Azen Jaffe: Hello, my name is Azen Jaffe. Today is August 26, 2019. I am speaking with Dr. Vân Truong at the Beaverton Public Library. Thank you for being with me today.
Vân Truong: Thank you.
AJ: Could you please start just by telling me a little bit about yourself?
VT: Yes, telling you a little bit about myself is going to be pretty long. But just to make it short, I came to the United States in 1975 right on the day of the fall of Saigon, April 30, 1975, with my parents, my sister, and my brother. Before that, I lived in south Vietnam in Saigon. I went to a French Catholic all-girl schools. By the time I came to the United States, I already finished tenth grade in Vietnam and my education level was pretty high. So, I came to the United States. We went on the boat and we were able to go directly to Guam. We stayed in Guam for two or three months. We actually stayed in tents and we came with a very large family. Besides my family, my extended family came as well. That meant my grandfather came with his wife and twenty kids, siblings, and us. So, we had around probably 115 [family] members at that time. Then we went to Guam and we stayed there, and then we were moved to Camp Penitent[?] in Pennsylvania. I was able to visit the camp four months ago. That was an amazing experience, to see the camp again.
AJ: Is it still there?
VT: It is still there but it has changed a lot. A lot has been taken out and it is an army camp. Do you know the movie Pianist?
VT: They have a camp in the show. It was—I can't remember, I didn't see the show—but people tell me that was filmed there. Then we stayed there for like three months. We were sponsored off by different churches throughout the country. So my grandfather and some of my family members went to Houston, Texas, and California because it was hotter weather. We were sponsored here from Bethel Lutheran Church on Northeast Alameda. They were wonderful to us. The reason why my dad wanted us to come here is he likes this weather. He had been here before. He actually was a captain, he was in the navy. He was the captain of my grandfather's commercial ship, the second-largest in Vietnam. So we had a big ship. My story is not, I am still fresh off the boat, but it is not the boat that we see pictures of. I am much more lucky to have that opportunity. I did not have to face pirates. I did not have to face a lot of things that boat people faced when they left the country.
I went to school here. I struggled tremendously even though I already spoke two languages, I am fluent in French, and I finished calculus. I came here and they tested me in high school. I failed math miserably just because the decimal points are very different here. We used the French metric system. We used meters, we used kilometers, we used kilograms and milligrams. We do not use ounces, pounds, pints, and quarts. We use our French system like the rest of the world. I think the United States is the only country that uses that system, the current system that we are using. I was able to convert, [but] I did not understand the decimal points are different. A decimal point here is actually the thousandths, but a decimal point in French and Vietnam is actually for the fractions, right, so I totally messed it up. The test I messed up, totally messed it up. It is a very simple test. Twenty-five and here I divide twenty-five. But in Vietnam, we put twenty-five here and five here. So the placement of the numbers is all different! So of course they gave me twenty-five divided by five. I could not even divide it because I was trying to do twenty-five point zero decimal. So I was in title one math. PE was awful because at that time I had to change and take a shower at that time, not anymore [laughs].
I barely graduated and then I struggled culturally. I helped my parents raise my siblings, and then I got married. I did not go to college because my counselor told me, "You cannot go to college with your English skill. You cannot go to college." So she helped me find a job [in] data entry at the bank. I moved forward working at the bank and I got married. I have four wonderful children.
I started working for the public school as a receptionist. I started out as a receptionist for the ESL [English as a Second Language] program because at that time they wanted somebody to be able to speak Vietnamese because there was a large refugee population coming in. I was there and I struggled, but I was able to move up to accounting. Then I moved up and then they asked, "Van, we have a lot of Vietnamese students and we would like you to be in a classroom to help them." I said, "Great, I will do that." So I kind of moved up. Then I went to a classroom and I worked in the newcomer center, meaning kids who just barely arrived in the United States. So I was the education assistant. During that time, I helped the kids and my husband had a business. He had a restaurant. So I worked full time helping him in the restaurant with the four kids. There was one incident that happened in school that shook me to the core. One of the Vietnamese students got in trouble, got in a fight. At the expulsion hearing, one of the teachers said, "Well, you need to tell a teacher, right, and not get in trouble." He said," Well I told Ms. Van that." The teacher said, "Well, Ms. Van is not a teacher. She is an aid. You should come tell a teacher." So during [the] expulsion hearings I was there because I was just a translator. The parents were there. In the Vietnamese community, I was a very respected community member because I worked in the school district. Anybody who works in the school district in the Vietnamese community is very highly ranked and respected. It does not matter what title you are, right? We believe that, as an adult, [if] they teach you something they are your teacher. You do not have to have a degree to be a teacher, a teacher is somebody who can help you with lifelong skills, anything. So then, afterward I was really embarrassed. So afterwards I asked the teacher, I said, “You know, I would really appreciate it if you do not say that in our next meeting.” So I explained to her the same thing I explained to you. Then she said to me, "But it is true, you should not be offended." You have to remember this is twenty-something years ago. I actually spelled it out [laughs]. I think it could have gone worse. I said that to her and she said, "I have the piece of paper to teach, you don't." It shook me to the core. That I am like, Oh shucks, I am really not a role model or doing the thing that I should be doing. I want to help our kids.
Then I realized that, Oh my god, this is not good. I am not setting up a good example for my students because really I am just a second-class teacher. If a teacher can treat me this way then how do they treat the kids? So I went back to school just because of that, that one incident that shook me to the core. So I went back with four kids. My youngest was one, three, six, and ten. I went back to school with zero college credits under my belt. It took me five years to get a two-year Oregon Transfer [Associates Of Arts Oregon Transfer (AAOT)] degree to go to PSU [Portland State University]. At that time [when] I went, one of my friends who wanted to help me get a job at PPS [Portland Public Schools] told me about the Portland Teachers Program. The Portland Teachers Program gives a grant or scholarship for helping people who want to become teachers. So, I got the scholarship. It took me four years to do a two-year degree, and it was a really embarrassing time for me. Here I am going to a class with my students I had helped at Grant High School, the newcomer school. Here they are sitting in the same class as I am. I was wishing I was a teacher, I enjoyed it and I needed to get this done. Then I went to PSU for two years. I took a year off because I had to start teaching. I did one year of teaching and six months of student teaching, then I became a teacher. I became a teacher and I wanted to teach ESL and I wanted to teach French because I had a master’s in French as well. So I have two bachelors of arts, French and applied linguistics. Then I had a master’s in education and I had a master’s in French. I went out and I became a French teacher and an ESL teacher. I was a teacher for several years. The same friend and peer who helped me get the scholarship told me, "Van, you should become an administrator because we need a role model like you. I was like, "No, I cannot be a role model." It was just like when I said I cannot be a teacher. Then I did, and I became an assistant principal at [unclear] Middle School. I chose to be at the historically underprivileged school because they have more ESL kids, they have more kids in poverty, and they have more kids of color. So I was hired as assistant principal at [unclear] Middle School and then I became vice principal at Franklin High School, then I became a principal at Mt. Tabor. Then I became the ESL director because our program was out of compliance for eighteen years, Oregon Civil Rights Compliance for eighteen years. So my superintendent asked me to do it and I said, "No, I cannot do it because I worked very hard to not be pigeon-holed to only be good for ESL." If I choose to do it then great, but I am stigmatized in high school, I was laughed at, and I see how the kids in high school are laughed at as a teacher. So no, I do not want to be the ESL director. Number one, I do not want to be stigmatized, but I also know that an ESL director will not help ESL kids. Because everybody has to own ESL kids, not just the ESL director or the ESL teachers. Right, so I want to be in the core, I want to be in charge of math, social studies, history, science, and I want to be in charge of ESL. ESL is a language development component of the core. They have to learn English throughout the day. You cannot expect an ESL teacher to teach for forty-five minutes a day and ask them to be successful. It is a set up for the teachers, it is a set up for the kids. It is not good when you pull this kindergarten out, line up and take ESL classes to learn about the, Oh here is the sun, here is the moon, here is this, here is that. They have all of this content that they have to understand, so it has to be intertwined. He kind of begged me, so I said, "OK, five conditions." So I took the job and I was able to turn it around in two years. We added compliance and then I was able to create a curriculum that Oregon's Department of Education set as standard. Then I became executive when I was successful with that, I was the executive director of OTL, Office of Teaching and Learning. Meaning I created and I worked with teams of teachers and principals. I trained principals and I trained teachers, and I made sure we have equity training for all the teachers. Then I was the intramural assistant to the superintendent, and then I retired. So that is kind of my professional stories, and my personal stories are I have four wonderful kids. Three girls and a boy and they range from thirty-nine—oh gosh she will be forty soon—and the youngest one is twenty-six [coughs]. I have four grandbabies, grandson. The oldest ones are twins. They are seven years old. They are going into second grade this Wednesday. I have one in Kindergarten,a boy, who is going next week. Then one baby boy who is two months old. My family is very international, so that is kind of my pride and joy. Right now I kind of babysit, but I retired from PPS but I also work at the [coughs]—Did I put my water bottle somewhere?
AJ: It is right there.
VT: I also work at Portland State University [coughs], excuse me, to mentor teachers. I teach at Concordia, one class, Words of Leadership. So I teach in a doctorate program for people who want to become principals and get a doctor degree. Then I also [coughs], Oregon State just asked me to work with them. So I am working at Oregon State also on mentoring teachers and principals. So that is kind of my three part-time jobs. Then I sit on a panel, American Pacific Network of Oregon. I sit on a scholastic publisher equity void committee, board members and directors. So we kind of help guide scholastic to be equitable in the books and in the staffing. So they will fly me to New York twice a year to do the work. We do a lot in email, but you know meetings are twice a year. I also now am a partner of Social Venture Network of Portland. That means I volunteer my time as a financial to—you can look it up—Social Venture Network of Portland. They just have people who work with different communities of Oregon and depending on what the needs are—it is a philanthropy organization—so we give money and we give time. We donate money and we donate time. So they just recruited me as a volunteer to do all the training for their staff and their members and partners. I started in November, and so I am putting that together to train them, the social community network. So I am just busy.
AJ: Yeah, sounds like it.
VT: Yeah. So, that is kind of who I am in a nutshell. I am really a social justice warrior. I will speak up when I need to, when I see something that I do not like. Especially in this time that we are in, it is really difficult. That is why one of the things that is my goal is really just to support and to make the link between all the cultures so that we understand each other, so that there is a connection, so that there is love. There are a lot of things that I have said to you when I asked you about the project. I am going to repeat this so we can record it. I have seen many of these projects at the level I am at from my career. There is good intention, always good intention. But because of the people who set it up, if they work alone then they do not have multiple perspectives or include the people they actually want to promote. They intentionally do not get to where they wanted to be [and] at the same time honor the culture and the people that they intend to promote. That is very important to me, that the Vietnamese community people of Oregon or in the country are well represented in this story. There is the story but then also the presentation, the sharing, and the promotion is important, because it can set the tone. The questions of the interview are so crucial. Another piece about the Vietnamese community in Oregon is my parents and all of us left the communist country regime because we wanted freedom. If we stay, we would not have the chance that we have in the United States. At the same time, we came here and we gave up a lot. We gave up our motherland, our mother tongue, our language, our culture, and we face a lot discrimination here.
VT: Even at my level there is different kinds of discrimination. One of the questions you asked me was, "Explain the discrimination." It takes just a different level. Like if I would go to a party or an event with my husband—my husband is a white, tall man—they would of course go to my husband first instead of me. Regardless that I have a doctorate and he does not. It does not mean that he is not smart. I am just saying that it is a perception that I am always less than this white husband that I am with. Sometimes even when we go on vacation, we go to a motel to check-in. If I go to present in a hotel at a conference, and I go to check-in. I will be at the check-in with him and they will start checking in with him even though the reservation is under my name. So things that are subtle.
VT: Maybe you do not call this racism, [but] to me it is. It is not overt, but it is very subtle sometimes. My kids, I was saying that my family is very diverse. My oldest daughter [unclear], she is married to a Mexican American. So they bought a house in Laurelhurst, [and] this was like two or three weeks ago. He was in front doing yard work, and they were changing the yard so the boss saw them. So a white lady walked by with a dog and said, "Oh, I really like the work that you are doing here. How much do you charge for this project?" You know, like an assumption by this white is prejudiced. That is something she already had in mind. Then I am not done yet! Then about two days before that the guy who brought the sod drove up to the house and said, "Where do we put the sod?" My son-in-law Ryan said, "Oh you can put it right over there." So he pulled up and saw my daughter and said, "Oh, I just talked to your landscaper. He told me to put the sod there."[laughs] So my daughter said, "Oh, you mean my husband?"
So you know, these are biases that people have. The things that have shown you are biases about me. Also because I am well dressed. I also have a teacher who came to my friend and said, "I think you should look at her email because I found a mistake. She is missing an S in one of the verb tenses." My friend said, "Well you go tell her yourself” [laughs] So she came in and told me because we do the equity work, right. So I called the teacher in and I talked to the teacher, and I told her, "Please don't misunderstand our meeting today. My meeting today is just to ask you to re-check on why you were saying that to that person. By seeing one mistake in my email. So if I am your bosses of your bosses of your bosses, I am like three layers above you and I have a doctorate and you don't see good in me, explain how you see good in your students." This is what the conversation is about. I said, "Please don't, it is not about me," I told her, "I go through this a lot. I just want you to reflect on what that was." She started crying and I said, "No you are not in trouble, I just wanted you to think about it." Things like that. Then when I became the principal, people in the community were like Oh. At that time my husband's name was John and my boss's name was John. So there was a rumor that I slept with the boss to get where I got with my principalship. Because there is no way a Vietnamese refugee could be a principal of Mt. Tabor [Middle] School. So these are just the little things I am telling you that happen daily, but I think it has really gotten worse this year.
AJ: Why do you think it has gotten worse?
VT: Because I think it is allowed. Because our President of the United States says things that I believe really reinforce people to be racist.
AJ: Yeah, so you have noticed more racism since the …
VT: No outward racism. You know, like in-your face-racism.
AJ: That is too bad.
VT: Yeah, but it is what it is, right? I do the best I can do, and hopefully there is not another four years [chuckles]. But that is just my perspective.
AJ: Thank you for giving that overview. Is it OK if we cycle back a bit and talk about when you first arrived in 1975 to Portland?
AJ: So you said you were sponsored by a church.
VT: Yes, Bethel Lutheran Church.
AJ: It wasn't a family in the church?
VT: No it was the whole church.
VT: When we came, I had to tell you, I was so excited when they took us to Chinatown. I saw rides and I saw fish sauce. I thought I was in heaven because I thought I would never be able to have Vietnamese food again. Because in the camp and in Guam all we did was have American food. I still remember the day I went to the Chinese store. Oh my god, I was in heaven.
AJ: Where was this?
VT: Downtown Portland, where Chinatown was bigger than here. Then they helped us and they set us up with welfare and food stamps. Yes, my family was on welfare and food stamps for like two or three months. Then my mom got a job manufacturing these little jewelry things downtown, under the Burnside Bridge. My dad was a custodian at Meier Frank. Now it is Macy's, but it used to be Meier Frank. I was in high school, my sister was in high school, and my brother was three so my mom had to take him to a babysitter by bus. That was kind of a horrible time. I struggled a lot in high school. Just because they took us to Goodwill to get clothes and we got clothes from the church. We went to school and there was a lot discrimination at that time as well. That was the Fall of Saigon, and the war in Vietnam just kind of ended. So they were saying, "Go back to Vietnam," and [unclear]. We were just treated horribly. But my parents are very thankful that we are here. I am thankful that we are here. This is why we are public servants, so that I can give back to the community who has given so much to us. My sister is a teacher. My brother is a police officer. My sister is two years younger than me. She wanted to come here for a four-year [degree], she is an engineer. So we are taught to give back to the community, and to honor our motherland country and also be good to the country that has given us a second opportunity to freedom. Yeah, but it is rough sometimes.
AJ: How was the ESL program when you were in high school?
VT: It was awful, it is still awful now, [but] better now. They did not know what to do with us. We just sat in the classroom most of the time. Then we did not know what to do with them. I remember I went to tell the teacher that I had a doctor appointment. I looked at a dictionary and I said, "I have to leave because I have a date," as opposed to an appointment. But in the dictionary, though they did not realize it, but everybody laughed at me in the classroom. I did not know what they were laughing at me about. It is so funny how the story sticks to you, how you remember stories. Then there was a grocery store there. My mom said, "Van, you need to go get sugar." The word in Vietnamese can either mean street or sugar. So then I go to the store and ask, "Where is the street? Where is the street?" They would be pointing me towards the door because there is the street and I was asking for the street. I am thinking to myself, They are so rude they are trying to get rid of me. Why are they trying to get rid of me? Until I went home and tried to figure it out. I found sugar by the way. Not until three or four months later did I tell that story to somebody. They said, "Van, because you told them where is the street." It was horrible. It was uprooting from the [only] world that you had ever known, the [only] language that you had ever spoken. The family that always surrounded you, and I am lucky that I was surrounded by family, but when I came to Portland there was only us there was no extended family. But we paid a big price for that.
AJ: Where did you live?
VT: I lived down on sixty-eighth and Halsey. That is where they put all the refugees.
AJ: Halsey Square?
VT: Yes Halsey Square, that is where I met a lot of Vietnamese. So I found some friendly friendships, and then we would walk to school, to Madison. Actually, I just had a Madison reunion about two or three months ago. It was awesome. It was kind of fun. We laughed and we cried. Yeah, most of us are successful and most of us did make it. I know how high school can be a hard time, because it is a hard time for a lot of kids. High school is a clique. I told myself I would never go back to high school, then I was in charge of high school. So when I was in high school I was a director. I started an international youth leadership conference for all the ESL kids so they can come and listen to their role models like me or other people that are very successful. I have them as guest speakers. Because they are not surrounded with people like us. I am the only Asian administrator in the Portland Public Schools at that time. The only Asian administrator. I am not talking about Vietnamese, Asian. When I went to school, kids saw my name tag and they said, "Oh my god you are Vietnamese. I have never seen a principal who is Vietnamese,” and things like that. So I started that, I also started the Vietnamese Dual-Language Program, the first in the Northwest.
AJ: The immersion?
VT: Yeah, the Vietnamese Dual-Language Program, because when I was an ESL director I said, "We have dual-language programs for Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Russian. We know that dual language programs benefit ESL kids. We have Vietnamese as the second-largest language in Oregon." Can you believe it? It is even before Spanish.
VT: Yes, we do not have a Vietnamese dual-language [program]. What is that about? I spoke to the Vietnamese community, we sent a request to the board, and we signed an agreement. So that is how we got started. So Vietnamese Dual Language was started, and now it is in its fifth year.
AJ: Was there a lot of resistance?
VT: Yes. There was a lot of resistance because this is public money, so if you start something new that means they think it is going to be taking away from the money to put more in other programs such as sports or whatever. Therefore I have to show to them, no, because these kids are going to be coming to you anyway, you have to serve them anyway. These kids bring the district money. So you have to serve them anyway, but you are using that money to serve them in a more broader sense than really their specific needs. It is not a sum of zero, we are not taking money from anything. We are using the money that they have being a student at PPS, but we are making a program that serves their needs. The board passed, and there was money at the beginning. But I said to them also, "Yes, but we also have to do that for dual language. We do it for Spanish, we do it for Chinese. Why can't we do it for Vietnamese?" They had to come up with a very good reason for not doing that, not having a curriculum. OK, then I helped design the curriculum. Or not having teachers. Well, there are teachers if you look for them. If you do not have a program then of course there are no teachers. So we were able to look across and we had two teachers. I was able to ask them to teach Vietnamese. They love it, and we had been grooming Vietnamese teachers at PSU and other schools. Like come and teach us. So yes, there was a lot of push back.
AJ: We spoke with Loan, she is a teacher in that program. I have just heard great things about the immersion program here, but also dual language in general.
VT: Yes, Loan, and if you need some more Vietnamese people to talk to I can give you some names. Tina Dang, she is a teacher in Vietnamese dual language. She is the one you have to interview. She is awesome. I think even now the kids in ESL are doing better, because now ESL is really not being pulled out or taught during core content. I am very proud of that.
AJ: I wanted to ask. You said that for many years that PPS was not in compliance with ESL. What did that entail? What does that mean?
VT: That means that the kids did not have equal access to the content like the rest of the kids did. There are many reasons. Their teaching is simple, like below the standards. The material is not aligned with the common core. ESL kids had not met benchmarks for a long time, and the assessments were not culturally relevant. So there were hundreds of reasons, but the biggest one was that the teaching pedagogy was out of date. The materials were outdated. They are not English language development, but they are English [as a] second language. Some of these kids, English is not their second language. Some of these kids, English is their fourth or fifth language—like [it was my] third language.
VT: There are just a lot of things. Parent communication where it is in the native language that they can understand. So PPS has five major languages, and the others we have to call different organizations to help us with. Those are the big things, curriculum, pedagogy, materials, parent communication, and core. They do not have access to core because they are pulled out and they miss work. They miss core work.
AJ: So now that ESL is compliant with core, so it is happening …
VT: During core.
VT: So, for two years I had a group of teachers design science for English language development. So instead of pulling the kids out to teach them about things that do not align with any of the material that we teach. We now combine them, so, for example, it is language level technique right so if we are going to teach them about … let's just use the example of the solar system. If you are going to teach the solar system, then doing that say, "Oh, how many solar systems do we have?" So we break it down so that the language development grammar component and language component are in that lesson. You tie it to that and then have physical hands-on practice. Like gravity, you throw a ball or whatever. So we break it down to a lesson that combines language, vocabulary, grammar, and comprehension into one. The thing is, it does not just benefit the ESL kids, it benefits all kids. You think the kids that are not ESL understand our level? No. They have a different capacity, like special-ed students or teaching with a lower reading level. Hands-on experiences are the best. So that is how it is done.
AJ: So I am bouncing around all over the place, but …
VT: It is OK, just pull me back.
AJ: [laughs] No it's me because you have mentioned so many interesting things. I want to go back to Halsey Square. How long did you live there?
VT: I lived there for probably two years. Then when they had money we rented a house five blocks from there. The house there, every time I drive by that house I still remember that house. I was still in Madison High School, across from Rosary Heights.
AJ: Growing up, while you were at Madison, did you feel connected to the Vietnamese community?
VT: Yes, I felt connected to the Vietnamese community because the first year there was no real community. There was not even a Vietnamese teacher. Then the second year they had a way higher teacher. So I felt connected to the Vietnamese community because I lived in Halsey Square. That is where all the Vietnamese people are. So they have a place for worship, room number eighty-three, where there was a priest. So yes, during those two years I think without the community I would be so lost, I would be so sad. I was not involved with the American community at all.
AJ: You were separate.
AJ: So how did you come to learn English with the ESL program being so terrible?
VT: Well, I just learned. We just went to college to, what do you call it, swim or sink, right? Swim or sink. So I swam. I could have gone to college. My path would have been a different way. My first twenty-five years were horrible. Then I became a teacher and I got divorced with my first husband. Then I started to become, you know, like a teacher, and I would be able to afford better housing because my ex-husband’s business was not very successful. But also I was bicultural and bilingual. It is a hard line to walk, so in school I had to be very outspoken. I am very outspoken and I know what I want because I was there to support the kids, and I was going to support the kids. Then at home, I had to be a Vietnamese woman, and a Vietnamese woman should be in her place. You are not very outspoken, you are kind of quiet. You are the keeper of the family, but you are not really supposed to be really outspoken. So if you think like we have a comparison of a house, a Vietnamese family is a house. The father is the roof, so he protects and he is outside. The mom is the pillars, the mom is compared to pillars. So what do pillars do? Pillars carry the roof and protect the people in the house. So without the pillars there is no roof, right. So that is how we are. Then I was in my community and I was perceived as very American.
AJ: Why is that?
VT: Because I am outspoken. When I went back to get my teaching degree—this is kind of personal—but when I came back to my teaching degree I had to choose between my husband, the family, or the education. So I thought that if I ever wanted to support my kids and if I wanted to do better in supporting other kids than I needed to get an education, to get a college degree. So that is how I chose, because he told me that if I wanted to go I would get no support. So I would have to take care of the babies by myself and all of this stuff, and I did.
AJ: How was your experience through higher education?
VT: It was good, it was good. I learned a lot of things that I wished I had learned earlier in life. My sister's oral English skills are much better than [mine]. She has no accent and she is only two years younger than I am. Because she went to college right away, she was involved in the English community and speaking right away. So her English is almost flawless, no accent. You know, a little grammar here and there just like me right now. So if I would have gone to college when I was supposed to—everybody takes a different route, I am not saying that my route is not a good route—but I am just saying that if I were to have gone to college earlier I could probably do much more than I have done.
AJ: You have done a lot.
VT: Yeah, but I wish I could have gotten into English sooner. The reason why I went into administration, it was really not about the money, because I know the front line teachers are so important. But I went into administration because I wanted to make a policy change. I wanted to change policies. Policies right now are not good, for kids and people like us, for kids that look like us. So to do that I have to go into administration because that is how it works. That is the reason why I said I could have been in sooner than I came, because of all of the ten years that I have been in administration I was able to do a lot, but then also it cost me my mental health, stress and stuff. But I consider myself a strong woman, but I wish somebody would [have] believed in me sooner. That is kind of my thing to say to everybody: you have to believe the kids, because if you do not believe in the kids nobody will. If they do not see that you believe in them then they are not going to trust you. They are not going to be successful. They won't have that connection with you. I had an ESL teacher who said, "Well I love, we love them." Because I did a whole shift in teaching ESL. The best practice is ESL teachers do not pull kids out, but that is what they have been doing for a long time. They have a small class size and they love the kids, they support them. But here I am telling them, “You have to change your teaching practice. I need you to be language coaches.” Meaning whatever the great things you are doing with small kids or a class of kids, I need you to work with your peers to transfer your language skill coaches to the lessons. So whatever the English language development pedagogy you are using for these kids, work with the content teacher so you can transfer that skill set and then you will be a team. The kids are not being pulled out, and you get to work with the kids. So that was kind of difficult too, because they said, "But we love them." I said, "I appreciate you love them, but I need you to teach them, too." Love is not enough, so the relevance and rigor have to go hand in hand. Because if you love them and you give them the motivation to draw and to write the same thing all day long, you are setting them back, you are not setting them up for success. So that was hard to, that was a hard shift. So that is why I said I wanted to go back [crying] so I would have more time. I could do more but—I did not really have to retire, but I wanted to work in a different sect. Now I want to do higher education, training teachers before they go into the classroom. That is kind of how I shifted my thinking now.
AJ: Now you are outside of the … yeah.
VT: Because people who are coming in to teach, they are not ready at all.
AJ: In what ways are they unprepared?
VT: The way that they are unprepared is that they want to teach at private schools. Teaching is not easy, teaching is an art. You would have thirty kids—we have such a large classroom in public school, less money—thirty kids and an administrator like me expects you to teach at all the levels. [laughs] Well, that is easy to say. But to teach them at the thirty level you have to be well trained, and that is a reality check. As a teacher, you are their social worker, you are also making sure they have food in the morning. All of these things that you have—
[Cell phone rings]
AJ: Oh, sorry.
VT: That is OK. Is that time?
AJ: It is four if you are running late.
VT: Yeah, yeah, so you have to be kind of mentally prepared for what you go into. Right now the pedagogy alone is not going to be enough. Equity is so important because of the perception or the bias you already have in your classroom—this is a test, this is research—when you go in the classroom and you see three kids and they are Black boys, you have a perception of them. You have two Asians and they are good at math, hmn, they will be OK. They do not cause you any trouble. These two kids will not get help. My son, the youngest, had a lot of issues. But he is always quiet and doesn't cause any issues. He never got help. Oh, his parents are going to help him, his mom is going to help him [laughs]. His father is going to email me the next day [laughs]. So these are the biases that we have to help our teachers check themselves [on] before they go into a classroom. A lot of them do not last three years. It is hard.
AJ: Yeah. How are you doing on time? I know you said that you have to meet your mom again.
VT: Yeah, so you have to go at four so we can follow up. So I think whatever you need to ask me is fine, otherwise we can follow up with another meeting.
AJ: OK. I don't want to hold you past what you said.
VT: I just want to make sure that, like I said, how do you promote the voices and how is it shared. I would love to be a part of it and to help.
AJ: Yeah, we would love that as well. Let me conclude the interview by saying my name is Azen Jaffe, today is August 26, 2019, and I was speaking with Van Truong.
VT: Yes, thank you.
AJ: Thank you.