Math teacher Joe Kim receives Yale Educator Award


Dylan Tsai

Over the summer, class of 2014 alumnus Nishant Jain nominated math teacher Joe Kim for the Yale Educator Award. Yale gives this annual award to recognize high school teachers who have played an important role in shaping current Yale students. On Sept. 2, Kim was announced as one of 83 educators from around the world to receive the Yale Educator Award.

Yale University’s class of 2018 undergraduates nominated a total of 306 of their high school teachers and counselors from across 29 states and 20 countries to receive the Yale Educator Award. Of the 83 winners, Kim is the only MVHS teacher to receive the award.

Active academics

Kim pulls down the projector for the next activity, taking the short opportunity to make a lighthearted comment relating math to Pitch Perfect.
Math Teacher Joe Kim pulls down the projector for his AP Statistics class’s next activity on Sept. 5, taking the short opportunity to make a lighthearted comment relating math to Pitch Perfect. Photo by Dylan Tsai.

Jain had Kim for Algebra 2/Trigonometry in his freshman year, after spending a year in India. At first, Jain was intimidated by how Kim began the first day of school with a test and was continuously shocked at how rigorous MVHS classes were compared to middle school courses. However, as time passed, Jain began to appreciate Kim’s teaching style, which he described as rigorous and fast-paced, but interesting and engaging.

“I can’t describe it, but [Kim] combines many different traits to [be] a very warm and effective teacher,” Jain said. “The experience I had in his class freshman year changed my whole perspective as to how I could adapt to MVHS and really just helped me grow as a person.

When Kim first started teaching in 2001 at Fremont High School, he had trouble finding a teacher who he could model himself after while maintaining his naturally energetic personality.

“Some of the other teachers were more focused on giving out worksheets or just lecturing for the entire period,” Kim said. “I try to avoid that.”

However, Kim finally found a calculus teacher at Fremont High School named Rich Steffen who taught the way Kim wanted to teach.

“He was very interactive with the students,” Kim said. “You could tell the students really respected him. He really understood his material really well and tried to explain it in a way that made sense to the students.”

It seems that Rich Steffen’s style has worked well for Kim — the Yale Educator Award is not the first teaching award Kim has received. He recalls a Barnes & Noble’s award from several years ago, as well as various other awards from universities such as John Hopkins and the Michigan Institute of Technology.

“I have the utmost respect for him as a teacher, a mentor, and a friend,” Jain said. “I know he’ll continue to impact the lives of MVHS at a profound level like he always has. I know he will.”

Senior Annie Wang, who had Kim for Pre-calculus Honors in her sophomore year, expresses how she has benefitted from Kim’s teaching style. During her freshman year, Wang had heard many rumors about Kim’s class, including that it was intensive to the point that test averages were below 50%.

Senior Annie Wang checks students’ homework as Kim’s teacher assistant in his first period AP Statistics class.
Senior Annie Wang checks students’ homework in Kim’s first period AP Statistics class on Sept. 5. Wang chose to be a teacher assistant for Kim because she enjoys the atmosphere that Kim creates in his classroom. Photo by Dylan Tsai.

“I went into his class thinking that I would be overwhelmed,” Wang said. “But he’s just so full of vitality. He’s full of quirks and life. When you’re around him, you just can’t help but laugh.”

While many teachers leave students to read the daily routine on the board, Kim greets each student with “Come on in; turn in your homework unless you have questions” while simultaneously solving his Rubik’s cube and chewing on gum.

During class, Kim can be seen vigorously pointing to graphs on the projector and waving his hands to exaggerate his points, striding across the room when teaching and always walking towards whoever is asking the question.

“It just doesn’t feel like a class,” Wang said. “He understands high school students and understands he’ll have to spice up the class.”

On Sept. 5, Kim told his first period AP Statistics class to gather in pairs and flip spoons. By the time two minutes had passed, every student had a partner and was flipping spoons and discussing as lively as Mr. Kim was shouting not to lick his spoons.

Kim writes on the board and explains probability percentiles to his AP Statistics class during a spoon-flipping exercise.
Kim writes on the board and explains probability percentiles to his AP Statistics class during a spoon-flipping exercise on Sept. 5. Rather than solving the equation on his own, Kim asked for student input for almost every step to make sure that students were engaged. Photo by Dylan Tsai.

Stimulating learning

Freshman Mayank Singamreddy is enrolled in Kim’s geometry class and already sees the effect of Kim’s vibrant personality.

“He makes sure all of his students want to learn what he’s teaching,” Singamreddy said. “Any teacher that inspires you and makes you want to do well — no matter what they say or do — is a good teacher.”

However, to those willing to spend time with him, Kim provides even more than academic help. His room is open almost the entire day, so Jain was able to keep in contact with Kim throughout his whole high school career.

“I thought that he was most deserving of it because aside from being a phenomenal academic teacher who taught me a great deal about mathematics as well as great study habits,” Jain said, “he acted like a mentor or father figure in my life who I could go to for anything, for any topic — whether it was a personal struggle or an academic one. And I think that’s rare.