This is the third episode is a mini-series by Heinemann Fellow Minjung Pai. To hear the previous episode, click here.
This week on the Heinemann Podcast we’re learning about how identity work supports daily instruction, and strengthens our learning communities. To understand this work better, and its impact on teachers, we’re handing this week’s podcast over to Heinemann Fellow, Minjung Pai.
Min teaches fifth and sixth grade in Los Angeles, California. She is committed to equity, inclusion, and progressive education. Min believes that collaboration is at the core of teaching – that working together with students, parents, and teachers can make a significant, powerful, and lasting impact. Here’s Min with more on her project...
Below is a full transcript of this episode!
Min: Hi Betina. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this podcast with me. I really appreciate it.
Betina: Yes, hi Min. Thanks so much for inviting me to join you. I'm really excited about being here today.
Min: I like to start off by asking folks, what is their definition of personal identity work and how has it impacted your work in your pedagogy?
Betina: Yes, so that's a great question. I think there's so many facets of personal identity. So when I think about personal identity work, I think about all of what makes someone themselves, right? So when I think about my own personal identity, I think about some of the more general categories. I'm Asian American specifically, I'm Taiwanese-American second generation. I'm not a heritage language speaker. I'm a woman. I'm the daughter of parents who came during a particular immigration wave. I'm middle-class. I'm Christian.
So there's all these kinds of categorical things that I think about that make up my personal identity. But then there's a lot of things in terms of experience that people don't ... I mean that aren't necessarily as categorical. So I lost my mom when I was in high school. I am the parent of two transracially adopted women who were teenagers when we adopted them. I'm the mother of multiracial children. So there's a lot that kind of goes into identity itself.
So when I think about personal identity work, I think it's about this continual process of how do all of these multiplicity of identities that make up who we are really impact what we're doing? And being constantly reflective and vigilant about that, and seeing the world through that lens. So that's what I do when I do personal identity work and that's what I try to help my students to see.
In terms of the work that I do, I mean I think personal identity work really is at the core of all of the work that I do. So I am a teacher educator and the work that I did in the classroom was informed by my own personal identity, and my identity work. And then also just bringing, I used to teach English and History, so bringing identity into the work, the literature, we read, the voices that were heard and unheard in historical accounts of things. But then also I taught math, and I think there's a thing around math identity around who can be successful in math, and if you aren't traditionally successful than what it means to do math.
So it's really informed my teaching at the K-12 level. Then as a teacher educator, I think it's really important for teachers who are going into classrooms to really be thoughtful about who they are. And not only who they are, but also how they're perceived by others, and the ways in which our identities are read in the world and in our classrooms. So I tried to kind of bring that forth, particularly in the realm of literacy which is what I studied when I was in graduate school, and looking at the ways that we use different literacies to make meaning and communicate meaning with one another.
So that's kind of the somewhat longish answer in terms of my teacher education work. Then of course it informs my research. It's core to a lot of the research that I've done that I know we'll talk more about later. But I look at the intersections between personal and professional identity. So how does who we are really impact how we teach and how we educate others in different spaces? So yes, I hope that answered your question.
Min: Yes, I mean you brought up a few things that I want to dig into. The first one I thought was really interesting was that you brought up math, because I know that there are folks out there and when I first started teaching that math seemed objective, right? That identity didn't come into it. One plus one is two. Even if I was asked to do an integrative program with math, it felt all very trite. That it wasn't really teaching what I thought should be math. So I would love to hear, because you were saying how even when you were teaching math that your personal identity work really informed the way you taught, that you were able to see different things. I was wondering if you could talk about that a little bit more.
Betina: Yes, I think that's really interesting because, so, I was trained in my credential program to be an English educator, and so I've always approached teaching through a literacy based lens. And when I talk about literacy, I mean how do we make and communicate meaning? I actually went and added my math credential because what I saw was students who are absolutely brilliant in my classes, and I taught in what one would typify as an underperforming school with a lot of students of color. It was a Title 1, so a high poverty school. I would have these students and they were super brilliant. They were excelling in my English class, in my social studies class, and they were just struggling with the way that math was being taught. I really, I struggled with their struggle because in a sense, I've never believed that math was just algorithms. Just these kind of objective things that we have to memorize. I think that's partly because my mom who immigrated from Taiwan, she always supplemented my math education by telling me like, "It's not about giving you a formula. I want you to think through these problems."
So I always presented it to my students as, I really want you to think about how you would approach it and I don't want to give you some formula that you have to use and memorize, and if you get one step wrong then you're not math proficient. I want us to actually think about the ways that we might approach this. I brought a lot of who I am as a teacher into my classroom when I was teaching math. So I brought a lot of collaboration. I brought a lot of, let's talk about what your experiences have been in math and why.
When I taught math, I was given the 25 kids who scored the lowest on standardized testing and got D's and F's in math the year before, and was told, okay, well you have two hours of math intervention with them to try to bring them up to grade level. So a lot of it was, well let's unpack what your experiences were with math last year, what your experiences have been with math. How do you feel you are as a math student, and then how do you feel math actually impacts your life-if at all? We started there, and then we worked through a lot of problem solving and a lot of real life examples, and there were mathematical concepts of course embedded in that. But when we look at really what the heart of mathematical thinking is, it's really relevant to kids and if you present it to students as it's really about problem solving, and some of the algorithms or formulas are tools to help us problem solve, but we're also one another's tools. As we think through where we might use this and how it might be relevant.
So to me, if you're not connected with any subject, it's hard to learn it. I think part of what you were talking about before, about how math is traditionally taught, it's taught without context, right? It's taught without relevance, and it's taught without humanity, and really knowing who your students are and how this can be purposeful to them. So I brought a lot of that into my math classroom and I really loved teaching math, and I love math in general. So it was good for students to feel like they could connect with also another individual because we connected on an interpersonal level, that they could connect with somebody who also was connected to the subject that they had traditionally thought was boring and totally irrelevant.
So I think that's part of how my identity as a teacher right now, my personal identity, and connecting to their personal identity, really impacted my classroom when I was teaching math.
Min: I mean that's a pretty radical way to begin a math class. I'm curious, what were some of the responses from the students when you were delving into their method identity, and how they connected to the subject, and their experiences besides just being boring or irrelevant? Was there anything else that they shared with you?
Betina: Yes, absolutely. I mean, they kind of really had this fixed idea that they were bad at math. So that they've always been bad at math, their teachers told them they were bad at math, that they felt really stupid. They never understood math, that they were just bad at it. They didn't like it. They were bad at it. Some of them really liked their teacher the previous year, but they just didn't like math. So it was interesting to me because at the middle school I taught, a lot of times if students didn't like the teacher, they didn't like the subject. But then if students like the teacher, they were more likely to like the subject. But in when I was teaching math, they could really love the teacher, but they just didn't like math and they just had determined, and had been told over and over again, you're not good at this and you're not able to do this.
So it was really hard for me to hear that. I think there is this sort of black, white, thinking about math. People feel comfortable saying I'm not a math person. Whereas even though people as adults, we'll say I don't read, no one feels comfortable saying I'm illiterate. We understand there's a stigma around not being able to read or use literacy. Whereas in math, it's interesting because I'm very involved in the national writing project and when I was first giving my teaching demonstration for the first Bay Area Writing Project, a summer institute that I participated in, I did it on math and how to use writing to reveal mathematical thinking. It was so interesting because the director at the time is somebody I really respect, a wonderful person, and she was like, "I never thought I was a math person. I just never thought that I could do math. Then when you helped to break down the math, and helped me to think through it, and then help me to think through, oh, like I almost got it, but here's where I made a mistake. Or I was able to really think through it in a different way."
That was just really cool because I think a lot of that happened with my students too. So they had this idea, and I mean I do that in every one of my classes. So to me it wasn't radical. It was normal. I find out where students are with my topic because I really want to know what is it you bring into the space? You're not an empty vessel. I'm not here to fill you with formulas. I'm here to really work with what you're bringing into this space and then to support that, and then to help us grow from wherever we are. If we're at different spaces then we help each other grow in community.
So to me that wasn't radical at all. That was normal. What was hurtful was just how many marginalizing experiences that my students had had that I don't think were mal-intentioned but were just when you see that you missed, you know, 30 points, and you don't really understand why, because it's on a ScanTron or it's just you have an X at a particular step, and there's no reasoning or understanding behind why you got that wrong. I think it's hard not to internalize it. You're just bad at something. That had just been the majority of their experiences.
Min: Right. I think for me, I still think of it as radical, especially for the content area of math, because as much lingo is out there about the growth mindset, or inquiry based learning. This is where my personal identity work came in too, is that I found myself going back to the empty vessel kind of teaching with math. Even though that wasn't something I believed in, because, and this ties back to teacher ed programs, I was told how inquiry based learning, those critical thinking skills, was so important to math, but I was never shown exactly what does that look like. It was kind of thrown at me that that's the right way to do it. Then you get into the trenches of actually teaching class, and there's scarcity of time trying to ... setting up these false expectations for myself as a teacher in terms of student outcomes.
It was when I started digging into my own personal identity work that I had to really unpack the way I was taught. It was all about compliance. When I complied and I was able to rightly input numbers into an algorithm, I was deemed as successful. Then so I was completely ... even though I be getting A's, I was a completely disempowered learner. So then I had to dig into that and think, okay, how am I perpetuating that as a teacher? Then at the same time, it's kind of like, it's just a harder way to teach sometimes because I haven't seen it as much, and I was never taught that way. And it's much more rewarding and joyful and effective too.
Betina: Yes, but I think it's hard to break that down. Because I think when you think about what we know about cognitive science. I mean it's easier to just teach what we know. I think so much of our own education is done with this, right, wrong, black, white, in math. And not the thought behind it. So people are good at doing the math but not necessarily at understanding it. I think that's so much more rewarding and important.
Min: I mean, you are a professor at Cal State Long Beach in the teacher education program, and I know, I mean, it's been 15 years, over 15 years since I've been in a credential program, but I never received any kind of scholarship, or professional work, or studying around personal identity work. I know how important and hugely impactful it has been in my own pedagogy, and that it's really transformed me as a teacher and continues to, and I really feel sadness, and grief, and anger, around the fact that I never received that kind of education. When I was first being trained. So I'm wondering with someone like you who's right there right now, what's going on in teacher education programs right now around that kind of work?
Betina: Yeah, it's a really great question and I can speak a little bit to what I do and then I can speak to some of the challenges about what is done around identity more broadly in teacher education spaces. I don't teach the diversity class. I think if I were at most other universities, I might be teaching the diversity class, but I'm very fortunate that I have a lot of colleagues who are both willing and excited to teach what we call "The One" at diversity class.
That actually allows me to then teach what I was trained to teach, which is literacy in secondary classrooms, and I teach to folks who teach a variety of subjects, but no matter what subject they teach, and we've moved towards more disciplinary focused cohorts within our program, I still start with identity. Because to me, if we don't know our own identities as teachers and we don't know the identities of our students in relation to the content that we're teaching, we actually can't do the work. I think one of the things is, being at Cal State Long Beach, being in Southern California, Cal State Long Beach is a Hispanic serving institution. Most of the schools that we serve, are majority Latinx population, and I think so many of my teacher candidates, it shocks me that they come into my class on language and literacy, afraid of teaching English language learners.
Literally they're like, "I am terrified of having an English language learner in my classroom." I think it's because they actually just don't realize, one, they're just not very well prepared in other courses throughout the program because again, like, we have one diversity class, we have one class that really focuses on English language learners and all other forms of literacy and that's my class, but I think it's really important. Like they don't understand the diverse identities of English language learners, right? They don't understand the diverse identities.
Even when you think of a 90% Latinx Hispanic school, there's so much diversity in terms of generation, class, all of these things. So we have to start with that identity work in order to really be able to think about strategies that are appropriate, to think about ways that we reach and connect with our students and connect our content with our students in ways that are appropriate.
So I always ground my courses in identity. I tell my students like, "Look, I do research on the connections between personal and professional identity and there are connections and there are connections between what your students are bringing into the classroom and who they're going to be in that classroom, and if you don't connect with that, it doesn't matter if you have the most compelling content in the world or the best classroom management or the best, all of these other things that we try to teach in neutrality, that actually doesn't matter if you're not connecting with students".
So I always try to really lay that down as a baseline and foundation in the work that I do. But you ask what's happening in teacher ed in general and I think that that is happening to some degrees in like cohesively throughout whole programs in smaller programs.
So I came through what we call a boutique program, it's a smaller program focused on English ed at a research one institution, but I teach in a very different type of program. So we are the second largest program in California or maybe the third largest and we are the largest secondary program. So I teach one, maybe two courses a semester for the pre service teachers, which it's still a lot of students, it's 60 to 70 students a semester, but our program probably in our classes every semester has close to 200, like per course per semester.
So when we think about the scope of what I as one individual can do, it's pretty small, and I think that some of my colleagues are doing that identity work. I think the diversity course that we do have in our program, I think most of the instructors are really committed to doing that identity work, but part of it is really unpacking both our identity and our students' identities, and not just focusing on what we think our too often deficit perspectives of students of color, particularly or low income students or English language learners and really shifting that. We've noticed as a program, our students are pretty good at identifying needs of students, but they're not really good at identifying the assets that students bring into the classroom, which to me shows that we need to do a better job of identity work because who someone is, it's not a deficit, and yet there's so much larger socialization around not good enough as part of identity. That it's not an opportunity gap, it's not a structural issue, that it's an individual issue and there's a lot of deconstruction.
So one of the things that I've been really struggling with within teacher education spaces is how do we shift structures? How do we shift courses so that it's not the individual instructor? Because I always have room to grow, but I'm doing the work. I have colleagues who are wonderful people and I love them as people, but if that's not the focus of their work, if the focus of their work is let's do the day-to-day instruction and they're not laying the foundation of identity... because honestly, even though we are an HSI and we have a large percentage of both Latinx and Asian American teacher candidates, overwhelmingly we're socialized in a white and white supremacist kind of world. We have faculty who are white, we have students who are white, and not to say that there's anything bad about white people because that's not what I'm trying to say, but there's so much normativity around white middle class culture that then when we don't unpack our own identities and don't look at that, then we're not actually doing the work that we need to do, and it's very easy to internalize all of these deficit messages.
So I think that just needs to be stated, people need to be aware of that and they need to be working on that, not as an internalized guilt. This is not about you as an individual, this is about societal structures that have systematically made it difficult for certain marginalized groups to be successful, and even those that you put up on a pedestal as being successful, so like Asian Americans being presented as white adjacent, there's still so much oppression in that discourse.
I think in teacher ed spaces we're just not always having those critical conversations because there's so much pressure to like... I'm not sure if you had to pass the Cal TPH or the ed TPAs or whatever the pact, but there's all of these new accountability measures and they in themselves are not bad things, but we've really been trying to do this work around how do we use these things that are now requirements for teachers to get credentials and instead of giving into their gatekeeper nature, how do we use them to actually helps teachers be more aware of student assets, for example? So it's complicated.
I guess all of this to say it's super complicated. The other thing I guess just quickly is I'm a teacher educator and I work primarily with pre-service students, but one of the things I realized is last year I taught a course with master's degrees students that were coming back and I had five or six students that I had taught as pre service teachers, and one of the things that I realized is socialization is really strong in schools. So even if you have one class or one teacher or two classes by the same professor that you really respect, that has done identity work, if you're not keeping up with that work, right through continuing education, through critical affinity groups, through professional development, it's so easy to be socialized into just getting it done because teaching is so tiring and you're trying to balance all of these things.
So it really was kind of a wake up call for me because where my master's level students were able to process and take this identity work and the relationship between identity and their classroom teaching after they had been in the classroom for 3 to 20 years with a really different place, then conceptually where my pre service teachers could take it and not having been in the classroom because they just didn't have those schema to really think about like, "Here is an incident. How do you think identity played into that?".
So as I've been supervising my student teachers this semester, I'm bringing that into my supervision. So there've been incidents in the student teaching that I've observed and without making my student teachers feel bad or wrong, I just start posing questions around how do you think your identity or your position as a white woman and then this student's position as like a black male for example, do you think that that had anything to do with this interaction that you had? Or you have a white male substitute and it's you, the female, white student teacher and then the white male substitute sends out the student of color from your class and you're in this position and here I am the Asian-American supervisor who's a guest in the classroom, what do you do?
I think it's important to not avoid those conversations and they're hard conversations that take a long time. Like that conversation, just that conversation took me an hour to debrief and it was an incident that took maybe two minutes in the classroom. That's the work that needs to be done if we're really going to prepare teachers, the next generation of teachers, to be thoughtful and honestly teacher educators, we don't get prepared to do that work either. I knew I wanted to be a teacher educator, but in a lot of higher ed programs, there is not this, "And here's how you do teacher education. And here's how you help your pre service teachers or your teachers to be thoughtful in these ways about how their identity and how students read them and how they read their students really makes a difference in their teaching".
So it's been a lot of personal identity work to be honest and professional identity work as I'm just trying to figure it out in this role in teacher education. So that was a very long winded answer to your question. I hope it made some sense.
Min: It made a whole lot of sense. There is a few fist pumps in the air as I was listening to your response. I think everything that you're stating just reminds me and just reemphasizes how much white supremacy dehumanizes everyone and does not allow for any of us, whether you're part of a dominant group or not, to acknowledge our full selves in whatever that we do and to be able to connect with others as their full selves in whatever that relationship is. I'm wondering what... Because this isn't easy work. This is emotional work, which is oftentimes devalued and ignored in professional settings, and I'm wondering what the response is from your student teachers when you're challenging them to really explore who they are as teachers in such a in-depth full way.
Betina: I think because I base everything on a foundation of identity and humanity, when I bring these things up with my student teachers or when I call my students on things, they know how invested I am in them and they know how much I respect them and their humanity, and so they know that this is not some person who's... Even though obviously I'm their evaluator and I'm their professor and I'm somebody who at some point... I mean I have power and I totally acknowledge and understand that power, but I also always try to position my students, whether they're student teachers or pre service teachers or eighth graders, to be honest, I always try to position them as also coming in with something so that we're having a conversation and that conversation is for us all to grow.
When I was in the situation that I mentioned with my student teacher, I was pushing her, but I was also there, I saw it and I really struggled myself as given what my position was and what her position was and all of these things to figure out, okay, what should I be doing?
So being able to relate to her in this very human way of, "Listen, we were both in this position where in a sense we're guests in a classroom and the person with authority in the classroom did something that neither one of us agrees with, and in that moment we did whatever we did, and now we have this opportunity, in this moment, to think about what can we do tomorrow and what are we going to do in the future? Because if this incident hadn't happened, we wouldn't have that opportunity because this blindsided us and we did the best that we could in that moment.".
We have to be prepared for these moments and I think that that is one of the things that I... I mean these are hard conversations. I blogged about that conversation and then I had to take down that blog because of political stuff at work. This is hard work and then you can't even really debrief it in the way that you want to debrief it all the time because you're like, "Who's going to be listening to this and who's going to take this out of context?" but I'm very fortunate because with...with my students, with the exception of one student, who actually, I've had a few students, and they've all ironically been white men, which I also have great white male students who have been very receptive to feedback, but I do think that the majority of my interactions because I come from a place of, "I know that your intention is not from this evil, terrible place." But it's like what you said earlier. We live in a white supremacist culture, right? That breeds this capitalistic competition, that breeds this dehumanization, that deprofessionalizes the very hard work that we do, and I'm not about that, and I'm not going to be about that. We're human, and every person, it doesn't matter how woke you are, every person who is living in this society, we make mistakes and we don't honor our full humanity sometimes, and I'm not here to judge that.
We're here to work together through that so that we can do better, right? Because it's like when you know better, you have to do better. And if you don't know and if I don't bring that up to you, then I'm not responsible as a mentor, whether I'm your mentor as a teacher, as a professor, as a student teaching supervisor, whatever it is. That's my responsibility to you because I care about you as a human being and I'm not just clocking in and out because that's not what the work is. So yeah, it's hard work, but my student teacher, she was great and super gracious, and not only stuck with me through that conversation, but then followed up with me about the follow up she did the next day, and has continued to focus on and talk about that student and the work that she's doing in non-deficit ways and bringing in his family and community, and that's been in a way encouraging because I think sometimes in this work, it is so tiring that when you don't get those moments of growth, then you're just like, what is happening? Because you're certainly not seeing it as extra in your paycheck, and you're certainly not getting better sleep because you did the right thing. You're stressing about it, right?
So I think the one form of encouragement that I really get is seeing this growth. And it's hard, and sometimes the growth is not as much as I'd like to see, but it's growth, and I think we have to kind of encourage each other when we have those wins. So I hope that answered your question, too.
Min: Yes. I could talk about your student teachers and your experiences for another hour and I want to make sure that we talk about your research because that's how we met. You were asking for Asian American teachers to do interviews with you because you were doing research on Asian American teacher identity, and that is so exciting because often, besides the model minority moniker, we also have the invisible minority moniker, or more accurately, the silent minority moniker, and it was really interesting as far as I feel I've gotten in my journey during this work, when you were interviewing me, there was so many things that I didn't think about that were specific to Asian American identity. It really hit me about how that learning, how that kind of representation, how that kind of discussion is rarely ever centered. So I was wondering if you could talk about your research a little bit.
Betina: Yeah, absolutely. And it's so funny that we're having this conversation today because just yesterday, I'm submitting a piece to Urban Review with three other Asian American mother scholars, and so we are really trying to tell some counter stories that really speak back to this invisibility, this silent minority, this being positioned in a white supremacist society as the wedged people of color group, that we are white adjacent as Asian Americans, so never quite good enough to be white, but used as the example minority group for Latinx and African American folks particularly, and really positioned in direct opposition to African Americans in general. So it's interesting because in just telling our story and challenging that invisibility, I think we begin to do the work of deconstructing this monolithic view of Asian Americans as the model minority, which is really oppressive.
One of the things that I struggled with coming into this research area and this research agenda on Asian American teachers was the fact that in many ways, I feel like I represent that model minority myth or stereotype because I am the daughter of immigrants who came as part of immigration laws that made it such that there was hyperselectivity among Asian American immigrants, and particularly in the Taiwanese American community, we are among the most educated ethnic subgroup in the United States, and I'm aware of that. So I was like, oh, but do I really want to jump into this? Am I saying Asian Americans ... I got into the oppression Olympics conversation where its like, "Well, what do we really have to say? Are we taking away attention from other black indigenous people of color whose struggle is much worse? They just have so much more oppression than we're facing. What is the point of getting the voices of Asian American teachers out there?"
And then I realized, that's the internalization of white supremacy. That our stories aren't valid and important stories and that we don't get the right to reclaim our voices and our experiences, and I think there is so much invisibility around the Asian American experience in education. I just this last week was asked to do part of a race and equity report in my field of literacy, and literally there are a handful of studies in the last 20 years that talk about Asian Americans and their experiences with literacy and that don't position them in this idea of ... because the model minority is very strong, but there's also this other discourse of forever foreigner as if Asian Americans don't actually exist, we're always first generation Asian immigrants. And I think the important thing, one of the things that I think our research really does, and I just want to acknowledge my colleague Jung Kim who is at Lewis University in Illinois, who actually, her pilot study really inspired me, so she and I are working together on this larger Asian American teacher study.
But it's through Jung's advocacy and our joint advocacy for Asian American spaces, professional spaces, that we came to really ask these questions about, what are Asian American teacher's experiences? How does the experience of being Asian American and being a teacher really inform the work that we do? How are we positioned? How are we positioned by white students? By other people of color? Do we identify as people of color? Because we have this really weird experience where we were in an Asian Asian American affinity space and somebody said, "Well, I don't see myself as a person of color." And it was just such an interesting conversation and it speaks to the diversity of experiences within Asian American that really gets collapsed, and it speaks to the fact that, why do we continually have to face this microaggression of where are you really from, or oh, your English is so good when some of us are multigeneration English speakers or speak perfect English or are really legitimately from LA or New York or wherever we were born and have never actually been to the country where our parents originated generations ago.
I think our research is really trying to bring that voice and to really bring that counter story to light because I think we have to challenge these stories that are really trying to divide people of color groups, particularly there's a strong history of Asian American activism and Asian black alliance in the Civil Rights movement that's completely been silenced and ignored. It's never in the history books. There's so much Asian American resistance that has happened that is not out there, that we don't know, and as teachers, we can't teach what we don't know. And also, it's super alienating if you feel like ... so many of the Asian American teachers in this study never had another Asian American teacher or never had another teacher of color, and just because you are Asian American doesn't mean you know how to teach in culturally responsive ways, doesn't mean you identify it. So there's so much we don't know, so we really wanted to do this study because we think it's important for our voices to be heard, and honestly, we, in a sense, wanted the research that we have been looking for.
I'm a literacy person and it's important to see yourself in stories. It's important to see yourself because when you see yourself in a sense, one, you don't feel so alone, and two, you know your story matters. There's validation to your experience and your stories. And no one had ever asked the majority of our participants to be in a study, to tell their stories, to think about their work in relation to their personal identities, and nobody had asked Jung and I either. Nobody had said, "Well, what's that like being an Asian American English teacher?" And we had nowhere to read about it, we had nothing. And I think research is all about, what can we learn from the experiences, from the very human experiences of the folks that we're working with when we did this research. So that's a little bit about that project. We have over 50 participants, over 50 qualitative interviews from Asian American teachers Pre-K through 12, and then some who have moved into higher education, a variety of different subgroups. So I think a lot of the Asian American discourse also tends to focus on East Asians, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and there is an overrepresentation of that in our population, so if anybody's gotten this far in the podcast and you're Desi American or Pacific Islander or South East Asian, we would love to hear your stories.
But it's interesting because we have strong East Asian representation, a pretty decent South East Asian, particularly Vietnamese population and then there's still, even in our study, it's mirroring who we're able to talk to or who feels like they identify as Asian American educators, and that's been really revealing, too. But we feel like it's important that we hear people's voices, and it's important that we as Asian Americans don't allow other people to try to tell our stories for us or don't wait for our stories to be told because frankly they haven't been told in the last 40 years in research. The research on Asian Americans is scarce, and a lot of it perpetuates the model minority and this distinction of discourse, and it's really problematic. And I think as this next generation of scholars and educators comes up, we need to be attentive, we need to work in coalition with other black indigenous people of color groups, and we need to actually tell our stories because our stories are important. So that's a little bit about the motivation behind the research and the study itself.
Min: Thank you. That was definitely one of the things that I was thinking as you were sharing what your current research is about is that our voices telling our truth is so important, and I think the diversity of the voices because there are folks out there who embrace the model minority myth. There are folks out there, Asian American folks, that perpetuate, participate in anti-blackness, and there are folks out there from our community who work in solidarity, work within our communities to fight for liberation for all. So to make sure that we can name our uncomfortable truths and celebrate all the wonderful work that our communities have done, and to include all those voices that are completely ignored under the term of Asian American is so important and exciting, so thank you for doing that work. And I'll make sure that your contact info is included in the description for the podcast, so any Asian American educators out there that would like to participate in your research project can contact you.
Betina: Thank you so much. And I just want to say, Min, one thing that you were saying that I just kind of wanted to jump on real quick before we end is that I think it's important for us too as Asian Americans to look at ourselves and what does it mean to be Asian American, what does it mean to identify as Asian American or to choose to identify as your ethic group American, so Taiwanese American, Korean American. What do those choices actually mean and what does it mean to take an active stance against Asian anti-blackness?
What does it mean to confront that that exists or what does it mean to actually have these conversations between people who embrace the model minority myth and those who are actively pushing back against it? Because I think we have to do that work and that is really uncomfortable work, but then also what are the specific challenges that we face as Asian Americans? Because I don't think that that story is out there and I think there's a lot ... if we look at the suicide rates among Asian American young people, they're high, young adults, and I think it points to the fact that we need to have these conversations and as educators, we really need to support these conversations. So I just wanted to say that in closing and thank you so much.
Min: Thank you so much for all your time today, Betina.
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Minjung Pai is committed to equity, inclusion, and progressive education. She believes that collaboration is at the core of teaching – that working together with students, parents, and teachers can make a significant, powerful, and lasting impact. She is a member of the UCLA Writing Project Leadership Team where she helps serve writing teachers in the greater Los Angeles area. She presented multiple workshops at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference and served on the local planning committee in 2017. Currently, Minjung is the Group 6 Head Teacher (5th and 6th grades) at Westland School in Los Angeles, CA where she also serves on the Board of Trustees, the Diversity Leadership Team, and the Social Justice Anti-bias Curriculum Task Force.
Follow Minjung on Twitter @minfucious
Dr. Betina Hsieh is a true believer in the importance of connecting theory and practice. Her teacher education work is informed by her 10 years of urban middle school classroom teaching experience (in the English, Mathematics, and Social Studies classrooms), her several years of literacy coaching (K-12), and her work as co-director of the Bay Area Writing Project. Dr. Hsieh anchors her practice in a strong theoretical framework as well that is particularly influenced by such scholars as hooks, Freire, Dewey, Heath, Freedman, Schon, and the New London Group, among others. Because of her personal and professional background, she is strongly committed to equity in urban schooling. Current research interests include the emergence and development of a teacher professional identity, the development of cross-content literacy practices (particularly in the age of the common core standards) and the development and uses of 21st century literacy practices in schools and universities.