younger brother, I knew I was different from other kids. They played and studied with a little bit of a carefree nature, whereas I was almost always overly inquisitive, constantly asking “why?” and “how?” When I started elementary school in America as an English language learner, it was difficult for me to communicate this same curiosity. I asked the same questions, and teachers would often speak to me slower, ask me to re-read or, if available, send me to a volunteer translator with no content knowledge to find the answer. Finally, in the third grade, I was tested in the Los Angeles public school system and identified as gifted. I remember going to school on a Saturday morning and meeting a nice lady who insisted I be “natural.” I vividly remember the pattern on the circular carpet I walked around and around as she asked me questions in Cantonese and English.
The path through sixth grade was blissful. I became more and more acclimated to my classmates, and I had an extra special GATE teacher, Ms. Shannon Garrison, who satiated my curiosity once a week. We explored Shakespearian literature and geological sciences and organized the school’s annual Math Games Day. Through middle school, I procedurally mastered Algebra and skimmed books for the main ideas and overarching themes. In high school, the constant competition amongst my classmates became the purpose of life: who scored better on standardized tests, who had the highest GPA, how many AP courses you took. I went through the motions and graduated high school feeling I learned the art of test taking.
When I started college, I discovered I had retained little of the motivation to learn just because I loved to learn. In those first few semesters, I struggled to settle into a major of interest. Then, at the end of my sophomore year, I met a mentor, Dr. Dylan Rodriguez, who taught with immense passion. He guided me through academic journals in politics, race relations, and statistical analysis. Working with individuals like Ms. Garrison and Dr. Rodriguez enabled me to rekindle my passion for learning because I was interested to know more instead of just learning to take a test. Through these individuals, I learned to create systems to find in-depth knowledge and decipher meaning through academic jargon.
After college, I decided I would teach students to have a passion for learning mathematics within urban areas of Los Angeles. All throughout high school, it took extra effort for me to find “the easy way” to learn math, and most of my mathematical studies resulted in fifty or more math problems of learning a derivative and/or integral procedure. Math has so many applications and exists because it is literally a needed component of sustaining and discovering life. I had found my purpose in life: to teach, lead, guide, and help students to learn math as a necessity for conceptual application.
Now, as I have the privilege to connect with great minds in Los Angeles’ world-renowned research institutions when coordinating IEA’s Apprenticeship Program along with teaching bright young minds through IEA’s Self-Paced Math Academy course, I humbly and excitedly continue to learn from and teach our future generations. I hope to not only be an educator but someone who can open the eyes of youth to find their passion and innovate for our future.
Did a teacher or educational experience encourage your child’s natural love of learning? Please share your experience in the comment section below.