A retired Harford County Public Schools teacher was honored by her former student on “Hoda and Jenna,” the fourth hour of NBC’s “Today” show.
With Maryland facing severe teacher shortages, Esther Lim, who is an adjunct professor at Howard School of Law and a partner at a Washington, D.C., law firm, said she decided to share an inspiring story of how the now retired Harford County teacher, Jean Herbert, changed her life as a way to express the importance of teachers. Lim and Herbert appeared together in the “Today” segment, which aired July 11.
“It was quite important to me to share this story because [I am] someone who has been touched firsthand by the lifelong impact that teachers can create for a student,” said Lim. “I try to pay it forward by also teaching.”
In May of 1983 12-year-old Esther Lim moved from South Korea to Edgewood, where she attended Magnolia Middle School as a 7th grader. Unlike many of her classmates, Lim could not speak or understand much English, which made it very difficult for her to get accustomed to her new environment, Herbert said. Lim was brought into Herbert’s classroom with only three weeks left in the school year, and Herbert said she decided to speak with Lim’s father to make sure she got help with her English over the summer.
“You got a little child coming in that cannot speak English in your room, but you want to make their time there as meaningful as possible,” Herbert said. “I saw that she had [a] need, which was being able to speak the language, and I wanted to make sure she had that opportunity to learn during the summer.”
Herbert told Lim’s father that shecould help her with English over the summer. She ended up teaching not only Lim, but the whole family.
“I had a relationship with the family,” Herbert said. “I started adopting them and helping them wherever I could.”
During the next year, Lim and Herbert were still at Magnolia, but Lim was with a different teacher. Lim still did not have great command of English, but she stayed in touch with Herbert in and out of school to continually improve, Herbert said.
“As a teacher, she really changed the course of my academic potential,” Lim said. “It was clear to me that what she did for me that first summer for me and my family really enabled me to thrive in high school. She really means the world to me.”
Lim went on to attend Towson University, which happens to be Herbert’s alma mater, for her bachelor’s degree. Then, she attended the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and later was selected for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Leadership Executive Program, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Currently, Lim practices at law at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner LLP, in Washington, D.C., which is one of the largest law firms in the world focusing on intellectual property She is a partner and chief diversity and inclusion officer.
“Today” staff found out about the story after seeing Lim’s article on mentorship in the Profiles in Diversity Journal and reached out to Lim and Herbert to do an interview, Lim said. They had Lim prepare an official thank-you letter to express her appreciation, Lim said.
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During the “Today” interview it was announced that Towson University’s College of Education has established the Mrs. Jean Herbert Scholarship Fund. The Bojangles Foundation, which promotes literacy, is donating $10,000 to the scholarship and 100 books to the English Language Learner’s Library in Herbert’s name.
“I think they recognized the value of what Mrs. Herbert and others like her have done for their students over the years,” Lim said. “Many of the teachers ... are never getting the appreciation and recognition they deserve.”
Along with her impact on Lim’s life, Herbert said she hopes her own personal story will inspire those who want to teach to follow their passion.
Herbert always wanted to become a teacher growing up, but her father died when she was 14 and there was no money for her to go to college, she said.
She worked to help her family with expenses at home, Herbert said, and later got married and had three children, Richard, David and Jon. She let go of her teaching dream until David and Jon went to Towson University, Herbert said.
She studied for a year at Harford Community College then transferred to Towson and attended school alongside her sons, Herbert said. She was 45 years old when she received her degree from Towson in 1982.
“I would encourage anyone who wants to become a teacher to take my story and understand you don’t have to always do it right when you graduate high school,” Herbert said. “If you have that inclination to teach, sometimes you can do it later and still be successful at it.”