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Leaders to Learn From: Angie Yuan, Upper School English Teacher

Upper School English Teacher Angie Yuan has also taught in Milwaukee, Taipei, and San Francisco. 

Get to know one of the newest members of the UPrep community

This winter, Angie Yuan joined the UPrep Upper School English department. She’s currently teaching the 10th grade Humanities course and two sections of the Immigrant Stories class. She is committed to DEI work and to embedding her passion for justice into the curriculum. Most recently, she has been teaching American Literature and Creative Writing at the University School of Milwaukee. Before that, Angie taught at the American School in Taipei and the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco. With her husband, Jake, and their two teenage-age kids, Amelia and Simon, she is excited to be moving to a city with its very own Din Tai Fung, their favorite in Taipei.

Tell us about the circuitous route you took to becoming a teacher.

I went down a lot of different paths. I always wanted to be a writer, and I ended up choosing poetry because I showed up at the wrong elective and the teacher said, ‘just stay.’ There were only four of us in the class, and I fell in love with writing poetry, with the way it allows for fragmented thinking and small moments and favors intuitive thinking. For a while, I waited tables and worked in a used bookstore in San Francisco. Then I moved to Shanghai, China for three years, teaching for one year, and working for an expat newspaper. Next, I moved to Berkeley and received a degree in Asian studies. While starting a PhD program in Chinese studies with the intent of translating Chinese poetry, I ended up realizing that the most rewarding part of my graduate school experience was the teaching.  

Why do you love teaching?

I thrive on the exchange of ideas. I love when all 16 students are talking about a text and the text just gets bigger through that conversation. I tell my students that I want whatever they read for homework to grow and expand in their minds through discussion and for this to open up new ways of seeing the world. Literature is also a wonderful vehicle for students to understand themselves and other people. I’m always learning from my students and each time I teach a book, no matter how many times I’ve taught it before, it’s always a new experience. I love that about teaching, and the community that forms around this shared experience.

What drew you to Seattle and UPrep?

My family lived in San Francisco for close to 20 years, and we’ve spent the last four years in the Milwaukee area where my husband grew up. We really missed the West coast and decided to move back. I love Seattle for its beauty and the Asian-inspired culture and the really great food. I was seeking a school that looked at education through the lens of social justice, and a place where students think about who they are in relation to what they are learning, and UPrep fits that criteria. I am also excited about the new leadership, including (Head of School) Ronnie Codrington-Cazeau and (Head of Upper School) Joel Sohn.

What’s your favorite book to teach and why?

One text I was surprised to come to love teaching was [William] Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. I love when students are challenged to think about how they read and how their mind creates structures and patterns. Students often insist on a clear narrative. I love any text that suspends readers within an ambiguous space and allows us to discover and think about what meaning comes from. It’s a rewarding teaching experience because students are at first confused and even a little mad when they first start reading the novel, but by the end, they are intrigued, and blown away by a different way of seeing. Pa getting his teeth becomes, you know, so much more than him just getting his teeth.

How do you embed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work into your curriculum?

I’m thinking of Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” TED talk, where she beautifully describes the danger of reading a text as a single narrative. My job as an English teacher is to show many narratives and multiple frameworks of thinking. I want my students to come to class and be willing to listen and engage with these multiple narratives, especially the ones that challenge the dominant narrative that we sometimes mistake as truth. A good discussion is not about coming to class to debate and argue about what you already believe, but being open to new interpretations, and to really listen and learn from each other. That’s DEI work. I also think it’s my job to expose students to literature that represents the world we live in today and expose them to voices that may feel familiar and validating and may also feel uncomfortable and challenging.

Who are some of your favorite poets?

I love Natalie Shapero. Her poetry is so weird and funny, and she writes about popular culture from a strange and ironic perspective. Her poems surprise me. I’ve been reading Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, and Jericho Brown’s amazing book of poetry, The Tradition. I recently had the good fortune of taking a Zoom workshop with Jericho Brown. He had us come to class with 12 lines of writing, and we physically cut up those lines into words and wrote poems with them. I just taught some of my students how to write in the form he created, called duplex poems. I love teaching students to play with language and not worry about making sense (trying to make sense is when we get boring in my opinion) and this exercise did that perfectly.

Do you still write poetry?

I ask my students to keep a journal in class and we write in it daily. I started writing with them in class, and while much of the time, I’m writing about what I’m planning for class and next steps, every once in a while, I will write creatively and get into a good head space. And maybe, if I’m lucky, it will be something I will return to later and work on. I sometimes return to writing poetry in the summers, usually while attending conferences.

What do you do to unwind?

Maybe one of the reasons I had my family move to Seattle is that I thrive on discovering new things, and sometimes you need a new landscape. I’m a mover: I like to go for walks and drives and to try new restaurants. If I’m truly unwinding, I’m hanging with my kids and watching TV with them; taking my dogs for a walk; reading and writing; or just centering myself by looking out the window and taking time to daydream. With our move to Seattle, I’m really excited to get out in the mountains and to the islands, and I want to go to Vancouver (B.C.) and eat dim sum.

By Writer/Editor Nancy Schatz Alton

Read more Leaders to Learn From articles.

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