Cha Asokan, La Salle’s art teacher, has been selected by the school’s staff as this year’s Lasallian Educator of the Year.
The annual award honors an educator or staff member in a Lasallian apostolate who exemplifies the spiritual and pedagogical ideals of St. John Baptist de La Salle in the 21st Century.
“The care and kindness here has made me want to be a better teacher, and a better person," she said in an email thanking fellow staff members for the award. "I will try to live up to the values to the best of my ability.”
Asokan will receive her Lasallian award during a ceremony later this school year.
Asokan has been an educator for more than 20 years. She earned bachelor's degrees in visual arts and theology from St. Edwards in Austin, Texas, and has taught special education as well as art at the elementary, middle and high school levels. She recently earned her master's degree in art and design education from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Soon after arriving at La Salle in 2018, Asokan started expanding the scope and breadth of the school’s visual arts program. Today, La Salle students can explore print-making, photography, ceramics, digital art, and more at the beginning through Advanced Placement level.
During Asokan's tenure, La Salle's art students have won scores of regional and national awards for their work and are now active in the National Art Honors Society. Asokan teaches students that art can be a pathway to a career as well as a means of expression.
Tyler Tran '22 said Asokan challenged him to be true to himself.
"I remember Cha telling me something that never lost its significance on me," he said. "'‘You are not a printer, there is an artist with tons of ideas inside of you, you don’t have to copy others to be great.’ At the time, I was too afraid to create anything that didn’t copy another artist. I was too scared to be original because I was too scared to face rejection or ridicule. Cha’s words made me truly reflect on my perceptions of art and changed myself as an artist."
Emma Olson '22 said the teacher encouraged her to broaden her artistic horizons
"I have been an artist all throughout my life, but until high school I had never been pushed to find my own style, or find something that makes me excited to create art," said Emma, who has explored mediums such as printmaking while at La Salle. "Ms. Cha introduced me to forms of art I had never heard of before, and was ready to learn with me and be a part of my journey of self expression."
Community in the classroom
Asokan's teaching philosophy is based on student-centered learning with an emphasis on social justice and equity. She strives to create community in the classroom. Students play music while they work. Even students who don't take her classes drop by the art room.
"I am so lucky and grateful to have her," said Natalie Rask '22. "If I ever felt unsupported or had difficulties whether it be at home or school, she was always there for me. She constantly shows 110% effort for her students and treats everyone like they're her own."
Gracelyn Rael '22 said she is "beyond grateful" for the lessons Asokan has taught her and the kindness the educator has shown her.
"Cha has helped so many kids find their voice and has always made sure that every student is heard," said Gracelyn. "The art room has become a sanctuary for students where we can truly be ourselves and connect with the most incredible people. Having Mrs. Cha as a teacher changed my life, and she continues to influence and inspire me everyday."
Praised for making connections
Last spring, several colleagues nominated Asokan for the award. They praised her for expanding the art program, connecting with students, and promoting equity and inclusion.
"The way she reaches students is admirable," said Director of Service Sarah Maher. "Always open, always poignantly asks students who they are and helps them understand their identity."
Outside of the classroom, Asokan still creates through photography, ceramics, and making prints. Helping others learn to create is her passion.
"Teaching and learning with children and adults is where my heart is," she says on her personal website, "and I hope to continue for many years."