Simple Steps continues our interview series with Season 2 in 2019. We will share stories of our fellow members and supporters.
This month, meet Hannah Lee, an instructional aide at Walter Hays Elementary School in Palo Alto.
Q: Can you start off by telling us about your current job and your career in general?
A: I work at Walter Hays Elementary School as an instructional aide for a kindergarten class. As an instructional aide, I prepare educational materials and assist individual students or groups of students under the classroom teacher’s guidelines. I started working in this position in January. Before, I worked as a student attendant.
Q: Can you elaborate on the difference between working as an instructional aide and a student attendant?
A: While an instructional aide works for a general classroom, a student attendant works with an individual special education student and receives supervision from a certified teacher. Another big difference is that an instructional aide works maximum 19 hours per week without benefit, but a student attendant works 30 hours per week with benefit.
Q: Why did you choose a career in the public education field instead of other jobs?
A: I decided to only work while my children are at school because I want to be able to be there for them when they come home. Working in the same school district as my children were the answer. It’s very nice to have the same holidays and breaks! Also, I worked as an instructor in the art field and I’ve always liked teaching. It’s quite rewarding to see the children grow and see before-and-after differences.
Q: How did you prepare yourself to start working again?
A: When I decided to go back to work, I told everyone and spread the word. I got introduced to Doyeon Kim, the founder of Simple Steps, and started participating in workshops. I hadn’t worked for almost 15 years. Once I started going to Simple Steps’ events, I started seeing those 15 years in a different light. Looking back, I was an active volunteer at my children’s schools and I led a Girl Scouts troop for 2 years. I had also done lots of volunteer work for the community. Simple Steps really helped me see those things differently and helped me update my resume practically. Then, I started to apply for jobs.
Q: As an immigrant, what were some challenges you faced in rejoining the workforce, and how did you address them?
A: I faced three major challenges. First, I had to wait much longer than I expected to go back for work, because my family had to deal with lots of difficult situations by ourselves, for all my extended family members live in Korea. I had to take care of my family when they were in need. Also, until I got my green card, the Visa without a working permit was a big barrier. Another challenge is English. Even though I got my Master’s degree in the US, English is still hard for me. To improve and practice English I had volunteered for my children’s schools continually.
Q: Was there a rough transition period when you started working?
A: For I have worked only while my children are in school, there was not much trouble. But they had to learn to be more responsible, for I couldn’t deliver the things they forgot to bring to school. My children really cheered me on when they heard my working as an aide because they had good memories of their own aides being very nice and helpful and knew that I would play that role for other children as well.
Q: Do you have any future career plans?
A: Yes, I will be ready to continue my career as a metalsmith when my kids go to college. I have started to do my artwork at home after switching to an instructional aide position. I appreciate this job because it helps me to invest what I want to do.
Q. Do you have any advice for women looking to pursue a career in the education field?
A: I encourage all moms to volunteer to their children’s classrooms and schools. Attend all the school events, take charge of an event and be a room parent. The school and the teachers will appreciate you and you’ll build relationships with them. When you apply to the school jobs, they’ll be your references and all your effort will come back for you as rewards. Start a job whatever available and suitable for you, even though it’s not your favorite position. It’s easier to move your position in the same school district than to get hired as a new employee.