Joyce Nguyen Hernandez
Lincoln College Preparatory Academy
Twelfth Grade International Baccalaureate
What factors influenced your decision to become a teacher? Identify what you consider to be your greatest contributions to and accomplishments in education.
I wanted to become a teacher because I was starving for an educator who looked like me and shared my experiences. My parents entered this country from Vietnam as refugees and stressed the importance of education my entire life. In elementary school and high school, I didn’t have any teachers who were first-generation Americans. I struggled with the English language, spoke more than one language in their homes, or acknowledged struggle and poverty in their homes. My experiences have allowed me to choose empowering and multicultural texts like translated works, James Baldwin, Marjane Satrapi, Toni Morrison, Maxine Hong Kingston, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda and more to inspire my students and prepare them for a world which includes and celebrates their ethnic backgrounds.
I am also very proud to continue to team up with a former student and another slam poet. They are both writers and creatives who help coach current students. We meet each week to help our student poets become stronger wordsmiths, performers and advocates for social causes. For the past six years, I have worked in some capacity to establish our slam poetry group and offer a safe place for the arts to cultivate storytellers and young voices. My group of poets has won the local Louder Than a Bomb competition twice and made it to the renowned international tournament, Brave New Voices in San Francisco and Houston, placing in the top eight teams in 2018. This long experience led to very emotional introspection because my students regularly spoke about their constant battles with anxiety, former sexual abuse, and depression. My involvement has opened me up to more research and training in trauma-informed approaches.
Describe a project or initiative that you have led or been involved with that contributed to increasing equity in education and opportunity for students in your school. What was your role in this project and what was the impact?
One of my most exceptional initiatives as an educator would be volunteering with my students in our community. For many years, my students and I would volunteer at a neighboring elementary school, tutoring students in reading and math. Both schools share a common mascot, so my partnering teacher and I dubbed it “Tigers Helping Tigers.” This collaboration allowed my high school students to obtain valuable community service hours and the ability to receive Missouri state-level A+ opportunities for scholarships and free tuition at community colleges. The elementary students were mentored and tutored regularly by a group of high school students who frequently would speak to them about academics, character, and future goals. Another role that I assumed was taking the lead as a teacher, offering potential college credit to students in my school. In our building, we had long conversations about who could participate in the rigorous courses. I have long advocated that all students should have access to sit for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams.