Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane. What did you want to become when you were a kid? A police officer? Maybe a veterinarian? Perhaps a sports star? I remember that I wanted to become an astronaut because stars and planets were fascinating and then later wanted to become an architect because I liked to draw.
After moving to the United States, I attended a public high school in Queens, New York, which had a sizable Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) population, at around twenty-five percent of the student body. The school environment was quite competitive and I found myself surrounded by other AAPI students who wanted to study medicine, business, or computer science. At that time, I didn’t know anyone who wanted to pursue a job in education. After all, many of us were repeatedly reminded by our parents that they immigrated to this country to provide better opportunities for us. While the teaching profession was still highly esteemed in my home country of China, teaching was not highly regarded among AAPI families at that time.
While I was in high school, I started volunteering with a friend to help elementary school kids with their homework after school. I enjoyed helping those kids and was told that my volunteer experience would strengthen my college application. However, when it came time to apply to colleges, I didn’t consider majoring in education because I had my sights on business schools for a long time.
As my family’s first generation college bound student in the United States, I wanted to make my family proud and decided to major in finance in college, which I viewed as my ticket to financial, and personal, success because I would pursue a career on the world renowned Wall Street. Yet, teaching has a way of finding me. Someone I met during one of my summer college courses asked me to continue her tutoring job after she returned to her upstate college campus. Again, I found myself enjoying teaching others, which brought much more satisfaction than writing business plans or engaging in stock market simulation games.
Fast forwarding to the present, I am currently teaching computer science and algebra in Brooklyn, NY. This is my seventh year of teaching in New York City as a full time teacher, after transitioning from nearly a decade serving families at non-profit organizations through teaching adult literacy, planning and implementing various programs, and working most recently as a grant writer. As I reflect on my journey of becoming a teacher, I realized that I have been inspired by my own AAPI teachers. There was my middle school math teacher, Mr. Pe, who coached me and our school’s math team to compete against local schools. There was also Mr. Lee, who I never had as a teacher but was our math team coach who motivated us to strive for our best during each week’s competition. These AAPI teachers, along with other non-AAPI teachers, instilled a passion for learning in me.
Another motivation that inspired me to become a teacher, and now a computer science teacher, is my desire to help students and families build and sustain generational wealth so they can shatter the cycle of poverty. A majority of our city’s students, over 70%, are identified as economically disadvantaged. I wanted to be a part of the solution and teach our students college and career readiness skills and computational thinking skills that will prepare them for long term success in college and in the workplace. I am particularly proud of the work I am doing in encouraging more students, especially those from underrepresented groups, to consider computer science as a career option because I know that jobs in the CS field are high paying, which will enable our students to ultimately build and sustain generational wealth.
In New York City, AAPI male teachers are still very much underrepresented within our schools. Students would often tell me that I am the first AAPI male teacher that they have encountered. In my experience working and learning within the NYC CS4All program, there have only been a handful of other AAPI male computer science teachers like myself, despite a citywide student body that is made up of 16.6% Asian American students. This is another challenge that I am working with others to address within NYC Men Teach’s Asian American Teacher Empowerment Network Development (AATEND), to build community among AAPI male teachers and to recruit and retain them within our schools.
I feel blessed that my parents and my wife were supportive of me as I transitioned into a full time classroom teacher several years ago. As I reflect on my professional experience teaching literacy skills to immigrant adult students, teaching algebra and computer science to high school students, and more recently, teaching fellow teachers through workshops and coaching sessions, it’s clear to me that teaching is a calling for me. Teaching is not my Plan B. Teaching is my passion, my inspiration, and my rewarding lifelong journey.
About the Author
Zuobin Tang currently teaches computer science and mathematics at Sunset Park High School in Brooklyn, NY. He also serves as the school’s CS4All computer science lead, spearheading efforts and collaborating with fellow teachers to promote and sustain an equitable computer science culture at the school. He is also passionate about college access and success as well as educational technology tools. In addition, he is a proud member of NYC Men Teach, where he currently coaches fellow Asian-American male teachers. He is a first-generation college graduate in his immigrant family and holds a B.B.A. in Finance from CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Baruch College, an M.A. in Higher and Postsecondary Education from Teachers College, and an M.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education from St. John’s University.