How EPPs Can Support AANHPI Faculty and Students: Insights from AACTE’s Outstanding Dissertation Award Winner
In the final installment of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month blog series, AACTE and Valerie Ooka Pang spoke with Lin Wu, recipient of the 2022 AACTE Outstanding Dissertation Award for “Borderland Teaching of Chinese American Teachers with Mexican American Students: Toward the Development of a Theory,” about his research, experiences in the academy, and insights on the triumphs and challenges of AANHPI educators and students.
Wu, who completed his dissertation for the Ph.D. at the University of Washington-Seattle and currently serves as an assistant professor in the College of Education at Western Oregon University, is the first Asian male to receive the distinguished award. When he began his graduate scholarship in the Deep South, where there is a Black-White racial binary, he says, “I just always felt like I did not belong to either group. I am somewhere in between.” This led Wu to his dissertation research and he asked himself, “What if I’m not alone? What if other Asian American teachers, specifically Chinese American teachers, share a similar experience?”
Wu’s dissertation studied three Chinese American teachers working with 11 Mexican American students in three ethnically diverse urban secondary schools in the Pacific Northwest, a unprolific research topic in the field. “As I was doing a literature review for my dissertation, [most of the research] was on teachers of color working with students of color from the same ethnic or racial group. I don’t know if it is intentional, but I ask myself [why is it] few folks want to discuss crossing ‘minority’ cultural borders in our research?” He reminds scholars of a quote from Toni Morrison that motivated him through this challenge, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
In his acceptance speech at AACTE’s 2022 Annual Meeting, Wu reminded the audience of the anniversary of the deadly shooting in Atlanta that killed eight people, six of whom were working-class Asian women. We join Wu in asking members to remember their lives and say their names: Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng.
To create a more just society for AANHPI communities, all teachers must represent and validate the prolific histories and multi-dimensional identities of AANHPI students. This need was encapsulated perfectly in advice Wu received from Gloria Ladson-Billings about his job as a teacher educator, “It is not about you.” He elaborates, “[she said] I am not invalidating your struggles. Your struggles are real …. However, when your daughter goes to school, she will have to learn to navigate this world in a way that does not see her fully. So, your job is to make sure that the teachers and adults who will work with her one day will not do that.” We agree that all teacher education faculty share responsibility to ensure all preservice teachers are prepared to see students for who they fully are.
Wu’s Doctoral Experience
In addition to improving AANHPI inclusive curriculum and pedagogical standards, we know that representation matters. There is a lack of male teachers of color in the United States, AANHPI included. Wu reflected on his experiences as a doctoral student and recommended that programs be more intentional in providing financial support to Asians and Asian Americans, a barrier he faced in funding his education partially due to the model minority belief. This and other themes raised in Wu’s experiences resemble barriers to becoming a teacher found in AACTE’s Black and Hispanic/Latino Male Teacher NIC, including feelings of isolation, lacking familial and academic resources as a first-generation college student, family caretaker expectations, needing to work to support oneself while studying, and racial and gender stereotypes.
Wu explains that the male teacher of Color shortage is even worse in teacher education. When he began working as a graduate teaching assistant, he was the only male doctoral student of color for two years in that teacher education program. Beyond the socio-cultural barriers, Wu recalls a lack of curricular representation in many graduate courses, either for or by AANHPI scholars. When describing the research used across most of his methods training classes as a doctoral candidate, he says, “If I remember correctly, there were only two articles written by Asian American scholars, neither of which focused on Asian American students or teachers.” To be more inclusive, EPPs must ensure their curriculum represents every group so that students interested in research in those directions have access to representative resources. Finally, Wu describes the role mentorship played in his success: “I am eternally grateful to the sustaining mentorship from eminent scholars, including Dr. Geneva Gay and Dr. Valerie Ooka Pang. Cross-cultural and cross-gender mentorship is crucial for me because I will need mentors with different backgrounds and expertise to guide my work to represent my community better.”
Wu’s Teaching Experience
Now, as a faculty member teaching Social Cultural Foundations of Education and Multicultural Education, Wu works with predominantly White female preservice teachers. Besides preparing them to become culturally responsive teachers, he hopes to (re)present Asian men positively since most of them never had the opportunity to learn from Asian male teachers. That is another challenge facing all leaders in spaces where they are underrepresented — the expectation to “do everything right because you want to be a good representation of your community.” Wu continues, “My first time teaching the multicultural education course was challenging because some students did not perceive an Asian man to be qualified to talk about race.” His response is advice all educators should take since no one can be responsible for explaining or representing any group perfectly: “How do I humanize and correct the mistakes I made and teach my students to do the same?” What is even more essential within Wu’s advice is to do so with humility.
Earlier this year, in AACTE focus groups on teaching the truth in history and civics, teacher education faculty consistently agreed that end-of-course student evaluations created hesitation around discussing race and racism in the classroom, even when they desired to do so. Normalizing these open discussions and providing students with tools to analyze and counter accusations about critical race theory and other frameworks for democratic discussions on race and racism is essential. AACTE is grateful to Wu for modeling its efficacy, “I am committed to helping teachers transform their struggles into agencies to support all students, especially students of color.”
Lastly, Wu shares some recommendations to support AANHPI faculty and be more inclusive of AANHPI students and other students of color in schools. First, he says faculty should be prepared to have effective and frequent discussions on diversity, equity, and inclusion, by asking “How is the end-of-year feedback going to improve my teaching or your learning? My job is not to nag you about how racism impacts everybody in society. My job is to prepare you for the work you need to do so that you can succeed and sustain your success in this profession.” To accomplish this, faculty should remain committed learners by reading classic and emerging research and scholarship on advancing racial equity. Wu says, “I always strive to pair classic readings such as culturally responsive teaching with emerging case studies on [what] it looks like in practice for ethnically diverse students across content areas and grade levels.”
When it comes to program structures, Wu recommends EPPs make social-cultural foundation and multicultural education courses a requirement for all teacher candidates. Hire qualified faculty members, especially those of color, to teach the courses, provide systemic support, and ensure that the course content is historically grounded, theoretically rich, practically nuanced, and represents every racial group.
Finally, teacher education programs must allocate sustaining support for AANHPI faculty to pursue their research and develop their leadership capacity. “I am grateful to my mentor, Dr. Ken Carano, for helping me navigate my journey as a tenure-track faculty at Western Oregon University. I also appreciate my dean, Dr. Mark Girod, for funding my research and supporting me to lead the annual AAPI Heritage Month celebration in our college,” says Wu.
Wu wants Asian American scholars and other scholars of color in teacher education to know they should find colleagues and mentors who can support their personal and professional growth within and outside their institutions. Even though every institution has its problems, scholars of color can build a supportive network that nurtures their souls and helps them thrive.
The biggest takeaway in our interview with Wu is this: Teachers must understand that this job is never about them. Wu adds, “Your job is to teach students to be critical thinkers, engaged citizens, and supportive community members, who can challenge things when they are not right.”
Read other blogs in the AANHPI Heritage Month Series:
- A Holmes Scholar’s Reflection on AANHPI Heritage Month
- AANHPI Literature for Children and Adults
- Asian American Leadership in Higher Education: A ‘Glass Cliff’ or ‘Golden Opportunity?’