May Yang - HS ELA - MN

My name is May Yang, and I am an English teacher in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. I am Hmong and was born in a country called Laos. I came to America when I was seven years old. I didn’t know any English. I was one of three refugee students in my entire elementary school. That meant I had to learn basic English phrases fast to communicate with my teachers and classmates. 

By the fourth grade, I was in love with the English language. My school had a book-making center. I was so happy to make my first one, about a prince who had to trick a dragon into saving a princess. The story was not too original, but I was very proud of my book. 

Although I enjoyed school, becoming a teacher never occurred to me. After graduation, I got married and worked in a monotonous job as a customer service representative answering phone calls all day. I might have stayed there, but then the company went out of business. I was given severance pay (and a life decision to make). That was when I decided to go to college. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to major in, so I chose English. 

While attending college, I started volunteering at a community center, teaching adult basic education and tutoring high school students after school. It was heartbreaking to see adults with full-time jobs and a family to support struggle with basic things like reading a utility or medical bill. It made me happy when they overcame obstacles and made progress. I even had the chance to see them graduate from the GED program. That experience gave me clarity. I decided to become a teacher.

My first teaching job was in St. Paul, Minnesota. I wanted to teach in an urban setting with lots of diversity. It was challenging but rewarding. I was there for six years, and then my family and I decided that we wanted to move to a warm state. We chose Florida. After a two-hour phone interview, I was hired. I took the job without seeing the school or meeting the principal in person. I don’t think I could ever be that brave again.

The job was in Orlando, right across the street from Universal Studios. With my classroom windows open, I could hear the roar of the amusement park rides. The job was fun, but my family and I decided that Orlando was too crowded after a year. We wanted a quieter life. 

We moved to Winter Haven, Florida, where I taught for 13 years. I made some of the greatest friends and met some of the most generous students at that school. Even to this day, I still stay in touch with former students and colleagues, including an assistant principal. 

Finally, we returned home to Minnesota to be with family. I wanted to try something different and worked in test development for a company that created standardized K12 assessments. I learned different states’ standards, worked with freelance writers, and did copyediting. My favorite days were when I would sit at my desk, eat chocolate, drink coffee, read, revise, restructure, research, and edit. It was a dream job for a former English teacher. I also wrote a book during my time away from teaching.

After almost two years, though, something surprising happened... I missed teaching! I missed the classroom banter and “aha” moments. I missed interacting with students and collaborating with other teachers. I realized that I could help craft the perfect reading passage for a test, but it would not be as rewarding as making connections with students. So, I returned to the classroom.

I was very intentional in my decision. When I lived in Winter Haven, Florida, I taught in my town and ran into my students and their families at stores and restaurants. So, when I decided to return to teaching, I chose the closest school to my house. I live eight minutes from my job and frequently run into my students at the local Walmart. 

Oh, and my students think it’s cool that I don’t just teach them how to write but that I also love writing and pursue it as my hobby. They are usually eager to share their writings with me. Hopefully, I've helped many of them become excellent writers!

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