Uncommon Schools and Facing the Uncomfortable

Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Uncommon Schools and Facing the Uncomfortable

My name is Jun Jun Feng (T’18); I am majoring in Economics with a certificate in Markets & Management Studies and minoring in Education. This summer, I worked as a Teaching Fellow at Uncommon Schools – a non-profit charter public school with the mission of preparing low-income students to enter, succeed in, and graduate from college.

From late May to mid-July, I was stationed to teach in Brooklyn, New York. The first several weeks of the program involved intense instructional training. I participated in professional development sessions and shadowed veteran teachers. For the latter part of the program, I put my training into action teaching summer school, where I planned and led my own classroom. My days began at 6:40AM and ended at 5PM. While this was difficult for me, someone who promised herself freshman year to never again take a class earlier than 11AM, I woke up and went to bed every day happy about what I was doing.

Throughout my life, I have been prone to make the comfortable choice. As a freshman, I applied and entered a private university, taking classes that merely fulfilled requirements necessary to my major. Sophomore year, I expanded my learning beyond economic theory by taking MMS courses among multiple fields, such as Psychology and Sociology. Later on, I decided to pursue the MMS certificate as a whole to continue exploring fields beyond Economics. The diversity in my learning and my love for these classes led me to continue to break the cycle of comfortable decision-making and make bolder choices. And it has rewarded me the opportunity to try something new this summer.

My most treasured memory of my fellowship was when I presented my experience here at Duke to my students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, low-income students[1] are six times more likely to drop out of high school than their higher-income counterparts. At Uncommon Schools, 100% of our students graduate from high school and are accepted into at least one college. In our society, there is a civic necessity for college to be made available to any student. Economically, education is an important element for democracy to flourish. Morally, everyone should have the right to realize their potential. Yet, some low-income students do not even consider college a viable option. Therefore, a memory that I will carry with me is what came after my presentation, when many of my students told me that they were thankful that Ms. Feng was able to introduce them to their future college.

As a Duke student, there is great societal pressure to choose a path for comfort rather than passion. I attended Duke with an original aim of entering the world of finance or climbing the corporate ladder. I labeled my interest in teaching as an extracurricular, a sidepiece to boost my resume. This summer, I chose to stray away from taking the conventional or obvious path. I chose to teach and I am proud of the work I am doing.


Jun Jun Feng is a Economics major, Education Minor, and Markets and Management Studies Certificate student. Markets and Management Studies will be featuring students' summer experiences all summer. Check in weekly or follow us on Facebook to read more about what our students are doing this summer.


[1] Low-income students are defined as those whose family income are below 125% of the federally established poverty level for their family size (NCES)