Carmel High School Tungfen Lee received the People’s Choice Award and a $1,000 prize at a Nov. 19 ceremony for the U.S. Heartland Chinese Teacher Award.
Lee was one of five finalists for the Heartland Chinese Teacher Award, which is designed to show appreciation for those teaching Chinese in the Heartland region. She was not among the three teachers to win the top award and a $5,000 cash grant.
“I still feel honored and humbled to have been selected as one of the finalists. I wanted to thank whoever voted for me for the People’s Choice Award. I believe that many of them were from our Carmel city and school community,” Lee said. “I even saw a surprise video recording from Mayor (Jim) Brainard to support me at the award ceremony. I really appreciate so many people’s recognition and encouragement. I will continue to make a positive impact and spread Chinese language and culture at school and in the community.”
Lee was born in Taiwan and is a graduate of National Taiwan University. She came to the U.S. to continue her education, earning a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Because of husband’s job, the family relocated to Carmel in 2000, and she said the city has become her “second home.”
Lee started teaching Chinese at her sons’ weekend Chinese school in 2002.
“The more I teach, the more I feel like I need to expand my knowledge and pedagogy in this profession,” Lee said. “Therefore, I returned to school in 2007 and became a certified teacher.”
Lee joined CHS in 2009. At the time, the Chinese program had 50 students. It has nearly 150 this year.
“Chinese is considered a distant and difficult language to many students, so the enrollment grows very slowly,” Lee said. “The first few years when I taught at Carmel High School, I only had two classes – one of Chinese 1 and one combined class of Chinese 2 and 3 levels. This year, I have six classes and teach Chinese 1, 2, 3, IB and AP. Not only has the program increased in enrollment, but student performance on AP tests indicates high levels of academic achievement as well.”
Since the AP program’s inception in 2017, more than 100 students have taken the AP Language and Culture test with an average score of 4. The IB Mandarin program started in 2021, and students’ results were between 6 and 7, which are the highest.
Lee considers herself “lucky and blessed” to have the opportunity to share her love for the Chinese language and culture with her students.
Like many teachers, Lee uses her own money to buy classroom materials to enrich her students’ cultural experience. She will use the People’s Choice Award prize money to update materials and equipment that have wear and tear after many years. Future goals include participating in statewide or national world language teacher conferences to expand her knowledge in the field; upgrading to premium accounts for online tools which support in-class activities and support students studying at home; and sponsoring the Chinese New Year celebration at CHS and in the community.
“Having opportunities to learn world languages like Chinese will create more positive attitudes and less prejudice in the community. Moreover, learning Chinese culture enables people to gain a more profound understanding and appreciation of their own culture,” Lee said. “With cultural awareness and understanding, people in the community will respect each other more, and they will foster a sense of community. I am honored to have the opportunity to teach Chinese to high schoolers and spread the love of Chinese language and culture beyond the classroom and to their families and friends in the community.”