The people are the best part of the Master’s Program at Mount Holyoke

“They teach us with their actions, and that makes me want to be the best of me.”

When Shan-Hsuan King, who goes by Shan-Shan, reflects on her time in the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Mount Holyoke, there is no question in her mind about the best part of the program.

“I think the people are the most beautiful part of this program,” she said. “Our director and our assistant director and my peers and the teachers — they know their subject matter, but they also teach us, with their actions, the best pedagogy to help students grow. For example, when I submit assignments, sometimes the feedback I get is even longer than the assignment.”

That level of care and consideration — and learning by example — drives King’s own ambitions. She previously worked as a paraprofessional and Chinese-language tutor and interpreter, and she started the MAT in the summer of 2022 to make the transition to becoming a Chinese-language teacher. She is now slated to complete the degree in October — and when she does, she will be the first graduate in Mount Holyoke’s Chinese 5–12 language licensure track.

“When I checked Mount Holyoke’s website, I was very impressed with its goals. I felt like they focused so much on social justice, and that’s what I found most important.”

Studying at Mount Holyoke is also a first for King — the first time she has ever studied at an American college. King was born and raised in Taiwan and had a life and career there far different from that of an educator in the United States. After she got her master’s degree in public health, she worked in Taiwan’s Department of Health (now known as the Ministry of Health and Welfare). She was happy with her urban life and didn’t imagine it changing until she met a man who had graduated from an American college and was in Taiwan to find his roots. The two eventually got together, and King followed him back to the U.S.

After living in Washington, D.C., for a short while, the couple settled in Framingham, Massachusetts. That transition from urban to suburban living — when, on top of that, King was pregnant with her first child — shocked her. “I didn’t know how to drive,” she said. “Everything was just very overwhelming. I felt like people in Massachusetts were colder.”

When her children got a little older, she started bringing them to a free grant program administrated by Framingham Public Schools called the Early Childhood Alliance of Framingham. That’s when King got the urge to apply to work with families herself. “The goal is not to teach the children,” she said of the program. “The goal is to demonstrate to the parents how they can use the resources to educate their own children.”

Through the program, King started visiting low-income families with children under the age of 3. Framingham has a diverse population, and she found herself working with families from Ghana, El Salvador, Mexico and Kenya as well as Boston. “They treated me like I was the teacher, but I just told them, ‘I’m not the teacher. I’m more like a facilitator,’” she said. “The best teachers are actually the parents.”

Working with these families — who, like King, were dealing with isolation and speaking English as a second language — pushed King even more to work with immigrant ESL families, particularly those from China and Taiwan so she could put her language skills to use. Once she started tutoring and interpreting at parent-teacher conferences, or for teachers, social workers, school psychologists and administrators, King realized the value of her Chinese-language skills even more. The idea of becoming a middle school Chinese-language teacher started to grow in her mind — and seeing firsthand American education’s specific style, she felt the desire to attend an American school herself.

“With the high cost of American education, I didn't think of getting one when the kids were younger,” she said, referring to her children. “But then Mount Holyoke offered scholarships to paraprofessionals like me. And when I checked Mount Holyoke’s website, I was very impressed with its goals. I felt like they focused so much on social justice, and that’s what I found most important. I really felt like their values aligned with mine,” she said.

When King went for the admissions interview, where she met the director and assistant director of the MAT, her feelings crystallized. She was so nervous, she said, but quickly realized she didn’t need to be. “They gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling. They weren’t trying to judge me,” she said of the admissions committee. “I could see that. I could sense that.”

And that feeling has continued throughout the program, King said. Mount Holyoke’s teachers have never made her feel less than her peers, and she can see that every one of them is as invested in social justice as she is. No one course stands out to her, King said, because all of her coursework is wonderful — from learning how to break down sentences to using “brain frames” and dream texts to teach students.

And she loves hearing her classmates share their experiences and learning from them about the best approaches in the classroom and strategies for motivating students. “Everyone has their own story of how they come in to help their students,” she said.

After she graduates, King hopes to find a position in her home district of Framingham. Until then, her gratitude for the Mount Holyoke MAT program keeps her building.

“They teach us with their actions,” she said. “And that makes me want to be the best of me.”

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