True meaning of MATH: Miim is an Awesome Teacher to Have


Photo by Catie Russ

Math teacher Miim Kwak holds one of the first live classes on Zoom after learning went virtual in March 2020. Her students appreciated her dedication with a hyperbolic caption.

Close your eyes. Imagine you’re traveling back in time, across 7,049 miles of American continent and Pacific Ocean, to Busan, South Korea. Zoom in, past the creek and large garden, to a house, where a young girl lies asleep, with crushed flowers on her nails to stain them colors in lieu of nail polish. Her name is Miim Kwak. Here, in the house of her beloved grandmother, is where our story begins. 

Growing up with eight younger cousins, Kwak often found herself in charge. Whenever her parents, aunts and uncles went out and left the kids with her grandmother, Kwak needed to help take care of them all. “I have a picture – it’s one of my favorites – of me, standing in my room, and I have all my little cousins lined up by height,” Kwak said, “And they had to call me Teacher. I think that’s when I wanted to become a teacher.”

Although Kwak wanted to be a teacher from a young age, she hasn’t always been as suited for the job as she is now. As a kid, she looked up to her grandmother to learn valuable lessons that she now employs while teaching today. “I had to learn patience,” Kwak said, “I was not a patient child. I was very stubborn, and my grandmother recognized that. She would always try to teach me values of patience because she could tell that I was a very impulsive kid, and she didn’t want me to get hurt or make rash decisions.”

Needless to say, her grandmother’s teachings have been well learned. “She’s patient and understanding with us,” sophomore Ava Klugerman said. “She always gives second chances. This kid said something rude to her, and her response to the disrespect was, ‘This is not a good first impression, but tomorrow we start over’.”

In addition to patience and understanding, Kwak is also admired for her compassion. “I was kind of crying and having a mental breakdown after a test because I thought I did bad,” junior Jules Lindauer said. “But then she made me stay after class and explained to me that it’s fine, this is only one grade, you’ll get your grade up, and even if you don’t that’s fine.”

Kwak’s compassion and understanding of her students stems in part from her own struggles in school. Her family immigrated to the U.S. at the end of her fifth grade year, and she had to start sixth grade as a kid fluent in Korean – not English – in a school without ESL classes. “I didn’t understand anything. My brother and I just kind of went day to day, class for class, just like zombies, because they didn’t know what to do with us,” Kwak said.

It was her math teacher, Ms. Andrews, who was the only one to take it upon herself to cross the language barrier. “I don’t know if it’s because numbers are a universal language, but if it was just math, I was fine,” Kwak said. “But if it was a word problem, I would just leave them blank. She always took it upon herself to read through and highlight key words for me to show me what to do.”

Just like Andrews, Kwak is always there to help students who need it. “One time I was taking a test, and I was really upset because I wasn’t doing well, but I had studied so hard the night before,” Klugerman said. “Ms. Kwak told me, ‘You’re a good student, you’re just a bad test taker, like I was.’ Her empathy really stuck with me. And then she let me retake the test, and I got almost a 100% on it.”

Aside from her students, Kwak’s colleagues and supervisors also value her skills. “I have always enjoyed working with her,” math resource teacher Keith Burnham said, “If she knows there’s a lot of stuff going on, she’s very quick to offer her help. I know when I have her on my team, what’s supposed to be done is going to get done.”