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A Bilingual Teacher's Unconventional Journey from Finance to a Dream Career in Education

Educator Raissa Lee of ABC Mom poses for the camera with some of her students.
Educator Raissa Lee of ABC Mom smiles with some of her students. | Courtesy of Raissa Lee
Raissa Lee had an unlikely path to becoming a teacher, but she never stopped listening to her inner child. Now, her work guides her as she honors her heritage and follows her passion as the founder of ABC Mom Learning Center & Childcare.
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Editor's Note: Additional details were added to this piece after its original publish date of Dec. 23 for clarification purposes.

​​As the owner, operator — and sometimes sole employee — of ABC Mom Learning Center & Childcare, which stands for American-Born Chinese Mom, Raissa Lee spends her days creating and sharing early learning experiences with children and families.

​​Like most educators, she had to put in a lot of work to be able to work with children, but her path to becoming a teacher started when she was a child herself.

As a preschooler in Missouri, she already knew she wanted to be a teacher. She encountered racism from classmates and a few teachers from other classrooms, but her teachers always provided security and comfort. She dreamed of becoming a teacher who would provide engaging learning environments for all children, regardless of their culture.

"This was in the '80s when there weren't a lot of Asians living in Missouri," Lee said.

When her family moved to Northern California, she worked hard in school, often staying in after-school care or with neighbors because her parents worked full time. Lee's parents, who came to the U.S. from Taiwan, knew that she wanted to be a teacher. However, concerned about her financial security, they strongly encouraged her to pursue professions with higher incomes, such as doctor, lawyer, accountant or engineer.

Lee tried to honor her parents' wishes and explored their recommended careers. She participated in a mock trial in high school, and it was such a positive experience for her that she decided to pursue law. As a college student, she interned with a law firm in Sacramento. When the lawyers informed her that she needed to be able to lie to be a good lawyer, she decided to explore the field of finance because her integrity was more important to her than a profession. During her sophomore year at the University of California, Davis, she took a leave of absence from school due to her family's financial challenges. Still, at 19, she obtained her Series 7 and Series 63 broker licenses and began trading securities full-time during the day while attending De Anza College in the evening. At the community college, she found that the smaller class sizes and more personal relationships with her professors and peers created a more personalized and supportive learning environment for her, which sparked another dream in Lee: to become a community college professor someday.

Educator Raissa Lee of ABC Mom teaches kids about the five senses in Mandarin and English with a Mr. Potato Head picture.
Raissa Lee teaches kids about the five senses in Mandarin and English with a Mr. Potato Head picture. | Courtesy of Raissa Lee

Eventually, she returned to UC Davis, and after graduating with a degree in international relations, she continued to work in the financial sector. Because of her grandmother's health issues, she left her job in the United States and moved to Taiwan to be close to her. As she struggled to find meaning and fulfillment while working in finance, she explored her options as she helped plan and host Taiwan's first international legislator's conference and taught English at a local language school. She debated whether to work in political economy or education, but her experiences during that period confirmed that her passion was in education, so she returned to the United States to pursue the path her preschool-aged self had wanted all along.

Once in California, she returned to school and earned her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential with a BCLAD (Bilingual Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development) Mandarin Emphasis from California State University, Fullerton, in 2002. Although she said she was thrilled to be hired as a fifth grade teacher after graduation, to her dismay, she was laid off the following year.

Earning the trust and love of a child is such a gift. This job is not just babysitting. …We are [shaping] the brains of our future.
Raissa Lee

In 2003, she returned to finance as a pricing analyst. A few years later, she welcomed two sons. To optimize her time with her sons and minimize the high cost of child care, she cared for her sons during the day and worked from late afternoon through the evenings, sleeping an average of four to five hours each day. After eight years at the position, her job was outsourced overseas in 2011, and she became a mother for the third time in 2013.

Lee began to care for children in her home, and in 2015, she launched ABC Mom Learning Center & Childcare. She said she started ABC Mom because she "really wanted to create a place where children are safe and loved, just like they would be at home."

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1/7 Recently, Raissa Lee and her students made homemade tortillas for lunch. | Courtesy of Raissa Lee
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2/7 Raissa Lee teaches kids about sorting sweet and salty food during a Thanksgiving pajama day activity. | Courtesy of Raissa Lee
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3/7 When students were focusing on symphonies, Raissa Lee organized a field trip to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. | Courtesy of Raissa Lee
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4/7 Raissa Lee's students learn about students about human body systems and X-rays. | Courtesy of Raissa Lee
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5/7 A few of Raissa Lee's students pose dressed as snowflakes. | Courtesy of Raissa Lee
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6/7 Raissa Lee visits Irvine's City Hall with her students. | Courtesy of Raissa Lee