Leader in the Spotlight: Jessica Woo, Inspiring Educator & Public Speaking Whiz

September is back-to-school month, so it seems fitting that we present Jessica Woo, an educator and lifelong learner, as the NYL featured in this month’s Leader in the Spotlight. Find out what Jessica thinks it takes to become a teacher, her advice for public speaking, and much more.

JWang: Describe your most memorable moment with a student.

JWoo: One of my most memorable moments only lasted for a few seconds, but will forever resonate as a profound memory during my time as an educator. I had a student earlier this year who was extremely cynical about the Canadian education system. He was a bright individual who knew almost all of the answers to the grammar questions I asked in class. However, he frequently commented on how his educators did not know much. Determined to make the best of his educational experience in my classroom, I decided to engage him through more creative activities that allowed him to think outside the box. The challenges I presented to my class were thought-provoking in that a single answer would not be sufficient. They called for qualities such Posteras teamwork, debating skills, and mutual respect.

By the end of the course, the student had to leave my class because of another extra-curricular commitment. On one of his last days, he asked me if I was going to stay after class. Anxiously, I asked the student if his parents had a concern about his education. He said no and we moved on with class. When I dismissed the class, the student darted out of the room. At this point in time, I was mentally preparing to talk to his parents. When he came back, he had a wonderful piece of artwork in his hand. He handed it to me and thanked me for providing him with the experience. I bowed my head down, holding tears of joy back, and thanked him for his kindness. The artwork he created for me is a symbol of motivation – I can truly make a difference as long as I put my heart into it, even if it seems disappointing at first. The picture now hangs on a special corner of my study space.

JWang: For those students aspiring to be a teacher/educator, what do you consider the most essential skill they need in today’s job market?

JWoo: I would tell them to pursue this as their career as long as they are passionate and strong-willed. The current job market is said to be bleak, but keep in mind that one can educate in many settings. Education can take place in a number of mediums – it’s not simply confined to the walls of a traditional classroom setting. It is our impact on students’ lives that make what we do worthwhile. We are developing positive relationships that are both professional and healthy.

JWang: You participate in some speech activities to cultivate public speaking skills. What techniques have you learned to deal with difficulties in public speaking (i.e. natural fear of public speaking, stuttering)?

JWoo: I learned about public speaking mainly from my father who is a dedicated Toastmasters member. Every time he speaks, he speaks with his heart and soul – even when he is lecturing my sister and I at home. As a public speaker, it is important to know that people may not remember everything you say, but they will certainly remember how you said it. I remember when I was in Grade 1, I was watching a play and this man in a bunny costume kept running around. I don’t remember the play itself anymore, but I certainly remember him scurrying about and how he put his entire self into his role.

Another bit of advice is to pick a topic that you’re interested in. I’ve tried talking about trees before and believe me – it was tough. However, when I talk about my experience with kids, I can see the looks on my audience’s faces – struck with awe.

JWang: If you could improve one thing about the current education system, what would it be? What do you feel has changed over the years, and what do you anticipate for the future?

JWoo: Although unrealistic, I would like to remove the frequency of standardized tests. Students are gifted in various ways, and it is not really fair to grade them solely based on their performances on a standardized test. For example, I’ve met a student who was an amazing dancer. She was gifted in the sense that she could move like nobody else. However, when it came to writing tests, she became very nervous and, as a result, received low grades.

I really like that there is now inquiry-based learning as opposed to the traditional teacher-centered learning environment. With inquiry-based learning, the teacher acts as more of a facilitator while the students are active agents in their own learning. For the future, I hope that students can shift to more of a hands-on approach. I remember learning best when I was able to do things myself – such as create my own bridge in grade 3. Hopefully there will be more of those activities so that creativity can triumph over memorization, knowledge-based activities and tests.

JWang: If you could teach anywhere for a year, where would it be?

JWoo: If I could teach anywhere for a year, I would teach in Korea. I went to Korea last year with my mom for a brief visit. However, what I learned in that week was much more than anything I can ever read about. Even simply looking at how stores are set up was a great learning experience. For all of my life, I have been relatively close to my family and my home. I hope to fly overseas and live independently for a bit, so I can learn, teach and grow on my own too. Below is a picture that I took in the one week I was in Korea. It’s a picture of my mother and me at a remote town. I noticed that Korea has many temples and I certainly want to know more about their significance in Korean culture. Korea is a place that I definitely want to visit again.


Jessica Woo


Would you like to learn more about Jessica’s experiences? Visit Jessica’s profile and connect with her by scheduling a chat today!

Stay tuned for next month’s Leaders in the Spotlight interview!

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