Global Teaching Crusade: New teacher August Siu joins the math department

Math teacher August Siu peers at the virtual displays of her students in a Zoom meeting as they gaze back, waiting for her next instruction. This is not how she originally envisioned her first day of teaching at UPA.

Siu has taught students from fourth grade to 10th grade and holds a multiple subject credential as well as an education specialist credential. For the 2020-2021 school year, Siu is teaching Math 8 and Math Support 8 at UPA.

Before starting her teaching career, Siu planned to apply for law school and become an attorney. When she attended high school in Connecticut, her AP European History teacher’s arguments for justice and equality inspired her to enter the legal field. As a result, Siu double-majored in political science and mathematics at Providence College in Rhode Island and interned at a probate court during her sophomore year.

Every day just kind of felt the same until the attorneys’ daughters and sons came in and they needed help with their math homework.

— August Siu

“Every day just kind of felt the same until the attorneys’ daughters and sons came in and they needed help with their math homework,” Siu said. “I realized how much I love teaching them and tutoring them more than actually being in the courtroom and trying to figure out paperwork and filing things and writing a lot of the deeds for the lawyer society.”

Siu swapped political science for elementary/special education during her sophomore year and began her teaching journey in an after-school STEM program that she developed for her college. Through the program, she demystified STEM concepts for students in elementary, middle and high school, who attended every weekday.

“At first I was just volunteering at the library just to do something extra,” Siu said. “Then after a while, I realized that once [students were] done with their homework, it was good for me to plan lessons for them too because I was trying to teach them certain concepts along with trying to help them with homework.”

Siu wanted to travel internationally to experience different cultures and their education systems, so she studied abroad in Senegal for four months and eventually gained interest in teaching abroad. After graduating, she taught one year in Belgium, two years in Kuwait and occasionally taught virtually in Senegal.

“Kuwait felt like home to me because I stayed there for a few years,” Siu said. “It’s interesting to think about because when I first got there, I didn’t think it would be.” 

Siu described her first experience in Kuwait as a shell shock when she saw fully-covered women in burkas and how the conservative country functioned. Teaching there was an eye-opener as she adjusted to their strict education policies.

“Before the school year, teachers will actually change all of the workload or the word problems,” Siu said. “So certain things like, of course, alcohol or pigs, have to be [censored] because of how the government is. It’s not as open or free as the U.S. is.”

Besides the censorship in Kuwait’s education system, Siu also discovered the limited amount of educational resources provided for children in Senegal. Despite the disadvantage, the students she taught there continued to find joy in learning.

“Even just learning the alphabet in other countries, I feel like it’s the No.1 thing and they’re so happy about it too,” Siu said. “So for me, it’s just good to see a different perspective on students and how they view things.” 

Siu’s travels have allowed her to learn different languages such as Arabic and even attempt coding languages after finding that some students in Belgium can start learning to code in third grade. 

She hopes to work in a volunteer program and travel abroad once more when COVID-19 conditions are better. Some travel destinations she has in mind are Peru or other South American countries for a new cultural experience.

Siu is currently settling down with her fiancé and teaching in San Jose as a new chapter in her life. UPA’s mission in preparing students for college and the diversity of the student population appealed to Siu as she accepted the job at UPA over offers in Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

“Honestly, I hope to build good relationships with students and try to make a difference,” Siu said. “Just [for them to have] a love for learning and feel comfortable that they want to pursue whatever they want to do.”