1.2 Letter to Ms. Lam

US History II
HW 1.2: Letter to Ms. Lam
To complete this homework assignment, do the following:
1. Read the attached letter from me.
2. Write me a letter introducing yourself. It should be at least three paragraphs in
length and can be typed or hand-written neatly. It is due on Thursday, September 3.
Your letter should tell me anything you think I should know about yourself as a
student and a person – it’s up to you what you want to share.
If you’re stuck, you might answer some of the following questions:
What’s your background? Where are you from?
What do you want to tell me about your family (however you define that)?
What do you do in your time outside of school?
What are your goals for the future?
How did you feel about humanities last year? What worked well for you in
that class? What were your favorite history topics?
What’s your learning style? Do you prefer reading, writing, listening,
speaking, debating? What are your strengths and weaknesses as a student?
How are you feeling about my class this year? What’s something that you
heard about my class last year that made you excited, terrified, etc.?
What should I know about you as a student or a person that will help me be a
better teacher for you this year?
Dear history students,
I’m excited to be back at CCSC this year! This will be my third year of teaching US
History II and Modern World History at CCSC. This year, I’m also teaching AP US History for
the first time in CCSC’s history, and I have a tenth-grade advisory.
I was born in raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city of 600,000 people on Lake
Michigan. (As such, I am legally required to loudly say, “You think this is cold? Let me tell
you about cold!” at least twice a week during winters in Boston. I will also be very
sympathetic if you complain about shoveling to me.) I take great pride in being from
Wisconsin, and you’ll hear a lot about it, especially during football season, because my
mother raised me to be a Packers fan.1
My father was born in Macau, a city in China that was a Portuguese territory in
1999. He came to the United States when he was in his twenties, and he works as an
accountant. My mother grew up in Green Bay; she works for the City of Milwaukee and is
also a church organist. My younger sister lives in Northampton; after three years working
in a Chinese immersion school, she’s just started graduate school at UMass-Amherst to
become a certified teacher, and she plays roller derby and does rock climbing in her spare
I went to public schools in Milwaukee from kindergarten through 12th grade, and I
was always a very dedicated student – or, to put it less politely, a huge nerd. During
elementary and middle school, I loved reading more than just about anything else; I
distinctly remember getting in trouble for reading during class in fourth grade, which
didn’t make sense to me until I became a teacher. In high school, my biggest activity was
debate; I was fortunate to join a very competitive team that traveled around the country a
few times every year. I also played the piano and earned a black belt in taekwondo. (As you
have probably inferred, I was really, really popular.)2 I was a good student across the
board, but my favorite subject was history, because it allowed me to grapple with the big
questions that high school students don’t usually get to ask: How should society distribute
its resources? Is violence ever justified? How do minorities mobilize to win rights? I loved
being able to discuss those questions with teachers and other students, and I look forward
to discussing them with you this year.
After high school, I moved to Cambridge to start college at Harvard University.3 It
would be an understatement to say that Harvard was very different from the schools I’d
attended in Milwaukee. One of the first things I noticed when I moved into my freshman
dorm was that, whereas my underfunded high school was constantly running out of toilet
paper and soap, the bathrooms in my dormitory had stacks of extra toilet paper in every
stall! By my sophomore year I had decided to major in social studies – a mix of social
The outcome of the Packers game on Sundays tends to determine how cranky I am on Mondays, so it might
be in your best interest to check the score occasionally.
2 As you may or may not have heard, I also tend towards sarcasm.
3 At the same time as Mr. Starling, incidentally.
science disciplines – and to focus on education. I was very involved with the College
Democrats, and I spent the summer of 2007 living in New Hampshire and working on the
Obama campaign. I also worked as a writing tutor and as an assistant to the facilities
manager in my dorm.
In my junior year, my mother visited me and rather pointedly asked, “So what are
you going to do after college?” As a child, I’d had a lot of answers to that question – an
astronaut, a knight, Indiana Jones – but at 21, I was suddenly painfully aware that
astronauts usually have extensive training in science and engineering, and the other two
options weren’t actually jobs.4 So I told her, for the first time, the plan that I’d been vaguely
formulating for years: I wanted to be a teacher. Indeed, I earned my teaching certification
while I was in college, doing my internship at the Josiah Quincy Upper School in Boston. But
I put that plan on hold when I had the great fortune of winning a Rhodes Scholarship, which
paid for me to spend three years earning a doctorate in education at Oxford University in
England. (Its namesake, the British colonialist Cecil Rhodes, made his fortune by viciously
exploiting the labor of the legacy of black diamond miners in present-day South Africa – a
topic we’ll explore next year in Modern World History.) I wrote a 301-page dissertation
about students’ perceptions of racial inequality in curriculum tracking, which you are very
welcome to read during DEAR.
I enjoyed the academic lifestyle in Oxford, but after three years, I was glad to move
back to Cambridge and return to the real world. I love teaching history for the same reason
that I love studying history: although a lot of people think of history as blindly memorizing
names, dates, and facts, the real purpose of learning about things that happened in the past
is to gain a better understanding of the big questions that we still face today. For me, the
two biggest questions in American history – and they must be asked together – are these:
How have we moved closer to achieving the liberty, equality, and justice that were written
into the “promissory note”5 signed by the founders of the American republic? And
conversely, how and why do we continue to fall short of delivering on that promise?
Through studying these questions, I’ve come to see that my own story and my family’s
story are woven into the fabric of American history. Over the course of the year, I hope that
you will, too.
Ms. Lam
Technically, Indiana Jones was an archaeologist, but most archaeologists lead slightly less exciting lives.
Perhaps – hopefully – you’ve noticed that I’m quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech at the March on
Washington in 1963. Most people know that speech primarily by King’s lofty – and improvised – lines about
his dream that his four children would be judged by the content of their character, and not the color of their
skin. There are some interesting reasons why his economic metaphor – his idea that black Americans are
entitled to equal rights, because the Founders wrote them a “bad check” – is not usually taught to
schoolchildren. Which is one of the questions that I very much look forward to discussing with you this year.