Jo Lee Ming, Redwood Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year for 2020-2021, started teaching when she was 6 years old.
One of Ming’s earliest memories is from when she was in the first grade. Reading came easily to young Ming, but that wasn’t the case for one of her little classmates. She recalls being upset by the way her teacher and other classmates treated the little boy, and she made up her mind to help him learn to read.
Ming was a high school student when she began focusing her teaching on students with special needs.
Mrs. Agnes Lyles, assistant principal at Warren Central High School, took Ming and the other Future Teachers of America to Ken Karyl School to work with struggling students. This led to Ming working summers at the Early Education Center, a program aimed at special needs children younger than 5-years-old.
“That was where I met (longtime Vicksburg educator) Kathy Cronia Conway. Until then, I was pretty sure I wanted to go into education. But meeting Kathy made me certain. I wanted to be a teacher just like her,” Ming said.
Many years later, Conway and Ming reconnected, and she introduced Ming to Jacob’s Ladder Learning Center, a Vicksburg school for special needs students.
“I felt like I had come full circle because a couple of the kids I had worked with at Early Ed are now students at Jacob’s Ladder,” she said. “I’m now on the board for Jacob’s Ladder and am a coach for Area 10 Special Olympics.”
Ming graduated from Warren Central in 1981 and attended Hinds Community College for two years before transferring to the University of Southern Mississippi and earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1985.
Her first official teaching position was in kindergarten at Clinton Park Elementary in Clinton, Mississippi. Ming took a few years off to stay home while her children were young and resumed her career as they got older. She returned to Vicksburg and taught one year at Sherman Avenue Elementary before moving to Redwood Elementary
“I belong here,” she said. “Redwood just feels like home.”
Her co-workers and principal obviously agree. They selected her as Redwood’s Teacher of the Year.
“Ms. Ming is a wonderful teacher and an even better person. She has a true love for her children,” said Redwood principal Buddy Wooten. “I am blessed to be able to work with her every day.”
As much as Ming loves teaching, she has concerns about the job as well.
“My least favorite parts of teaching is the trend to push 5 and 6-year-olds to ‘perform’ academic tasks they aren’t developmentally ready for. And all the testing — we test entirely too much,” she said.
“In kindergarten we are teaching skills that used to be taught in first or even second grade. 5 and 6-year-olds need to play and socialize. 5 and 6-year-olds still need time to build with blocks, manipulate playdoh and interact in home-living.”
Ming said that because of COVID-19, teachers have had to stop using many activities that brought children together so that they can keep students properly distanced.
“Computers are replacing learning centers where students work alongside each other or in cooperative groups,” she said. “Our students are missing out on vital social skills.”
Asked about the best part of teaching, though, Ming didn’t mince words.
“I love the way a child’s face lights up when he or she finally gets a skill we’ve been working on. I love the kids’ excitement over everything. I love being able to see the world through a child’s eyes,” she said, “and I love having a job where I get to sing and dance every single day!”