Growing up as one of nine children in a Hmong American household, Lisa Yang sometimes struggled to find her voice. Yet she knew she must in order to achieve her goal of becoming a teacher. Through her journey to discover her voice, she uncovered her calling: using the power of language to help others find their voice, too.
A second-year student in the Minnesota Grow Your Own Teachers (MNGOT) program, Yang is earning her master’s degree and teaching licensure in K-12 English as a Second Language (ESL). The MNGOT program allows current educators, including paraprofessionals, to earn their MEd and teaching license while collaborating with co-teachers to design and deliver lessons, work one-on-one with struggling learners, and assess student learning.
“I teach because I want better for my students,” Yang says. “I want my students to feel empowered by their education. As a child of immigrants, my parents have told me that education is power—power that can make a weak person strong; power that will give one a voice to be heard.”
Getting to this point has not come without challenges, though, which Yang describes as part of the process of finding herself. “As a woman from a culture that, traditionally, does not encourage women to speak, it has been personally important to find my voice. I believe this is something valuable for marginalized populations also. For that reason, I think it is necessary we teach our students how to use their voice to engage in the world, deal with conflict, and advocate for themselves and for change,” she says.
“I teach because I want better for my students. I want my students to feel empowered by their education.”
Yang’s ability to pursue her passion for teaching is thanks in part to the Mithun family, who share a deep commitment to education. Inspired by their mother Jacqueline’s experience as a teacher, sisters Jill Mithun and Susan Duncan started a scholarship in the college to support future educators and diversify the teacher workforce. For Yang, the impact has been far greater than just the financial support.
“It has provided me with more peace to do the work of my area of study—teaching—by growing a deeper sense of myself to better support my students,” she says.
Looking to the future, Yang plans to become an ESL teacher after completing her program. She may even become an author. No matter what she accomplishes, though, she is certain the path to finding her voice has been a catalyst for change.
“Throughout my graduate school journey, I’ve found that I’m capable of so much more so I’m excited for what’s next,” she says.
Story by Dirk Tedmon | Photos courtesy of Erica Loeks | Winter 2022
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