Teacher of the Issue: Ms. Chang


Nadia Stoyanova

Ms. Chang, or Zhang Laoshi as she is properly called, is pictured writing characters on the board to accompany an image she displayed on the projector, to help students learn characters.

By Esther Babawande

From a little girl pushing a vegetable vendor cart in rural Taiwan to a 48-year-old banker changing her career for the love of learning, Ms. Chang has always faced life with an unbreakable spirit and unwaverable smile.

Ms. Chang, or Zhang Laoshi as her Chinese language students call her, was born to a poor family in rural Taiwan. Her parents were farmers. As a child, routine and a strong work ethic were a means for survival.

“Every day my chore was helping my mom get the vegetables ready, watering the garden and putting the fertilizer on the plants,” Chang said. “Because I come from a farming area, it really gave me the belief that I have to work hard in order for me to be able to succeed.”

Although strong work ethic ensured her family’s stability, having good teachers inspired her spirit and love for education.

“I was really lucky,” Chang said. “I had two very good teachers in my life and if it was not for those two teachers I don’t think I would be the way I am today.”

The middle and high school teachers that inspired her instilled the belief that to excel in life, she had to have education. Chang said she loves learning, and she wants her students to love Chinese.  

Chinese I student Buddy McQuillan, Div. 952, can attest that Chang inspires her students.

“She is always there for you,” McQuillan said. “Whenever you need to ask a question, she’s there to answer it; she’s there to guide you to the right way, she let’s you make mistakes, and she lets you improve. She’s just always there if you need her.”

Chang expressed a deep belief in her students and what they are capable of.

“We have the best kids, really we have the best students especially the ones that learn Chinese. They are the most disciplined, because Chinese is not an easy language to learn [and] the students who take Chinese take it because they want to challenge themselves,” Chang said.  

One of her AP Chinese students, Maya Hernandez, Div. 766, said that Chang inspired her to study abroad in China last summer, and that experience truly changed her life. Hernandez plans to major in Chinese and Public Health now.

That is but one example of the influence “Zhang Laoshi” has on her students. She always aims to connect with them because she can relate to the adversities students in an inner city school face.

“I wanted to teach in the city, because I feel like I can make greater impact on children, because of my own background,” Chang said. “I grew up in a less privileged community and I feel like I can relate to the students in public school more.” 

Chinese language students find joy and inspiration from Chang’s continuously positive attitude to teaching and her words of wisdom for life.

“She’s always very happy and very excited to teach,” Hernandez said.

Chang is also a firm believer in not going by the book.

She teaches students to embrace the Chinese culture along with the language. Instead of memorizing the words, students in her class “live the culture.”  In her class, practice and speaking are paramount. Chang’s teaching style is so unique that it can only be described using an old adage.

“If you learn a language and you don’t know the culture you are just learning something with no practice,” Chang said. “Learning a language is like swimming and driving. You can learn the theory of swimming, but you never swim unless you go down into the water. Just like in Driver’s Ed — you learn the theory but you still need to be on the road to practice.”

For Chinese I student McQuillan, who expected language class to be memorization and studying, Chang’s teaching style was an unexpected relief.

“At this point in our language ability, she doesn’t want us to memorize the characters or memorize translations. She wants us to speak and be able to speak with other,” McQuillan said.  “[We] go from a level of not knowing anything to being able to communicate.”

Chang wanted her students to get as much as they could out of the language, so this year being a sponsor for the National Chinese Honor Society, she launched Language Corner. Language Corner is a place for Chinese language students to hang out after school and have fun while learning the language.

“Language Corner is every Monday in the teachers’ lounge. We provide them food, but they need to order it in Chinese,” Chang said.

Zhang Laoshi puts all of her heart into teaching. It may be hard work, as she says, but it is “the most fulfilling job” that she could do.  

Chang remembers her early years teaching in the suburbs, and every day on her drive to her first school, she passed Lane Tech. She said that she originally thought it was a college, because of the size of the campus. At the age of 50 and just pursuing her passion, working at Lane was a mere dream. But it was a dream that came true.

“I am so lucky that I am in my dream job, and not everybody can be in theirs,” Chang said.