Armed with a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence and a senior project on biracial identity that drew national attention from USA Today, Kristin Leong found herself wondering what she wanted to be when she grew up. Teaching wasn’t her first plan.
Instead, after a backpacking trip across Australia, she ended up bartending temporarily in Seattle while contemplating what was next. After five years, and a baby, she had her “aha” moment. She wanted stability, health insurance and a normal life for her son.
“I entered a graduate school program in education because I wanted to be around people who wanted to talk about books again and who care about kids. I wanted my son to grow up surrounded by a community of readers and writers and optimists,” says Kristin. ‘My son was two when I completed my M.Ed.” Surprisingly, she discovered some overlap between her two seemingly disjointed lines of work. She spoke about this in her Town Hall talk, "Nightclub bartending and Middle School Teaching--A Venn Diagram."
Kristin, or Ms. Leong as the kids are calling her these days, teaches 6th—8th grade Humanities and loves it.
“When I meet them as sixth graders fresh out of elementary school they're still little children. Some of them cry on the first day of school. They can't reach their lockers. But by the time they wrap up the end of 8th grade and I send them off to high school, they're truly young adults. They're thinking critically. They're following current events. They're reaching out to my nervous 6th graders because they've become leaders themselves.” It seems though that even her youngest students are practicing leadership too. Last spring Kristin launched a new unit on advertising and activism with her 6th graders. She opened The Seattle Times' Ignite Education Lab showcase last January by comparing the launch to the stages of falling in love.
She is proud of her students and seems delighted when her students in turn appear to understand who she is. One of her former Humanities students who also participated in her Summer Slam Camp recently referred to her as a fellow “inveterate poet”. She feels the tween years are, for the most part, the most difficult years for kids and works to make her classroom a safe space during some of the most awkward and judgmental years of their lives.
She says her goal in teaching is to help her students figure out how to help themselves and help each other. Because, she says, “There are no teachers handing out gold-stars and explaining directions in real-life.”