In this installment of the OnMilwaukee.com Teacher Spotlight series, first grade teacher Kathy Xiong talks about how she soul-searched her way onto the teaching road and about her experiences instructing in two different states and four different schools.
Currently, Xiong teaches at U.S. Grant School, 2920 W. Grant St. Grant is a Milwaukee public elementary school that integrates special needs students into the total school setting.
OnMilwaukee.com: How long have you taught at U.S. Grant School and did you teach anywhere else prior?
Kathy Xiong: I’m in my sixth year of teaching and I’m at my fourth school. It seems crazy to have moved around so much, but only one of the moves was actually by choice. I started off at P.S. 10 in Brooklyn, N.Y. as a third grade special education teacher. After getting engaged to a Milwaukee native, I moved to here. I taught at Hartford University School as a third grade teacher for one year and then choose to transfer to Burbank School.
Burbank has a healthy culturally, religiously and linguistically diverse population including Hmong, Burmese, Latino, Caucasian, African American and Muslim students. It was a place where I felt my bilingual skills in Hmong and English would benefit the students. It was a really good fit for me and, I believe, I was a good fit for the kids. And then, the weekend before school let out in June, I was one of the hundreds of teachers, educational assistants, paraprofessionals and substitute teachers who was told that I was being laid off until further notice. So, this past summer, I went through the whirlwind of getting laid off, recalled and then finally reassigned. I’m now at a new school teaching and teaching a new grade: U.S. Grant School in a first grade classroom.
OMC: Where did you go to college?
KX: I’m originally from Appleton, but I spent a good number of years going to school out on the East Coast. I have an undergraduate degree in psychology from Amherst College in Massachusetts. Then, I went straight into a traditional one-year graduate program in education at New York University. I graduated with a Master’s degree with a dual license in regular elementary education and special elementary education.
OMC: Why did you become a teacher?
KX: I didn’t initially start college with the plan to become a teacher. In fact, I took a semester-long break during my sophomore year to go home and give more thought to what I wanted to do before having to declare a major. I found it pretty terrifying to have to choose a career or make a life-long decision at the very immature age of 19, while my parents were terrified that I would never return to school. I went to college thinking that I would be doctor or a lawyer or whatever it was that my parents had dreamt up for me and my siblings since they never had the chance to go to school — at all!
I quickly realized that I did not have the skills, confidence or want to do any of those things. I really struggled with what it was that I did want to do — or even what I was good at doing. Anyway, during that semester off, I worked as an ESL paraprofessional at a local public elementary school. That was one of the most enjoyable things that I had ever done up to that point. I really bonded with the kids that I worked with and I felt like what I did actually mattered. I felt appreciated. I felt needed.
I grew up taking care of my older sisters’ children and I dreaded spending my weekends with the little guys instead of being at the mall with my friends, so who would have thought that it would be the career I’d end up choosing? Nobody. Well, certainly not me, anyway. But, looking back, it makes sense.
I spent so much time helping to raise my sisters’ children that I actually became quite good with kids: bonding with them, playing with them, being creative with them. It became natural for me. That’s when I realized that teaching would be the career I would choose. I went back to school the following semester and majored in psychology with the intent to continue on and get a degree in education so that I could teach.
OMC: What is your favorite aspect of your job?
KX: It’s a constant challenge. It keeps me on my feet. It’s exhausting a lot of the time but I also find it quite refreshing to always be learning new ways to teach, new ways to get kids to love learning about the world and to grow a real curiosity about the things around them. The most rewarding part is when a child learns to feel a sense of pride about they are doing and learning and how their brains are taking in information to make sense out of the things that surround them.
OMC: What do you do in summer?
KX: My husband and I married a little over a year ago right when school started and decided not to go on a honeymoon right away. Instead, we thought we’d wait the year out until our summer break. He also teaches. But then I got that darn letter and we decided to make the financially sound decision of putting it off until, just like the letter said, further notice. I had to make sure I was around for the calls from Human Resources. So, we spent this past summer visiting and being with family in Milwaukee, Appleton and the Twin Cities.
My husband is growing a new love for cooking so we went on a week-long food tour this past summer. We drove through Illinois, Indiana and to Kansas City to visit, and of course eat, at some of the different places featured on Food Network’s “Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” Our favorite is Frank’s Diner right here in Kenosha. There are no words to describe their cinnamon rolls … mmmm!
OMC: What, if anything, would you like to change about MPS / public school systems?
KX: First and foremost, public education is a right. Our leaders need to make sure that our children get an education that is actually public and that it is of quality. By quality, I mean less test-driven — a lot less test-driven — and less direct instruction.
Second, I just plain wish the community trusted us more. With having moved between so many schools in such a short amount of time, I’ve had the chance to work under four different principals, with lots of teachers and teach many different curriculums. I’ve always managed to teach what I was required to teach and then some. I’ve learned to make each curriculum better than the way it was handed to me and I know that, more than not, the teachers around me did the same.
More than that, I have never met a single teacher that didn’t care about what was happening to a child at home and consider how that could possibly affecting his or her learning at school. Teachers care. We care a lot. We care about the way your child learns and the way your child doesn’t learn. We care about what your child is learning. We care about making sure that we are giving your children — our children — an education that is of quality.