Hood Highlights: Meet Compton Teacher & Activist Ms.Whang

I owe a lot of my success to my high school teachers who over time have become family. They always went above and beyond for my classmates and I. Senior year, they were answering my calls late at night helping me fill out my FAFSA application and reviewing my personal statements and recommending/presenting me to opportunities that I would never have found on my own. Those opportunities that they presented early on to me are the reason why I have a career today! I am eternally grateful to them. 

This is why it is with great honor that I introduce to you Jacqulyn Whang A.K.A Ms. Whang a high school teacher in Compton going above and beyond for her students, community, and campus. She is the educator I imagine in every classroom someday!

I reached out to learn more about her and her motivation to make a difference in the lives of her students. 

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an educator? 

I became a classroom teacher 6 years ago in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles at a small middle school. Since then I have taught in many different types of schools: middle, high school, charter, public, project-based learning, and standard-based. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher as a kid. In my early childhood, I moved around almost every year. During those pivotal developmental years, I longed for a sense of stability and home.  Especially during preschool, when I was still learning to transition from English to Korean and my primary language. I became a teacher to be that listening ear and companion to students.

How do you sprinkle your activism into your teaching? 

Activism to me is a lifestyle. I don’t compartmentalize this from my career or even my daily living. Activism means service. I serve my students, school, their families, and the community. That is how I practice activism in teaching. I also teach students about the social structures that influence their environment. The classroom is not just a space to challenge institutional racism and discrimination, but also a place for students to explore and affirm their identities. This is a priority for me because not only do I want students to know who they are and feel confident but have a vision for their future as leaders.

You recently led a book donation drive for your students via social media – Which was very successful! Can you tell me more about the book drive and purpose? 

Reading is an act of liberation. Historically marginalized communities have been discriminated against and given an unequal opportunity to quality education and learning. Literacy is our gateway to knowing the world around us and teaching us how to navigate through the systems of oppression so that our communities thrive. I did the book drive because it disheartened me to see students find reading as a boring activity. I know that reading can be fun when it is the right text in front of you. I did the book drive to collect books from my friends and new friends–books that are relevant to my students, books written by P.O.C, and book that inspired my peoples. Already the students are excited and I know that they will have fun reading them. And that’s the point, to show students reading is fun, literature is for them, and they are a part of the larger discourse of the world. 

In addition to leading successful book, donation drives you also host yoga, Media Arts Film Club, and are empowering your students around the electoral process just to name a few. Can you tell me more about all the extracurricular activities you help bring to life for your students and what has been your most memorable event/activity to date? 

I do a lot. I can’t even begin to scratch the surface. What I will do for this interview is share a bit about what I do on campus. There are a few programs I am working on to bring to students outside of school. In school, students and I started two clubs. One of them was the Film Club and the other was Future Voters. The film club was an actual program that was  in collaboration with local artists who are affiliated with major institutions such as, The Broad and USC Film School. We crafted a year long program that incorporated decolonizing curriculum, skill building workshops on voice recording, Super 8 and VHS cameras, editing, and coloring. The end of the year project was to create a documentary interview on someone they admired and collage archival photos, footage taken by the artist, and other visuals that best communicated their narrative. We captured their reflections in the process on our blog site: https://centennialhighfilm.wordpress.com/. Please take a look to see their journey! 

Future Voters Club was started in response to the need for voter engagement in both youth and amongst P.O.C. Our students teamed up with The Civics Center in starting a club and registering all our Juniors and Seniors to either pre-register or register to vote. You can learn more on my featured article in Education Week https://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2019/09/04/how-my-students-led-a-voter-registration.html

You’re the teacher I aspire we have in every classroom across LA County – However, it is a very demanding profession how do you manage to do all that you do and still manage to pursue other passion projects on the side? 

I do all I do because the people around me. I do not work alone. I have a strong team surrounding me with every project I am on. They range in age, from students to young adults, to us grown folks. We all work together in developing and executing. I do not believe in working in silo, this makes it less of “work” but more fun. I get to grow with the community and people I love and as a group, we do good for the people around us. This fuels me and drives me. The work isn’t easy and takes much sacrifice. I do have future hopes of starting an organization and getting more involved in political leadership. In these positions, I know that I will have to carry out many initiatives and work with others in bringing our shared dreams into fruition.

How do you practice self-care and How do you stay motivated? and what words of encouragement do you have for other educators especially first-time educators working in low-income and predominantly P.O.C schools? 

I practice self-care by protecting and feeding my mind, body, and soul. I make sure that I give myself to rest, read things I love, spend time with people I care about, cook, and exercise. During my first year of teaching, I began to be more active in stretching and strength training. My first year of teaching was also the first time I went into therapy. The first time I cried every day. The first time I felt a point of depression I never had experienced. It was very tough. Especially as a teacher in a predominately P.O.C. school, the challenges are deep, though the rewards are endless. 

Teachers give a lot of their attention, heart, and self to the job. Our students need to be heard and loved. But this should never be at the cost of our sanity and stability. We need to take care of ourselves first. Don’t feel guilty for taking a day off each month to just take care of yourself. Don’t feel guilty to show a movie just one day because you are burned out. Don’t rely on addictions and bad habits to cope with stress, but rather talk to yourself and talk to others around you. Get sleep, drink water. Use your relationships in school (students, staff, anyone) to find reason and purpose at your site. Don’t feel guilty for leaving and finding a new school site. It’s okay to have bad lessons, bad classroom management, there’s always room for growth. 

Keep up with Ms. Whang here:

Instagram: @MS.WHANG

Twitter: @5thmindyoga

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