PHS Profile: Jennifer Li

April, 2024
Claire TangMaxime DeVicoAnna Petrova

Born and raised in Cranbury, New Jersey, Jennifer Li served as a Peer Group leader, a trumpet player in Studio Band, and participated in various community service activities as a student at PHS. Now, having worked as a math teacher at PHS for six years, Li teaches Pre-Calculus Accelerated, Applications and Modeling of Math, and AP Calculus AB and BC within the classrooms she used to sit in as a student.

Li credits much of her initial desire to pursue a job in the educational field to the meaningful relationships she built with PHS teachers as a high schooler. Continuing her heavy involvement with PHS’s community and extracurriculars, Li currently serves as Student Council Advisor and has worked as a Music Mentoring program substitute teacher and Speech and Debate coach in the past. Through these activities, Li hopes to serve as a mentor figure for students both in and outside of her math classes.

“The different things I experienced as a student here make me a teacher that is more approachable. [It] gives me [a] unique connection to students in that I went through the same things [they] did,” said Li. “I had a lot of different inspiring teachers [here], and the connections I had here with my teachers made me want to come back and teach here. Mr. Bongiovi actually had a great influence on [me] and made me feel like [teaching] would be a fun career.”

Within the walls of her own classroom, Li strives to create an environment where students are not afraid to ask questions or make mistakes, especially in classes with curriculums that students often feel intimidated by, such as Pre-Calculus Accelerated. To address students’ unfamiliarity with new and complex concepts, Li tries to explore the practical application of them.

“Math is in so many different things in the real world, even if we don’t realize it. Everybody’s using that in their daily lives,” said Li. “In my Applications and Modeling of Math class, we’re working on a project on how to buy a car. That’s [something] people actually experience in real life, so I think that’s important to be able to learn about that now.”

To help maximize student engagement with course material, Li creates colorful in-class presentations and answer keys for study reference, drawing from her long time hobby of bullet journaling and calligraphy. However, throughout her time and experiences as a teacher, Li has learned that maintaining a patient attitude in the classroom is the best way to address student disengagement.

“Being a teacher, you often have to reteach things or be okay with kids who aren’t always paying attention and give them the chance to learn again [at] other times,” Li said.

Li’s patient approach to teaching is noticed by her students. Carina He ’26, a student in Li’s Pre-Calculus Accelerated class, appreciates Li’s ability to create a learning environment that fits the needs of each student.

“She puts a lot of effort into the work that she does, and she’s a really kind person,” said He. “In class, she pays a lot of attention to student participation, comprehension, and engagement.”

Li always planned to have a teaching career. Growing up, Li’s father, an avid tuba player, encouraged her initial dream of being a music teacher, fostering her love for music. Taking after her father’s musicianship, Li began experimenting with instruments, playing piano, then the violin and later the trombone at Cranbury Middle School before ultimately choosing to play trumpet at PHS. Driven by her skills in multiple instruments and her participation in Studio Band, Li applied to various music programs including those of the Berklee College of Music, University of the Arts, UMass Amherst, Penn State, and Duquesne University.

“I did not get into music school. Auditions were always something I was really bad at,” said Li. “My dad actually wanted me to keep pursuing music school and take a gap year to practice more, just to get more comfortable with that whole process.”

However, Li decided that continuing her education in college the following year was more important, and, drawing from her affinity for math in school, Li decided to major in math and received her bachelor’s degree from UMass Amherst. Li combined her plans to enter an educational career with her college education and taught as a teaching assistant for undergraduate college classes.

“When I was a teaching assistant, I really liked helping my peers understand the content and being able to have that moment of ‘oh, I get it’,” Li said.

After bumping into her former physics teacher, Mark Higgins, at the gym, Li learned about an open position in PHS’s math department. Seeing it as both an opportunity to fulfill her aspirations for teaching and reconnect with her alma mater, Li ended up applying for and receiving the position of math teacher at PHS.

“I’m actually super happy with the path I ended up on, because I wouldn’t be able to work here at PHS if I continued pursuing music,” said Li. “The culture at PHS is so different from a lot of typical high schools.”

In her limited free time, Li enjoys playing at Tuba Christmases, a holiday gathering of tuba players, with her father during the holiday season. Despite her teaching schedule, Li still makes time for maintaining her physical health and frequents the gym, often attending gym classes and initiating workout sessions with other teachers in PHS’s math department.

“I love the relationships I get to build [here],” said Li. “It’s crazy that I’ve seen a few rounds of students starting as freshmen and then graduating here now, and some of them I’ve still kept in touch with after graduation. I love people and being able to work with people, whether it’s my coworkers, colleagues, or the students that I get to teach.”