Path to MHS: Michelle Liu’s Journey

Beloved Chinese teacher Michelle Liu impacts the lives of MHS students every day.


Ella Shapiro

A shot of Michelle Liu displaying Chinese New Year decorations made by her students.

Ben Kulish, Features Page Director

February 1st was the Chinese New Year (the year of the tiger), and there is no better way to understand Chinese culture’s impact on Mamaroneck High School than speaking to long-standing Chinese teacher Michelle Liu. Liu has been teaching at MHS since 2007, but her journey to becoming a teacher here began long before. Born in the Sichuan Province of China, she followed her passion for teaching to the United States.
Liu grew up near Chengdu, a major city in central China, where her path to MHS began. After completing high school, she was sent to the countryside under Mao Zedong’s “reeducation” program to become a farmer. Mao’s reeducation program was part of his Cultural Revolution, a period of mass, often violent, change in the newly-formed People’s Republic of China. Fortunately, the Gaokao system, which allowed students to test into Chinese universities, was introduced after Mao’s death and allowed her to leave the countryside for college and pursue her passions of language and teaching. She studied English with a goal of teaching the language after receiving her B.A. After graduation, she was assigned to the Leshan Teacher’s College near Chengdu to train English teachers. However, she quickly learned that her true calling was not to teach English to Chinese speakers, but to teach Chinese to English speakers. It was then that she decided to move to the United States. While the Chinese government made it difficult to get a visa at this time, she was able to secure an American visa after being accepted to the University of Pittsburgh for her master’s in education.
Liu began her Chinese teaching career in Pittsburgh after receiving her Masters in Education but soon left Pittsburgh to teach elsewhere. While earning her master’s degree in Pittsburgh, she taught businessmen how to speak Chinese at the Berlitz International School. Soon after, though, she traversed the country with her husband, teaching wherever she went. Eventually, she settled in Westchester and began teaching at Greenwich Academy and the Brunswick School. Liu explained that she loves teaching anywhere but did not like the single-gender nature of these schools. As a result, she looked to public school for a co-ed teaching opportunity.
MHS was and still is her ideal teaching environment. Liu raves, “Mamaroneck has one of the oldest high school Chinese programs in the country, that teaches Chinese characters in writing and in culture. The school also has a great, diverse student body.” When Liu was offered a position to teach Chinese, she was thrilled. At that point, the Chinese program was very small, with about eight students per class. Under Liu’s instruction, the program has grown drastically and student retention from freshman to senior year has vastly improved. Among her favorite moments from her time at Mamaroneck was watching students bargain with street vendors on their China trip (which has been put on pause due to COVID-19) and sharing philosophy on learning Chinese with her seniors. Liu has been a constant positive influence on her students, motivating them to study Chinese through their four years in high school and in college.
Harry Middlemiss (‘24) states how “she is passionate about teaching us Chinese. She really wants us to get better at the language.” Melanie Huang (‘23) adds that, “her devotion to teaching pushes me to learn as much Chinese as I can.” Liu truly enjoys imparting her knowledge of the Chinese language to students and feels that her students’ abilities give the Chinese program a role-model status within the Chinese educational community. She feels extremely proud of her students, many of whom choose to study Chinese in college. These days there is a growing need for Chinese speakers as China thrives economically and expands its influence around the world, and Liu is overjoyed that, over the years, she has taught thousands of young adults who can fill that demand. From Sichuan to New York, Liu has created a lasting impact on language learners and MHS.