Bina Dao attended University of Houston, obtaining both her Bachelor’s and Master’s in Biochemistry. She is in her fourth year of teaching biology at YES Prep Southeast. She is also the AP biology instructor and a Super Grade Level Chair, meaning that, in addition to Grade Level Chair responsibilities, she manages detention and aids the Deans of Students.
What was your path to YES Prep?
I started college thinking I would go into medicine, but when I immersed myself in that culture, I found it competitive in a negative way and realized it wasn’t for me. I fell in love with biochemistry and thought I’d go into research and save people’s lives through research. But I realized that I didn’t like being alone for the long stretches that research often requires. I’m very social and I need relationships, which that didn’t provide for me. When I graduated with my Master’s, I felt at a loss. My brother was a principal at IDEA at the time. He said, why don’t you become a teacher? At that point, my only experience was with the regular public schools in Houston, and I didn’t think that was for me. But he told me charter schools are different and asked me to come visit. I loved what they were doing with the students. I related to being a first generation student and an immigrant. My family came to the U.S. in the early 90s. However, I didn’t want to move to the valley where he worked. He said I should check out YES Prep. I applied and fell in love with Southeast.
What do you want your students to understand about science or STEM as a larger field?
I want my students to be educated about science so that they can make choices for themselves in the future. For example, if a doctor tells them something, I want them to be able to understand what is being said and have the critical thinking skills to decide if what is being prescribed is right for them. And, if it’s not, they know what other options they have.
I want students to understand there’s not one STEM stereotype you have to fit in. You can be who you are and still be successful. I especially love seeing my girls be successful in STEM. I want them to remember that they can be just as successful in science and that they’re just as good as the boys.
Science also helps kids feel okay with not having the right answer. Failing in science means that you discover something. You’ll fail ten times more than you will succeed and that’s okay. I want to take the negativity out of the word “failing.” I want students to think what can I learn from this and how do I push forward? Being in science builds grit in people.
What do you see in your future?
I’d like to move toward school leadership. In the classroom, I have an affinity for kids who are struggling academically and behaviorally. I relate to the struggles they have. As a first generation student, you’re often on your own. Your parents don’t know how to help you; they would if they could. When I was younger, I felt like a mini-adult. I had to say, “You need to buy these papers. You need to make sure I get this. You need to make sure I do xyz.” It was difficult for me because I didn’t have anyone to lay it out for me– to the point that I didn’t know I was supposed to take the SAT or even what it was until I heard my friends in the cafeteria talking about it. It was really stressful, and I don’t want that for our kids. I know their parents came here for a reason. They wanted our kids to have a better life– not to suffer in school every day. I want to be their support system and advocate. I want them to feel loved and like they are worth something. They are just as deserving of the freedom to make choices for their future as any other student.
Why do you remain at YES Prep?
Because of the people. I think our organization does an incredible job of putting people first. Before a decision is made, we think about what’s best for not only the students– but their families and their teachers. I also value the amount of transparency that our organization has. Our leaders remove their statuses to have conversations with us. They see us as people and allow us to see them as people as well. And when I had a rough day, my entire class came and hugged me. A former student saw me in the hallway and held me. It reminded me, this is why I’m here.
What would you tell people in the STEM field who are considering teaching at YES?
At YES Prep, you’ll have a chance to be passionate about science, but also be somewhere that values collaboration, sharing, and relationships. At my campus, we have professional learning communities– people who share your content. Everyone shares their ideas and it’s all very selfless. We make sure we’ve aligned our curriculum horizontally and vertically, so we’re not starting over year after year. Even if you don’t teach a student, they’re still all of ours because they’re part of this organization. I haven’t seen that level of shared responsibility anywhere else. We work together and hold each other accountable for doing what’s best for all of our kids every single day.