Faculty Profile: CJ Lee, PreK 4 Head Teacher
November 19, 2020
Tell us about your path to Léman.
I grew up in upstate New York and attended Northwestern where I got my bachelor’s degree in sociology. I was interested in education, but I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do. After graduation, I taught English at Sungkyul University, in Anyang, South Korea. While I was there, I realized how difficult teaching is but also became interested in leaning what it meant to be a good teacher. After I returned, I was accepted to Teachers College at Columbia University, where I received a master’s in elementary education.
I then went on to teach PreK at the Mandell School on the Upper West Side, where I was for four years, and then, four years ago, I came to Léman.
What made you want to become an educator?
I've always loved spending time with kids, watching them learn, and figuring out what interests them, how their brains are working. And I've always gravitated towards teaching-like roles. For instance, I was the coach for a soccer team and a sectional leader in my college orchestra. I was always in those kinds of roles without realizing that I was teaching just because it was fun and I kind of fell into it. When I was looking for a job and trying to think about what really was inspiring and what I was passionate about, people would tell me that I should be a teacher like I’ve always been in some ways. I never it never occurred to me until I went and tried it that it was the perfect fit for me.
What do you like about teaching PreK 4?
I think the PreK 4 year is special because the kids are just starting to become independent. They are starting to become their own thinkers, their own learners, and they are able at that point to communicate their feelings, thoughts, and interests. And it's the peak year where they begin to explore ideas and interests independently. There are a lot of ways that we can help them to do that. But they are also just discovering by playing with different kinds of materials and exploring those materials and starting to figure out this amazing world of reading and writing and figuring out how they can become a writer on their own and become an artist on their own.
You incorporate a lot of art and creative projects into your teaching. What motivates that and how do you think students benefit from those projects?
I think those hands-on experiences, and then particularly when they get to produce something that was meaningful to them and related to that concept, it cements the ideas and concepts we’re talking about. We recently studied the pumpkin life cycle, focusing on the stages that the plant goes through as it grows. The kids kind of got it when I explained it to them and showed them pictures, but when they actually took the time to create it visually, it really clicked for them. It’s not about focusing on the final product, but rather, the process of creating it and what they are learning. When the child has that time to process the ideas through something tangible, it really makes everything more meaningful for them.
What do you like about teaching at an IB school?
I like how the IB guides the curriculum and gives us a framework to work with.
When we try and look at all of our learners, whether they're in the PreK to program or in the high school, having that one unified idea that we all follow at our school has been really interesting to think about. We are not teaching them the social studies curriculum, but we are teaching them what it is to be global-minded citizens and we are teaching them to be risk-takers. And I think that being collaborative and being communicative are all skills that we still do in the younger grades.
What do you think makes the Center for Early Childhood at Léman unique?
I’ve enjoyed having opportunities to engage with the curriculum that we have and be thoughtful about the planning that we are doing to teach the children. There are other schools that are set in their ways and Léman is responsive and nimble, which is exciting because, as teachers, we are able to engage with the curriculum as well as insert our own ideas and collaborate with the team to figure out what works well for our kids, rather than following the same curriculum year after year.
What is your educational philosophy?
It goes back to why I was attracted to being an educator. The child is what drives everything that we try to do. And we do develop a curriculum and develop ways to introduce new ideas to the child. I like to take what is interesting to the kids at this age and try and tie it into what we're learning about so that they can drive their own education. And I think that for me, it’s important to create experiences that are open-ended so that they can discover their own way of thinking and their own ideas, and then experiment with where you see results and can reflect on those. I think it's really interesting to see four-year-olds do that. That’s what really inspires me as a teacher.