A Voice for New York’s Chinese Students
Touro GSE Grad Helps 150,000 English Language Learners in NYC
Lisa Lin, the director of Elementary Language and Literacy Development and Chinese Language Programs in New York City’s Department of Education, recalled the time a parent of one of her students asked for a favor. The child had been raised by his Chinese grandparents for most of his life until his parents were able to afford the trip to America. That situation itself wasn’t uncommon for Lin: many of her students were raised by their grandparents while their parents work punishing hours in New York’s Chinese restaurants or in the construction industry. But the request was unique.
The parent knew how much her child admired Lin and how he would do anything Lin asked: could Lin, the mother asked, tell the child to love her?
“That was heartbreaking for me,” recalled Lin.
Lin recommended some strategies for developing a better relationship, but admitted that was beyond her abilities. While heartbreaking, the story was both a potent reminder and testament to the sway and esteem that parents in New York’s Chinese community hold Lin, a graduate of Touro’s Graduate School of Education.
After graduating from the National Taiwan Normal University, a highly regarded teacher’s college in Taiwan, Lin bought a one-way ticket to the United States and arrived in 2001.
“Pursuing a higher education degree in America was my dream,” she remarked, adding that as a sprinter in college she had visited the U.S. several times.
After settling in the Fort Greene area of Brooklyn, she began working as an aerobics instructor and teaching Chinese in a not-for-profit organization for youth in East New York while looking for a full-time teaching position. After six months of waiting, she finally received a phone call from a district office. Lin was invited for an interview and offered the position on the same day.
“It was a culture shock,” recalled Lin about her first full-time teaching position. “There were no specific resources and curriculum for the program. You walk into classroom and there were fifty kids in it since they couldn’t find another bilingual teacher.”
As Lin continued working in the public school system a sense of uneasiness settled in her.
“There were many issues,” said Lin. “The lack of Chinese bilingual resources, of support for schools, of parent participations, and student engagement as well as effective professional development for teachers were troubling for me. I often wondered how I, as an individual, could change that.”
“Something more could be done for the student population I work with,” she recalled thinking. “They needed a bigger voice, they needed an advocate. I needed to be in a position that had the capacity to influence policies and make a difference That’s why I went to Touro.”
Lin graduated from Touro GSE in 2005 with a Master of Science in School Administration and Supervision and holds NYSED School Administration and Supervision (SAS) and School District Administration (SDA) certifications.
“Touro provided a very nurturing and supportive environment for me to learn and grow professionally,” said Lin. “Three of my instructors were school principals. They shared their frontline experiences of being school leaders in serving our children and how they collaborated with their communities to ensure student success. It was very practical and helpful.”
After graduating, Lin steadily rose through a variety of positions inside New York City’s Department of Education until she became the director of the city’s Elementary Language and Literacy Development and Chinese Language Programs. In her current role, she works with renowned researchers and field practitioners in developing and conducting multi-tiered professional development series on ELL literacy instruction for educators in the NYC school system. Lin also collaborates with colleges to recruit and train pre-service teachers, she conducts parent conferences and workshops to increase parent involvement, and hosts citywide conferences for world language learning and literacy development. She has also devoted herself, collaborating with Chinese bilingual educators across New York City, to creating a common vision for Chinese bilingual programs and developing instructional resources that are aligned with current standards to meet students’ needs.
“My passion is in creating more educational opportunities and advocating for English Language Learners to ensure equity.” And while she has stepped away from the day-to-day life of a teacher, Lin is still in touch with many of her former students. Each year, they visit her over Thanksgiving.
“I love children. That’s the driving force for my work.” stated Lin. “You see these amazing yet vulnerable students who come to America at twelve or thirteen and can’t speak English. I have high expectations for them. I am preparing them for life, for ultimate success. It’s not just about going to Harvard, it’s about ensuring that these children grow to become decent individuals who can contribute to our society and are comfortable and secure with themselves.”