As we we want to highlight a member of the KIPP Texas family who is paving the way for APPI educators, in a field that is extremely lacking in representation. KIPP Texas-Austin Beacon Prep Middle School 2021-22 principal Robin Nguyen shares how she found her calling in education and why it’s so important Asians are represented in the field.
Robin Nguyen felt the parental pressure of pursuing a chemical engineering major at the University of Texas. Robin says her parents, like many other Asian immigrants, came to the United States motivated by financial need and the pursuit of the American Dream, so they had specific demands and expectations of her. They wanted her to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Once at the University, Robin selected an elective where she designed and delivered a third grade lesson to students across Austin once a week. She found herself devoting all her time to this class instead of her engineering classes. “I truly enjoyed breaking down a big topic to make it interesting and digestible for students, as well as just getting to hang out with third graders each week, “ said Robin Nguyen.
The rest is history. Robin joined Teach for America during her senior year of college and pursued her true passion for education. After graduating in 2011, Robin started her educational career in New Orleans, where she taught fifth, sixth, and seventh grade math, science, and social studies at P.A. Capdau Charter School and KIPP Central City Academy. She returned to Austin, where she was hired at KIPP Austin Academy of Arts & Letters as a long-term sub before becoming a leadership fellow and then an Assistant Principal. Today she is the incoming principal at KIPP Texas-Austin Beacon Prep Middle School for the 2021-22 school year.
It’s an accomplishment in the education industry, where the diversity of the nation’s public school student body has exploded in the last few decades, but the number of teachers of color, especially AAPI teachers hasn’t kept pace. The AAPI community is also the fastest-growing racial group in the United States—representing more than 48 ethnicities and over 300 spoken languages. Less than 1.5 percent of our nation’s teachers identify as AAPI – a number that does not reflect the percentage of AAPI students or the changing student demographics in our schools.
“While education is really valued in the Vietnamese-American immigrant community, there’s often a more narrow idea of what it means to “succeed in America” when it comes to professions – namely, to get a job that requires an advanced degree like being a doctor or a lawyer. It took many years for my parents to wrap their heads around the idea that I was committing to being an educator, and then a few more on top of that for them to understand and accept the idea that this is a really empowering, important job to have and be proud of,” she said.
Robin is deeply passionate about providing an equitable educational experience for ALL students. She grew up in inner city Houston and attended an elementary school with many immigrant Latin American families. She loves being able to learn more about her students’ cultures while also often relating to some of the details and nuances of their lives that she personally experienced as well.
“While there are many differences between my culture and those of our students, I also feel a lot of connection. I would not say that the connection is what drove me to teach students of low-income families of color, but it has definitely been a factor in keeping me going now that I am here,” said Robin.