Today's spotlight feature of Keun-Woo Lee! Keun-Woo is a UT Graduate that's currently a corps member in New York City, where she's the Lead Pre-school teacher at Sharon Baptist Head Start in the Bronx. During her time at UT, Keun-Woo majored in Neuroscience and was active with Texas Crew, Camp Kesem, Code Orange, and Women of Excellence.
Keun-Woo became interested in doing Teach for America during college when she was heavily involved with the Brain Development Lab, a research lab that conducted fMRI studies on language development in 5 to 7-year-olds. "I always loved working with children and the more developmental aspects of neurology. I took a child psychology class where I was introduced the ‘thirty million word’ gap, which basically states that by the age of 4 children in higher socioeconomic conditions were exposed to 30 million more words than kids in lower socioeconomic areas. In terms of language development, exposure to words is critical. This concept of socioeconomic-related inequity really blew my mind."
In the lab, she specifically worked on understanding how socioeconomic status impacts language development in the brain. "That project made me learn a lot more about inequity. It also made me reflect on my own privilege and the educational opportunities I had growing up. It’s an injustice that some children might be set back by this opportunity gap, ultimately something outside their control. Though I was learning more about this in a research setting, I felt teaching addressed this inequity in a tangible way.”
She chose to work in Early Childhood Education because she understands that the gap in educational inequity starts early, and she wanted to provide a high-quality education for the kids at the foundation of their education. The experience has been both difficult and incredibly rewarding. "Learning how to be concise and engaging in a productive manner has been very challenging. The hardest part is making sure that everything that you do is intentional and that they’re learning from it. It’s not just fun and games in pre-k!" She loves seeing social-emotional growth in her kids. "Seeing growth with something as simple as sharing or taking-turns is rewarding. Seeing my students go from kicking and screaming about a toy being used to asking, ‘can I have that when you’re done?' is really encouraging. I also have one student who is nonverbal and was not engaged in most class activities for the first few weeks. This week, he was singing all the songs and participating in almost everything we did! It’s nice to see that growth."
After her two years in Teach for America, Keun-Woo is open-minded about her prospects. "I’d like to stay in education in some capacity, so either staying in the classroom or going into administration. If I pursue research, I'd still like within the realms of education and developmental psychology." Her time in Teach for America has given her a personal connection and understanding of the psychological and neurological phenomenon that she researched.
For everyone that's considering applying for Teach for America, Keun-Woo says, "Do your homework. Talk to people currently in the corps and understand what to expect. Learn as much as you can about the organization to see if the mission aligns with your values and goals. Also, there is no harm in applying if you’re on the fence!"
Stay tuned for more 2018 Corps Member features each Tuesday afternoon! If you have any interest in applying, talk to our Recruitment Manager, Jorge Galan. He can be reached at Jorge.Galan@teachforamerica.org.