Long time BSGE teacher, Ms. Lily Shen, recently announced that she plans to retire at the end of the current school year. Ms. Shen has been teaching Chinese at BSGE since it opened its doors in 2002 and was one of its founding members.
When asked why this year was the right time to retire, Ms. Shen said that she’s been teaching all her life and that “it’s time to do something different while I’m still young enough to make the change.”
Ms. Shen started teaching right after she graduated from high school in China and has been teaching for 35 years total. She’s taught students from Pre-K to 12th grade at different points in her career.
Ms. Shen does not plan to be idle in her life after BSGE. She wants to remain involved in education in a different capacity by helping train new teachers and continuing to work with the IB. She also wants to go back to school herself. She was interested in pursuing a PhD but was unsure about what field to study. Her years spent teaching informed her curiosity about children and how they learn. She said that she’s “fascinated about how kids learn and how to find better ways to help them learn.”
She would also like to spend time volunteer at New York Chinese Scholars Garden in Staten Island. She wants to help bring student groups to visit the garden built by Chinese artists entirely with materials imported from China. The garden is supposed to provide New Yorkers the experience of an authentic Chinese Garden.
Ms. Shen also has a host of hobbies she wants to pursue further including reading, writing, and knitting among others.
She also has two grandchildren she wants to spend more time with. Ava and newborn baby Austin born to her daughter who lives 20 minutes away from Ms. Shen’s residence in New Jersey.
Reflecting on her time at BSGE she said that it was “best 13 years of my life.” She felt that the work here was a great challenge and that she “loved the IB philosophy of international mindedness.”
Speaking of the staff she said that she’s been in education her whole life and this was the “smartest and most dedicated staff” she’s ever worked with.
Her respect for the staff was reciprocated in their opinions of her.
English teacher Ms. Connie You said, “one thing people don’t know is the extent to which she has been a mother to this staff. She’s always at the center of organizing things around big events in people’s personal lives and that’s a huge hole that will be felt.”
Ms. Shen’s desire to look out for those around her left a lasting impression on Art teacher Lucas Sheridan who commented; “She’s wonderful. When I got here 4 years ago, she helped me navigate and transition to this school.”
Ms. Shen’s talents and interests are many and varied. Ms. Dikes stated that she thought Ms. Shen was the “best dressed person in the building…and the most stylish. She makes all her own clothes. She’s also an awesome teacher an awesome person and an awesome presence.”
College Counselor Peter Wilson said he believed that Ms. Shen was “the best example of what we have in teaching, …she really helped create the global sensibility in the school and helped develop the excitement our students have for learning language which is rare in schools.”
Though she’s been teaching for decades, Ms. Shen also takes it upon herself to learn new and unfamiliar things like Fantasy Basketball. She joined a league with BSGE staff members and had to learn all about basketball statistics and how they applied to playing Fantasy Basketball. She said “playing fantasy basketball with my fellow teachers is my fondest memory of all. It helped me get through this brutal winter and had something to laugh about every day. Even though I didn’t get into playoffs, I won something I didn’t even know the name of — basically ‘I am the winner of all the losers’”
When thinking back to past BSGE students who stood out in her memory. She recalled seeing IB test scores in the summer of 2009 when she saw that her student, Malorie Mo ’09 received a 7 in Chinese, a first for BSGE, it brought tears to her eyes. She told later students that they should try to become Malorie #2.
In 2014, three more students received 7s on the IB Chinese exam, two of whom were not native speakers of the language. Seeing Francisco Barros, Elizabeth Kwon (the non native Chinese speakers) and Raymond Fu receive 7s were among the happiest moments of her teaching career.
Ms. Shen also fondly recalled teaching Matthew Grey ’11. She said that he loved to learn the language and never concerned himself with getting a 7. He just loved to learn the language. She said he would seek out every opportunity to practice his Chinese even striking up conversations with random people on the 7 train. Once he even had a chance encounter with someone who knew Ms. Shen. She advised him not to talk to strangers.
She is also proud of the impact learning Chinese at BSGE has had on students on their lives after BSGE. One student, Ariel Friedman ’10, majored in college in Chinese language and literature, studied in China for a semester, and spent another year in China with a Chinese government scholarship studying at Nanjing University, Ms. Shen’s alma mater.
Ms. Friedman said being Ms. Shen’s student made her look forward to going to Chinese class and after graduating from high school “there was no question in my mind that Chinese was something I wanted to continue in college.” Rather than study Biology, she decided to declare her Chinese language and literature major after her freshman year.”
The bonds students form with their foreign language teachers at BSGE becomes particularly strong because they can have the same teacher for multiple years.
Ms. Friedman concluded that Ms. Shen was “pretty much solely responsible for my post-BSGE trajectory” and added, “I don’t know where I’d be today without Ms. Shen. I know my life is infinitely richer for having had the privilege of being her student.”
Another one of her former students, Erin Camia ’14 also felt Ms. Shen had a great impact on her. She said, “there were only 20 kids in my Chinese class and she was our teacher for 5 years so she got to know us personally and vice versa. She not only sparked my interest in the language, but the culture of China as well, which is why I’m continuing to take Chinese in college and planning to study abroad.”
Her current students were saddened to hear the news of her departure. Riya Saha ’17 said, “I will miss her. She was quite supportive about a lot of things. She made class fun. Whenever students were struggling she knew exactly how to pinpoint the problem.”
Jenny Tieu ’17 shared a similar sentiment. She added, “I will miss her so much. Ms. Shen always had good ways to get us involved in the language and culture. You could tell she worked really hard on her lessons.”
Ms. Shen also avidly recollects all the times students at BSGE who were not learning Chinese and did not speak it would try to speak with her in the hallways in Chinese. They often didn’t know the meanings of what they said but they still proudly tried.
She says, “one year students yelled out each time when they saw me: Han Bao Bao ( hamburger ) , shubao (backpack).
“The funniest one was ‘Ni hao ma? wo hen hao. xiexie. ni ne, wo ye hen hao xiexie’ (How are you? I am fine. Thank you. How about you? I am fine, too. Thank you!)
“I don’t know how they remembered those lines.”
Ms. Shen’s personal philosophy about her work is best summed up by her favorite quote that she refers to often and can be found at the bottom of all her emails. “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” –Confucius. When you hear Ms. Shen talk about her time at BSGE, it’s clear that she hasn’t worked a day in 13 years.
Below is a link to her teacher of the month interview from 2009.