Wai Chin Ng is the kind of teacher who makes lessons come to life for his students, and his work will soon be acknowledged in a very public way.
President Barack Obama will present the fifth-grade teacher from the Josiah Quincy Elementary School with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching at a White House ceremony the week of May 16. The award is given each year to math and science teachers around the country. Of the 85 teachers being honored this year, only one other — Michael Flynn of Southampton’s Norris Elementary School — is from Massachusetts.
Speaking by phone on Thursday, Ng, 41, was humble about the prestigious award.
“It is indeed an honor to be recognized for the work that I do,” Ng said. “It’s a great encouragement for me to continue doing my work, striving to do my best and to become an effective teacher.”
Ng said he owed his success in part to the teachers and administrators he works with and the positive environment they’ve created.
“I consider myself very fortunate to be around supportive colleagues in the school, and administrators, and also the science department,” Ng said. “All the support and encouragement just kind of keeps me going.”
As an elementary school teacher, Ng teaches all core subjects, but he has a special interest in math and science and shares that interest with students through experiments and hands-on activities in the classroom. Ng helped bring a robotics program to the school, coming in early each Friday to work on projects before school and sometimes staying after school to continue the work.
Last year took his team of fifth-graders as far as the state championship tournament, in competition with other teams that mostly came from middle schools. Currently the robotics team is preparing for the citywide competition in June sponsored by TechBoston.
Born in China, Ng came to the United States with his family at age 11. As a child, he was always interested in science and math and enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked. He began teaching at the Quincy School in 1993 and has been a district science teacher leader for a decade, training other teachers to use the science curriculum.
Despite his years of experience and his accomplishments, Ng said his students are still teaching him.
“It’s like being a parent — you learn so much from your own children,” said Ng, the father of a seven-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son. “Being a teacher, they just kind of shape me. I learn so much, being patient with them, and really study them carefully, and really try to know how to help them and teach them and meet them where they are. And that can be a challenge.”
Simon Ho, principal of the Quincy School, said Ng is the kind of teacher who goes above and beyond what is expected of him and enriches his students’ learning.
“Outside of teaching in the classroom, he also does a lot of other things, like bringing a robotics club to the school,” Ho said. “He’s very good at bringing in outside resources to collaborate with the school. … He really brings the aspects of science into the classroom and makes it fun and more hands-on.”
Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson joined Ho in praising Ng’s work.
“Our students are so fortunate to have some of the very best teachers in the country working in their schools,” Johnson said in a statement. “A great teacher, such as Mr. Ng, can inspire students for years to come.”
Ng follows other teachers in the district who have received the presidential award, such as Sharon Hessney, a math teacher at the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science, who won last year.
The award comes with a $10,000 cash prize from the National Science Foundation. Ng isn’t sure yet how he’ll spend the money, but characteristically his first thoughts were of his students.
“I haven’t quite decided, but I have been thinking about purchasing some computers for my classroom,” he said.
Email Jeremy C. Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Courtesy Wai Chin Ng)