A Teacher’s Educational Background

June 6, 2007 at 5:04 pm | Posted in education, Special Education, teachers | 3 Comments

Attend enough professional development seminar and someone will ask you to think about your educational background. Then, think about your students’ educational backgrounds. Relate one to the other and consider how you will teach your students.

I’ve been thinking about my educational background and what a checkered background it is!

The Early Years

I started school at age two in Vietnam and learned French by age four at the end of a ruler stick wielded by terrifying Vietnamese Catholic nuns. They don’t mess around, those nuns. I learned how to write, read, and speak in two languages by the time I left Vietnam at age four. I also learned how to forge my mother’s signature “MOM” when given a bad note home. WHACK went the ruler stick. I didn’t do that again.

The Refugee Camp Year

At age four, I left Vietnam and entered a refugee camp on island somewhere in the Pacific and began my English education. Unfortunately, I learned how to play hooky and my guardian had to hunt me down every single day and drag me kicking and screaming to school. I also became a little arsonist and set fires to many small, inconspicuous items and areas.

The Elementary Years

I entered school in America at age five and was designated English as a Second Language (ESL) learner. I had a pull-out program where they pull you out of class to teach you. Being labeled like that insulted me no end, I remember. Within one year, I mastered English. Another year, I was top of my class academically and exited the ESL program.

Middle School

By Middle School, I was identified gifted and enrolled in a gifted magnet school in vibrant New Orleans. I was surrounded by gifted students. Exhilarating! There was also a question as to whether I had asperger’s syndrome or that I was just very, very gifted and what was the difference. I lack many crucial social and communication skills. My intelligences are shaped like mountains and valleys, extreme capability in one area balanced by great deficit in another. The final verdict was not to label me further, merely gifted, but put me in this special class a few times a week with only 9 other students.

High School

I moved out of the state and into the hell-pit of despair…Orange County, California, the most suburban, boring place I could ever imagine. I was also placed in remedial English, Health, remedial Math, and general Science merely because I checked that my home language was not English. Talk about making assumptions. I knocked on the counselor’s door every single day until I forced the school to give me a test to test my capabilities and put me in the correct classes. The counselors resisted at first because “they knew what was best.” Nonetheless, I lost one quarter of valuable education. Though I was placed in the Honors English class, I was always one quarter behind the Honors track students for all else and I actually feared that I wouldn’t be on the right track for the Advanced Placement classes in order to get to college. In fact, I lack many advanced placement classes that my fellow students received. I still graduated Valedictorian and hate Orange County to this day for its narrow-mindedness, lack of creativity, and very unmotivated citizens.


My calling was to become a teacher, but I needed a bachelor degree in order to get my teaching credential. So I majored in Physics. Physics is fun! Graduated UCLA with a B.S. in Physics with an average grade of B. I was one class short of graduating with an English minor because I got bored with English. It was too easy, I always “aced” the classes, and got tired of the English majors complaining about how hard the classes were. I do not have much respect for English majors now because of my college experience. I took up urban planning instead for fun.

I struggled with Physics because I had a BAD geometry teacher in high school and BAD math teachers. All these teachers taught me the algorythm, but never the underlying concept. I lack spatial sense. Doing well in many of my physics classes meant that I had to have good spatial sense and be able to pull out underlying concepts in mathematic equations. A good geometry background would have helped tremendously. Instead, I spent a quarter of Physics with my Teacher Assistant teaching me geometry instead of Physics.

As a Result

My very checkered past, as an ESL student, a gifted student, a misbehaving student, a poverty-stricken student, and (nearly) a special education student means I AM the diversity in the classroom that educational researchers write of. I keep all of this in mind every time a student walk into my classroom.

I have high expectation of my students because I don’t know where they are going or where they’ve been, and I could have the next Einstein sitting in my classroom.

I teach the concept and the process first and foremost and let the students develop their own algorythm. You already know why.

I am an excellent teacher because excellence has always been part of my life.

I still lack many social and communication skills and have to be taught by my friends and family how to do “normal” daily activities like dress myself properly, say thank you and please, shut my mouth when I have only negative things to say. These lessons continue to these days. I in turn teach the same lessons to my students.

If they fall out of their chairs, I teach them how to sit in a chair.

If they talk too loud, I teach them the proper volume.

If they crowd in line, I teach them how to line up one after the other.

I don’t make negative assumptions about students and their behaviors because I’ve already seen how assumptions about me could have set me down the wrong path.

I guess reviewing my educational background is a valuable reflective tool.


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  1. thanks for sharing. This is a reflective activity we should all complete. It definitely affects our classroom teaching style.

  2. May I suggest that I think you missed something out here CT – that you are an inspiration. And that from a man who does not gush readily (I think its an English thing ;). Thank you for a wonderful post that made my day.

  3. I think if more teachers took the time to remember and reflect on their own history to understand themselves, perhaps they would be able to better relate to their own students… and become better teachers.

    I agree with Andrew – you ARE an inspiration.

    (and I don’t miss Orange County, either.) 😉

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