Shihua Kuang took an unconventional path to become an assistant teacher at the Children’s Aid Taft Early Childhood Center.
After graduating high school in 2014, she worked at a bakery, as a delivery courier, and in restaurants. She also took on babysitting gigs and that’s when she realized she enjoyed working with kids.
Growing up between Guangzhou, China and Brooklyn, Shihua officially settled in New York in 2005. While studying at the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, she met Mr. Bailey, her 11th grade chemistry teacher.
“I was inspired when I was in high school. I had a teacher that turned me from someone who couldn’t grasp anything when it comes to chemistry into being able to do it,” she said. “I got very interested in terms of, ‘How do I use teaching to educate children into becoming helpful adults in society?’”
After a few years of working in the service industry, Shihua realized it was not for her, so she decided to pivot. She began working with elementary school students at the Goddard Riverside Center after-school program in Manhattan. Later, she became the science activity specialist, teaching science lessons to kids from kindergarten to fifth grade.
In 2021, Shihua became an assistant teacher at Taft Early Childhood Center in East Harlem, where she teaches two- and three-year-olds.
“Toddlers are my favorite. I feel like I’m most effective with that age group,” she said. “I’m good at being consistent and enforcing the rules. I love to use dramatic play as a way of teaching children. I’m very dramatic and little kids find it interesting.”
Shihua emphasizes social emotional learning in her teaching and works to ensure that students can adequately express their feelings without resorting to yelling or hitting.
“By the end of the year, I want them to be more independent, be able to express their emotions with words instead of hitting or snatching, and to have academic knowledge in terms of numbers and the alphabet,” she said. “I have rather high expectations.”
Shihua is currently enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College where she is working toward her associate degree in early childhood education. She hopes to continue to have an impact on her students so that they can become productive members of society.
“When I first started working in my classroom, most of my kids were nonverbal, and had a hard time expressing their needs,” she said. “After almost a year of teaching them, we were not only able to have conversations, but they also learned to use "asking words" and even do most things independently. I love watching them grow every day."