English teacher talks about her past experiences and her personal identity
By Keith Dinh
Sunli Kim teaches ninth and tenth grade English at Summit Public School: Rainier. In her second year of teaching, she spoke of her experiences, where she comes from and what her journey was to be the person she is today.
1. What is your educational background?
“I grew up in the Bay Area, went through all grades of the public schools, and went to Los Gatos for high school. That was a huge transition for me. Then I went to Stanford for my undergraduate in English. I was going to actually pursue communications for journalism, then realized that maybe something I’m more interested in is education, so I stayed there for masters and credentials in education.”
2. Why did you want to be a teacher?
“So in college, I became really involved with a lot of student organizations and groups and student activism and community organizing. That was something that I wanted to continue to have in my life when I moved on from my higher education and from college, and I also really wanted to make sure I was constantly challenging myself and learning more and more about literature. I firmly believe that the process of teaching is intensive learning, and so I felt that teaching might be something that might fulfill all of those areas.”
3. Why did you specifically want to teach in a Project-Based Learning environment, not a traditional one?
“I was really curious about the way the school would confront the traditional expectations and structures of a school, and I wanted to be learning in an environment where all of my colleagues and the people I would surround myself with were constantly pushing the boundaries and trying to figure out different ways of viewing education. Yeah, I thought that maybe this was like seeing how education can be more personalized for students and meeting with people to learn from them, and that sort of capacity would be a really good experience for me.”
5. What kind of student were you in your basic education?
“I was a hardworking student, I think. I had a lot of confidence in my academic identity as a student and probably nothing much else, and so I was very quiet. I don’t think a lot of people knew I existed, I was a total wallflower!”
7. What hobbies do you have?
“Hobbies – I currently, play the drums. I guess I’m overall just like very invested in music. I like making playlists, I like listening and finding new artists and songs, I also do boulder, so that’s the type of climbing where it’s on a shorter wall, but without the ropes and pulleys.”
8. What is your cultural background?
“So, I was born in Korea, and my parents met in a city called Incheon, in South Korea, and my dad was having a lot of trouble finding jobs in Korea at the time, and so he saw a newspaper advertisement for job postings that were in L.A. at the time, and so he went for it, about a few months after I was born, and that is how me, my mom, my dad, and my grandma all immigrated to L.A., and we lived there for five years, and then moved up to the Bay Area. So I’ve pretty much lived in California all my life, but the whole rest of my family is in Korea.”
9. What did your parents do for their occupation?
“So my dad is now, a semiconductor engineer, and so he was here, and, we got really lucky because he got here before Silicon Valley became this huge, booming engineering industry, and so yeah. My mother used to work at a health office, and was originally a food scientist major, but then, gave up all of that to take care of us at home.”
10. How do you see your parents supporting you in your education and life in general?
“I think I owe a lot to my parents; they’re really important people to me. I think they constantly pushed me to do the best I could, and, I think for a long time, I really disliked them for it because I didn’t see the big picture, but I think now that I’m more, a little more of an adult, and now that I’m nearing the age that they were when they had to make these big decisions in their life. I really admire them, so, you know.”
11. What were some of your most memorable events that are influential to your life?
“Hmm, the most memorable events that were influential to my life – so I grew up with my grandma, and she was a really core part of me and my growing up experience, and then in high school, she passed away, and that was one of the few times that, because her family in Korea wanted her to be buried there, that was one of the few times I went to Korea before college, and it was a very very short trip, but time wise, it felt like a very very long suspended amount of time, and I think I have a lot of memories from that trip and from that time that are still very vivid and still inform a lot of my writing, and I think a lot of the ways that I see my identity and the way I see the world. There’s that, and then also, in college, just meeting a lot of my closest friends now, and all the things we went through and the organizing we did together.”
12. Who was your favorite teacher ever, and why?
“In high school, I had a teacher named Ms. Smith, who was really, really scary, and really strict, but also probably one of the most caring teachers that I had at the school, and her classroom really was this safe place for me, and she really brought me out of my shell. She was also was one of the first people to get me to see the world very differently and be aware of all the systems that we have in place that like it gives some groups advantages over others, and so I think she really changed the way that I view the world, and yeah, and then in college, I had a professor who opened up this whole world of literature to me and yeah.”
13. Which style of teaching would you prefer between the traditional and PBL styles?
“Sure, I think lecturing doesn’t do super much for a whole group of people, and so while there might be a time and place for that sort of style, I think I find a lot of value in making sure students know how to teach themselves, like how they are taking their own learning into their own hands. That’s something actually that I’m still figuring out a process for ‘how to teach how to learn.”’
14. Do you plan on continuing this career pathway? If not, what other occupations you would plan going into?
“Well, as far as I can see, I definitely want to stay in teaching for the time being, or be involved with education in some capacity. If, for some crazy life event reason, I was unable to teach, then I would still want to be connected to education in some way, and to literature in some way.”