Claire Yoo believes that first-graders are among the greatest people out there. Besides just being “genuine, open and enthusiastic,” she believes “their sense of fairness is pure.”
It’s why she has enjoyed teaching them so much for the past nine years at Germantown Friends School on West Coulter Lane. “On one hand, they are still babies, but their growth is phenomenal,” she says. “They can take a lot in and they just have this openness.”
It’s one of the reasons she takes her job so seriously. She is, after all, with her students for more waking hours than their parents are during this developmentally critical time.
Lena Frazier, who nominated Yoo to NewsWorks as a school employee who should be recognized as one of the best in Northwest Philadelphia, says she feels great about leaving her granddaughter in Yoo’s care each day.
“Mrs. Yoo is the dream teacher that every child deserves. She really brings out the best in her students and is helping to mold the kind of person who will want to be an active part of doing good in the world,” says Frazier. “Mrs. Yoo is a crusader for equal rights and has taught her little first graders the importance of treating every person with respect.”
Yoo’s teaching career began after several years of working as a community advocate for low-income minority women in New York City.
The move to education wasn’t much of a change for her.
“Social change happens in many parts of our lives,” she says, “and change begins with education.”
A journey to teaching
She moved to Philadelphia to take part in the now-defunct literacy intern program with the School District of Philadelphia. That led to a year of teaching at Rowen Elementary in West Oak Lane and a year at Moore Elementary in the Northeast.
After two years, she had the chance to transition to Germantown Friends School, where her children were already attending school. The difference between the two worlds was stark.
“I knew, but I didn’t know just how unequal schools could be,” she says of the difference between the Quaker school and public school.
“We are doing a disservice to children in the Philadelphia School District because we don’t have the resources,” she adds, noting that the teachers she met while working for the district are the “most devoted and hardworking” teachers she’s ever known.
At Germantown Friends, she feels like she has the chance to teach at a school with a mission she believes in.
“The idea that I could be in a community where people share and have a common vision of what education could be is what drew me here as a parent and eventually as a teacher,” she says.
Frazier, the grandmother who nominated Yoo, adds that she strives to instill values of “peace and fairness” into all of her students.
“They are becoming who they are,” says Yoo of her work with first graders. “It’s a responsibility.”