Teacher Spotlight: Frank Chen

Teacher Spotlight: Frank Chen

We live in a global society and Dr. Frank Chen is well equipped to talk to that point; his first words were in Chinese! Dr. Chen has a passion for students, education and broadening horizons. See how he has been serving and strengthening our community.

Adam: Where were you born? 

Frank: I was born in the central part of Taiwan and I came to the states in 2003 to pursue my PhD at the University of Tennessee.


Adam: Did you have a high school mascot? 

Frank: No, we don’t have anything like that.  This is one thing that’s amazed me. I don’t think any school in Taiwan or Asia has mascots or pep rallies. 

Adam: Are sports part of your schools or is that separate from the education? 

Frank: Back in my time, sports were not actually encouraged. We are encouraged to study and then get into college. They would usually sacrifice the liberal arts time. For example, if you were an art teacher and testing was going on in another subject, they would take your class time away for testing purposes. It was pretty common. So, we were not encouraged to play sports, but I liked playing basketball personally.  It just had to be separated.


Adam: Which colleges have you gone to? 

Frank: I studied in Taiwan all the way to graduate school. I had my electrical engineering in high school and college. Then in college, I really wanted to study English. I ended up taking a test to switch my major. Providence University in Tichung is where I actually graduated from with my bachelor’s and master’s degree. Then I went to University of Tennessee.


Adam: What majors have you had all the way through your PhD? 

Frank: My majors since graduate school are World Language Education and ESL Education. 


Adam: How many years have you taught total and how many of those have been at Hardin Valley Academy? 

Frank: I taught for 3 years in Taiwan. I was an English teacher in college. After serving my military, which we have to do in order to study abroad, I came to the United States and taught ELI English Languages as a doctoral student at UT, but I’m not sure if that counts.  I’ve been teaching at Hardin Valley Academy since it opened, which has been 12 years. Officially, I’ve been teaching for 15 years. 

Adam: Since day 1?!

Frank: Yes, I’m a veteran Hawk!


Adam: What subjects are you teaching this semester and throughout the school year? 

Frank: I teach all levels of Chinese. We have Chinese one honors, two honors, three honors, four honors and AP. This semester I have lower levels, three and honors four, and next semester I’ll have the AP Chinese. 


Adam: Are you sponsoring any clubs or coaching any sports right now? 

Frank: No, not during school time. In the last 5 years, we’ve organized trips to Taiwan for two weeks at a time.  We stay with the host family and I coordinate everything. It’s a very fun, intensive and tiring trip. But it’s so worth it!  I have thought about doing something during the school year, but it’s hard to find kids committed to a club and wanting to help with it.


Adam: Why did you get into teaching? 

Frank: At our church in Taiwan, we had two missionary families. One of the missionary families taught me a lot. I used to have a Bible study with them. The pastor’s wife, Pat Varner, taught me how to read and how to speak to people in English.  It really helped me alot. I wanted to be able to show people a different culture. I thought by me coming over here, people could see a different part of Asia and it’d be a great learning experience for them. Her dedication is probably the reason that I wanted to devote my time in this career. 


Adam: What would you do if you weren’t teaching? 

Frank: I’d be a cook. I really love cooking. My dad was a cook.  I like cooking Chinese food and I love learning how to cook Japanese food, but it’s so delicate. One time, I went back to Taiwan during the summertime and I signed up for a cooking class. I even told my wife, if I don’t teach, I’m cooking.

Adam: Have you found any restaurants here that do it right?

Frank: Not really.  One, we don’t really eat out. Two, it’s very expensive. Three, it’s very Americanized. They don’t cook the food I really enjoy. But, I really enjoy some of the Western/American food though. I like the deep fried stuff.  I really like it. I really like Chick-fil-A and their sandwiches. 


Adam: Who was your favorite teacher when you were a student? 

Frank: Definitely Dr. Rau. She is a linguist from Cornell.  Very knowledgeable. Not only was she a great teacher, but she was a great researcher and a Christian as well.  She influenced me a lot. I had her in college and in graduate school and she was just wonderful. She would explain things, and you could tell her knowledge was immeasurable.  I would like to be like her in my area of teaching. 


Adam: Which educator at Hardin Valley Academy have you learned the most from? 

Frank: I would not say educator, but administrator. Definitely, Mrs. Reynolds. She’s been my principal since day one until this year.  She’s very supportive whenever we talk about the program and she’s always for it. She always gives me the chance to try and if it works out, it does, and if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t.  She’s very supportive. I consider myself very fortunate to have had her as my principal. She also has a great vision for the school. She cares about the teachers, the students, and the academics. I really appreciate that she values teachers a lot. 

Adam: So glad to hear that!


Adam: Have you earned any professional awards? 

Frank: I received Teacher of the Year, I think back in 2012 to 2013. It was a surprise to me. I’m the only teacher that is not from the US and an administrator gave me this award. I was really surprised. 

Adam: Well that’s good. I’m glad they recognized you for your hard work. 


Adam: What’s a personal accomplishment that you’re most proud of? 

Frank: There’s so many.  When the school started, there was no curriculum for Chinese.  I wrote it all for Knox County schools. This included all the way from lower level to AP Chinese Curriculum.  To start from scratch and see a lot of students use Chinese in their career is great. It’s so rewarding to see students still using it for their careers and in college after investing in it so much in high school. I actually have one student in Taiwan right now.  She got a Department of State scholarship for critical languages. Chinese is considered one of the critical languages for national security. She got this scholarship and in return has to come back after she’s done studying to work for the Department of State. I think it’s a great opportunity for her. I have many students that are still majoring in Chinese along with double majors. It’s good to see that. 

Adam: What is something you wish every parent knew? 

Frank: I’m from Taiwan and I’ve seen a lot of places. I wish parents here would encourage their kids to try something different and somewhere different than just Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s a big world.  I encourage students not just to travel, but to travel internationally. You’ll see stuff that will open your mind, stuff that’s different, stuff that will humble you. Knoxville is such a tiny part of this world.  Rather than parent’s saying “no, that’s not a good idea”, they need to encourage the students. If they fail, it’s okay. They have to try. 


Adam: What’s something you wish every student knew? 

Frank: They need to step out of their comfort zone. A lot of people say “I don’t feel comfortable with that”. If you’re always comfortable, then you will not grow. You will grow by stepping out of your comfort zone.


Adam: What’s the difference between a good and a great teacher? 

Frank:  To me a good teacher is one that gets content delivered to students. A great teacher would be on top of it. One that cares for students. One that will influence his or her life.  It’s our role to have an impact on their life. I think high school is the most critical time for everybody. These 4 years can determine your next 10 or 20 years. I always tell the students it’s a good trade.  You spend your time in high school really good, and then your next 10 years will be really good as well. If you waste your time, and don’t do anything valuable, you could be sorry for your next 10 years.

Adam: What improvement would you most like to see made to public education?

Frank: I think we do not value teachers enough.  When I taught in Taiwan, the public school teachers did not get taxed. It’s a tax free profession because the government wants to encourage the people who are very passionate about teaching. Our superintendent is actually making really good efforts to improve that. I’m glad to see that. But, overall we just do not value teachers that much.  Especially at the high school level, the students don’t appreciate the teachers as much as they did in elementary school. We rarely get cards and thank you’s. That’s the way it is. What I’m saying is we actually need to recognize teachers more. They actually spend a lot of time working, teaching and then planning. 

Adam: I agree. I agree. Put them on a pedestal. 


Adam: What’s something that you could use in your classroom? 

Frank: I like technology a lot. I’m a very tech person. I wrote a proposal and got a grant to get the Chinese program a full set of iPads. It’s a couple years ago. We still use a paper and pencil to write down the characters. One thing that I’m working on is writing a grant proposal to get the money to for an iPad that we can write the characters on. I really like to use technology to link with the students’ learning.


Adam: What hobbies do you have?

Frank: I like sitting in a coffee shop and talking to my friends. I really enjoy the time. I also like watching movies. Movies are one thing I enjoy most. During the weekend, it’s pretty much my nightly thing to do. 

Adam: Do you use Netflix? 

Frank: I watch Netflix a lot. I don’t know too much about football. I know a little bit, but people here are so crazy about that. And so about orange too. Actually, I’m starting to like it more.  I’m getting to blend in and try to get the culture from here. From the very beginning, I asked why are people so crazy about football? When I was at UT, football season was crazy! 


Adam: What is a good way for a student or parent to spoil you? 

Frank: Just send me some notes about their achievements.  I get notes from some that say they’ve used what they learned outside of the classroom, or they are using it in Taiwan and China.  I’ve had some come back after college saying that it helped them there and they’ve thanked me for that. It’s very rewarding to me.  This is what I believe. I don’t teach really for income, but I teach for the outcomes. What the kids can do with their futures is more rewarding than anything for teachers and for language teachers particularly. Dr. Quick and I have had the same student who is currently at UC Berkeley, getting her PhD in I think microbiology.  She also studied Chinese. Seeing this is just so good.

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