Meet Annie Ku, Head of the Chinese Department

Born and raised in Taiwan, where her Beijing-born father and Shanghai-born mother moved after the Chinese Civil War, Annie Ku came to the United States in 1986.  She began teaching in 1989, first at Philips Andover, then Concord Academy, and finally Concord-Carlisle High School before arriving at Middlesex in 2000.  Her daughter Frances ’07 and her son Yih-Jen ’12 both graduated from Middlesex.

You single-handedly built the Chinese program at Middlesex beginning in 2000.  How have you seen the program grow?  What has been the most rewarding for you?

It has been my pleasure and honor to be the founding teacher for the Chinese program at Middlesex beginning in 2000.  Since 2006, it has become the Chinese Department.  From four students in 2000 to 53 students in recent years, it has grown to a full-scale department with introductory to AP levels.  Among the many rewarding experiences are feeling students’ pride (though with a bit of shyness) when they interact with native Chinese speakers, either through online courses or during our immersion trips to China.  To know that many of my previous students continued their study of Chinese in college and now include Chinese in their careers in global markets also makes me very proud of them.

Your children, Frances ’07 and Yih-Jen ’12, both graduated from Middlesex. What did you learn as a Middlesex parent? 

As a parent/faculty member I’ve discovered that my workplace is indeed an extension of my family.  I fully trust my colleagues to nurture my children.  Their intelligence, wisdom, patience, trust and love compliment everything myself and my husband provide.  Besides their academic pursuits, both Frances and Yih-Jen were involved with the theater tech program and the rowing team, which did not distract from their academic study but tremendously enriched their lives in all aspects.  This was the surprise to me as an Asian parent, and I learned to gradually become relaxed and not to worry about their school work.  Frances’s great experience as a coxswain was passed down to Yih-Jen for Middlesex and beyond.  Yih-Jen has been coxing for Columbia’s Lightweight crew team since he entered the university in 2012, and his team was recently named the Team of the Year in his school.  Yih-Jen has also been able to keep his GPA between 3.8 and 4. We are very proud of him.  I never imagined that one of my children would become a scholar-athlete at a Division I university.  Without Middlesex this might not have been possible.

How do you incorporate your own background and heritage into your teaching?

I feel that I am intuitive in teaching Chinese.  When I was young I was asked by many friends and relatives if I would like to be a teacher when I grew up.  The repetition of the same question certainly created some influence.  My father was a college professor, teaching Mandarin to European missionaries for over twenty years after he retired from the Air Force of the Republic of China.  During his teaching years, every lunar New Year’s Eve my mother would host a dinner party for all my father’s missionary students at our house.  For me, the image of my father’s students’ black gowns, white hats, laughs and their Mandarin spoken with varied European accents, mingled with a nice smell of just-cooked dumplings and smoke from the hotpots is still so vivid.  In my classroom I have the radical charts my father used and the special character practice papers that he purchased for his students. His most-used dictionaries and the audio tapes that he asked his students to listen to are also on my bookshelves.  Although many of those have been replaced by modern tools, I feel that my father’s professionalism and his caring spirit have been with me every day.

You commute quite a ways from Nashua, NH every day, leaving your home at 6:45am to arrive at school by 7:30am.  What do you listen to in the car?  

When I drive, radio station AM 1030 is a must for checking news, weather and traffic.  Driving during rush hours requires following the traffic reports all the time.  Listening to books on tape has been in the plan, but has not happened often.  When I leave school late I usually listen to Nightside with Dan Rea for CBS Boston.  Rea is great in encouraging and respectfully challenging discourse over diverse ideas.  I’m also very fond of listening to people communicate their opinions and ideas on daily events, which I have heard in the morning.   When I am tired, I usually listen to classical music or Chinese pop songs of my favorite singers from China and Taiwan.