Sisters Make Cal Teach a Family Affair

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sometimes it takes encouragement to choose a career in teaching. Statistics major Cindy Kang didn’t have to look far: Her older sister, Connie, was a Cal Teach Berkeley student.

“Cindy and I are three years apart, so we only had a year at Berkeley together,” says Connie, who earned a B.A. in economics with a Cal Teach minor in 2014 and is now a doctoral student specializing in educational policy and social context at UC Irvine’s School of Education. “I convinced her to take a Cal Teach course during her freshman year, which was how she was introduced to the program.”

At that point, Cindy was uncertain about what she wanted to do with her statistics degree after graduation. She says, “Obviously, Connie enjoyed Cal Teach very much. She told me that it’s fun and that I should try it.”

Now that she’s completed the first two Cal Teach courses, Cindy is leaning toward a teaching career. Field placements in these courses that she took in her freshman year allowed Cindy to experience classroom teaching firsthand. In addition to assisting experienced teachers, she had an opportunity to develop and teach interactive math lessons for 1st grade students at the Malcolm X Elementary School in Berkeley and hands-on science activities for 5th grade students at Joaquin Miller Elementary School in Oakland.

“It was an amazing experience,” Cindy says of her time in the classroom. “The teaching placements were so much fun. All of the students were so excited to learn, which was refreshing. I learned a lot about learning to teach, and that teaching is very rewarding and something I’m proud to say I do.”

Now a sophomore, Cindy is also following her sister’s path by getting involved in the WeTeach Club at Berkeley, which provides networking, professional development, and volunteer opportunities for undergraduates interested in education and teaching careers. Connie was a founding member, and Cindy became acquainted with its activities last year as she helped her sister plan events and meetings. Since then, Cindy has served as the club’s vice president and treasurer.

Unlike Cindy, Connie came to Cal Teach without someone to guide her. Though she’d been interested in teaching since the time she was a middle and high school student, Connie didn’t discover Cal Teach until her sophomore year at Berkeley.

“I found Cal Teach by accident. I needed more units one semester and came across the courses on teaching elementary math and science. I learned more about the Cal Teach program that semester and declared the minor by the end of the year,” Connie recalls. “Teachers were my role models when I was growing up. I also did a lot of community service work when I was younger and found I really liked helping people and liked working with kids. So I thought teaching would be a perfect combination of the two.”

While time in the classroom has confirmed Cindy’s desire to teach, it ultimately led Connie to focus on narrowing the academic achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and those from higher income families. Her Cal Teach experiences helped Connie decide to pursue a Ph.D. and research intervention programs that can help disadvantaged students succeed in school.

“I had always been interested in inequality and how education affects an individual’s life chances, and the fieldwork made me realize how many disadvantaged students were in lower track courses at their schools because they had low test scores or didn’t know how to navigate the system,” Connie explains.

Cindy finds it helpful to her own education to hear about Connie’s research, even as she remains committed to classroom teaching and eager to take more Cal Teach courses in the semesters ahead. Cindy says, “I’m really interested in her research, but I enjoy the relationships you can develop with students in the classroom, so I think my focus will be on teaching rather than on how it impacts society.”

No matter what choices Cindy may make, Connie will be there to support her. She says, “I will continue to help Cindy through her path in education if she chooses to continue down this road. At the same time, I realize that she’s only a sophomore and that her interests may change during her time at Berkeley, as mine did. Just because education is one of my interests and something I’m passionate about doesn’t necessarily mean she has to feel the same way. I want her to pursue what she loves doing, whether it’s teaching or something else. I don’t want her to feel pressured to go into education; I want her to feel education is something she truly cares about and is something she wants for herself.”