This story first appeared in the Winter edition of the Harker Quarterly.
Jenny Ma ’07 graduated with a degree in general biology from the University of California, San Diego, in 2010. She went on to graduate school at the University of Southern California where she hopes to receive her master’s degree in teaching in 2011. She also completed her teaching certification at the University of Michigan. She currently resides in Detroit, where she works as a middle school English and science teacher in the Teach for America program.
Q: When you were at Harker, did you dream of doing what you do now?
A: While I was attending Harker, becoming a teacher and pursuing the field of education never occurred to me. However, my fond memories of my experiences as a student at Harker gave me the strength and courage to stand up and fight for better educational opportunities for all students in this nation. I want to be the Mrs. Anand or Mr. Walsh to the children here in Detroit; I want to be like the teachers who inspired my passion for learning. Editor’s note: Nina Anand and Pat Walsh teach science and math, respectively, at the middle school.
Q: What do you find most exciting about your career or current project?
A: I love being a teacher. Any educator will tell you it’s a difficult job, but there is never a dull moment. What truly excites me about my career choice is that I am blessed with not only the opportunity to touch lives, but also to transform them.
Q: What personal traits make you successful at what you’re doing?
A: Patience is definitely one of the most important traits that make a good teacher. With patience, you aren’t afraid of struggles and challenges in the classroom because you know that you are ultimately helping your students, but you need the time to see that growth. Aside from patience, a teacher needs to have the undying faith and relentless pursuit of student success. I know that each and every one of my students, despite whatever extraneous difficulties he or she may face, is without a doubt capable of succeeding in life. It is that unwavering faith in my students that drives me to give them my 110 percent every day.
Q: What in your life so far took you the longest time to learn?
A: I know it took me most of my life so far to figure out what I wanted to do with it. Part of me wanted to be a pediatrician, another part wanted to run off and be a musician. I just knew that I wanted to give myself to the world and give something back. At the moment, I can proudly say I have officially figured out my career path, and whether it’s to be a teacher or an administrator, I know that I want to stay in education because there is so much left that needs our immediate attention. Not every child is as fortunate as I was to have gone to a school like Harker. The teachers are the ones that make Harker so incredible, and maybe I can bring a piece of Harker to my students all the way out here in Detroit.
Q: What’s on the top of your personal and professional “lists” right now?
A: Currently my first and foremost priority is to be there for my students and inspire a passion and love for learning and reading. I want them to realize that I will never give up on them. More specifically, [our program] wants to increase their literacy levels because that is so important in our modern world.
I also am working towards my M.A. in teaching at USC and will be applying for my Ph.D. or Ed.D. in higher education administration next fall.
Q: Tell us something surprising about yourself.
A: I was born in Sapporo, Japan, and grew up in Northern California. I attended an international high school in Beijing, China, then moved to San Diego for undergraduate studies. I recently moved to Detroit to be part of Teach for America and help end educational inequality. I speak Japanese, Chinese and English fluently and speak conversational Spanish and ASL.
Q: What advice do you have for current Harker students?
A: The one advice I would give current Harker students is to appreciate your teachers. Until you become a teacher yourself, you will never know just how much work your teachers put into your education. More importantly, know that even though your teachers might criticize you for talking out of turn or scold you for not studying, deep down they truly love you and care about you. If they didn’t, they would not be coming in day after day to help you grow as a person. So today tell your teachers: “Thank you for everything,” because ten years down the line, that teacher will be the very reason for your success.