Featured Member: Tiffany Pyen, ’11
Tiffany Pyen ’11 is a Social Studies teacher at Ballou High School in Southeast D.C.
How she first heard about Wellesley: I grew up in Long Island, in a Korean American family. When I was in the 10th grade, I visited a church where a high school senior who knew my brother had just gotten in to Wellesley. She told me I should definitely apply. When I looked into the academics and saw the campus, I fell in love immediately. It was my first choice.
How she became a French major: I was torn in multiple directions for the first two years at Wellesley. I was an IR major, but I also considered majoring in education or minoring in music. I knew for sure that I wanted to study abroad in France. After I came back from France my senior year, the French Department chair told me that I had accumulated so many French credits that I could easily add it as a double major.
On getting a French nouveau regard on life: I did the Wellesley-in-Aix program for a semester. The French people that I met there introduced me to a whole new set of values and lifestyles. They challenged my perspective of what my life should look like. Growing up in an Asian family, I always thought success was very important and that it revolved around education and a career. But in France, I got the sense that people didn’t prioritize school or status the way that all my peers at Wellesley did. My French friends were good, relaxed and confident people who didn’t judge me by my intelligence.
How she picked up some African rhythms: The Wellesley-in-Aix program provided a stipend to do cultural activities. I passed by an Arts Center and saw a flyer for djembe lessons. I showed up for a lesson and continued for a few months in Aix. The djembe drum is an African percussion instrument, kind of like Congo drums. Mine is from Ghana. At Duke, I took two djembe classes for a year. I can still play it in Meridian Hill park on Sundays here in D.C.
On developing a passion for education: After Wellesley, I taught English in France for a year. When I returned, I wanted to continue teaching, but I knew it was hard to get a teaching job in New York or Massachusetts without an M.Ed. So, I started as a French teacher in a Durham, NC high school, and later transitioned to a preschool. After that, I started a Master in Public Policy program at Duke. It was really tough financially and stressful academically. I didn’t want to let go of my observations about deficits in the American education system. So, I focused on Social and Education policy.
On teaching in one of D.C.'s most challenged schools: My first year of teaching in Durham exposed me to a lot of domestic inequalities and the achievement gap. But during my time at Duke, I was able to step back and look at the issue from a sociological perspective. My studies made me a lot more empathetic to the needs of my students, who have been historically marginalized. I survive because at the end of the day, if a kid is rude to me or is not motivated, it is not necessarily my fault or the student’s fault. It is a societal issue. So I am really grateful that I was able to learn about this in school.
How this school year is going: IThis is my second year teaching at Ballou. Due to high teacher turnover, I am teaching three different subjects: AP U.S. History, World History, and Psychology. I have about 150 students. At the start of every year, there are many students who try to push your boundaries. That is still happening now. Last year it settled down by November. Hopefully it will be faster this year!
Where to find her on the weekend: I usually have a stack of assignments to grade! I like to spend a lot of time outside with my dog, Ludo! I like hiking and going to different parks in Navy Yard, where we live. Ludo is perfect because he is nice, calm and easy going. I am also grateful to have a small group of amazing friends in DC I can count on who I kept in touch with since college and grad school.
The Washington Wellesley Club is excited to introduce you to DC area alums through this new series of online profiles. Each month, a local alum will talk about living and working in DC and share memories of Wellesley. These profiles will illustrate how Wellesley alums stay creative and resilient despite the challenges that inevitably come our way. To view profiles of previously featured members, click here.