"I always thought to myself when I was a student that it would be nice if I could retake some of the tests I messed
up. Teenagers make mistakes. That's what it means to be a teenager." That's Tech tenth grade Chemistry teacher
Yongjun Lee's philosophy. So around March, he invites every student in his class to aim for a 100:
"Starting from today, I will give you a chance to retake every test you have taken so far, including the future
ones . . . you must come to tutoring at least once per unit to sit there and work on the problems. You must at least
solve 30 questions or more in that tutoring...I will go over the answers with you...Say, your original score was 90 on
the atoms test, and your retest score was 95. Your original score will be replaced with 95, and I will give you +1% on the top of your class average because you got 85 or higher... Seriously, if you can't get a 90 in my class even if I offer you this much, IT IS YOUR FAULT."
No one asked Mr. Lee to offer so much of his personal time - often until 6:30 at night -- to tutor his students, but he says it's not that unusual for Tech's teachers to do so. In fact, he says he was inspired after he started teaching at Tech five years ago by two other Chemistry teachers who offered that kind of support. "I think [Chemistry is] an amazing department with truly amazing teachers," he says.
Mr. Lee knows the class material doesn't come naturally to everyone, so he works extra hard to motivate the bottom third of the class through tutoring, with good results. "Two years ago, I had a student who initially had a grade of low 70's. He was totally unmotivated and always looking at one of the windows. I encourage him to come to tutoring during the first parent teacher conference...he kept coming to my tutoring until the last day of school. He finished the book, and that got lots of extra credit for him as well as knowledge of chemistry. He finished his year in my class with high 90's both in my class and on the Chem Regents."
By watching his students' eyes, he can tell how motivated they are. Mr. Lee learned much of what he knows about adolescent development at Hunter College, where he earned a Master's degree in Adolescent Education on top of a B.A. in Chemistry. He spent his own adolescence in South Korea, where he studied Japanese, and began his college education in Japan at Asia Pacific University.