Nathan Kono, Aspiring Teachers of Color Fellowship Winner, Talks to

Apr 27, 2011

A senior at Boston College, Nathan Kono has been awarded the Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Fund Fellowship for Aspiring Teachers of Color. This fellowship will enable him to complete his graduate degree, which will begin in the fall, then embark on his teaching career. In this interview, we talk with Nathan about his interest in teaching, winning the fellowship and the role of teachers of color in education.

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By Jeff Calareso

Nathan Kono The Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Fund Fellowship for Aspiring Teachers of Color is considered highly prestigious, with only 25 students receiving it annually. How challenging was the application process?

Nathan Kono: The process was definitely overwhelming at first. I first had to be one of only two students nominated by Boston College to even apply for the fellowship, which required an application and interview. I then moved on to complete the fellowship's application. Finally, after being selected to interview in Philadelphia, I waited about one month to hear the wonderful news that I had been accepted as a fellow. The process probably took about four months and included numerous essays and interviews. You'll soon begin work on your master's degree as you prepare to teach. How will receiving this fellowship impact your graduate studies?

NK: The fellowship provides far more than simply financial aid in my studies. While the tuition assistance is vastly important, I also know that the fellowship provides access to a network of fellows, on whom I can rely for support and guidance. The foundation has been wonderfully welcoming and open to any questions I have had so far. You noted that your passion for teaching was sparked by taking over your mother's high school classes last year. Can you describe that experience for our readers?

NK: Well, I was a pre-medical student for two years and taking classes that did not seem to fit my interests. During a winter break, I had the opportunity to take over five high school math courses for two weeks. This required more than simply substitute work. I was writing and grading homework and tests, creating lesson plans and implementing them in classes ranging from algebra I to probability and statistics. The entire experience was eye-opening. I felt almost instantly connected to the field of teaching and things basically took off from there! It sounds like you went quickly from developing a passion for teaching to committing to a graduate education program and earning this fellowship. Have you had an opportunity since the experience in your mother's classroom to get back in front of K-12 students?

NK: I have not had any opportunities since then to teach classes, given the hectic process of finishing up my undergraduate degree. However, the graduate program in secondary education will include a practicum in which I will student teach full-time for a semester in a local high school. This fellowship is intended to help prospective teachers of color prepare for work in urban and rural schools. Have you thought about where you might want to teach?

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NK: I have not given a huge amount of thought to location, but I really do love Boston. I hope I can stay and do whatever I can to have the best possible impact on Boston schools. Teachers of color are becoming increasingly rare in K-12 education. Why do you think it's important for students of color to consider teaching careers?

NK: One of the most important aspects of education, particularly in the ever-changing populations of our classrooms, is having a faculty that reflects the diversity of the student body. From experiential, racial and ethnic perspectives, I think students feel most connected with and interested in their education when they can relate to their teachers in a meaningful way. Your bachelor's degree will be in mathematics, and you've stated your intention to teach high school mathematics. What about that subject interests you?

NK: I think mathematics is a subject in American schools that needs passionate and dedicated teachers to instill some excitement and interest. I always think of making the most 'boring' subject interesting, because math exists everywhere in our lives and throughout nature. Math doesn't need to be as scary or pointless as it is often depicted. Your undergraduate minor is in music. Have you ever taught young people music before? Would you be interested in teaching music if an opportunity arose?

NK: Absolutely. I hope that I will have an opportunity to direct a high school choir or even bring music into my classrooms. Music and math are very closely related! I have been singing since before I can remember and I think it can have wonderful effects on students. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?

NK: For those considering a career in teaching - at least try it out. I don't know that I would be in the place I am without having been in a classroom guiding students along. It is a powerful and wonderful feeling.

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