ASL sub Joey Cha showcases his integrity and coherence through teaching


Junior Max Harris (left) and Mr. Cha (right)

Substitute teacher Joey Cha has a contagious smile.

School days can oftentimes be tough to get through; the early mornings and loads of work add a lot of stress to students’ days. However, Cha seems to put those difficulties aside just to make someone else smile.

During every single passing period, Cha welcomingly stands outside room 126 with the intentions of greeting every student passing by.

From being born in South Korea to being raised in Schaumburg, Illinois, the morals that define Cha as a person have yet to change.

“I visited [South Korea] when I was in the third grade, and I mean, the city itself is just alive,” Cha said. “It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, it’s always poppin’.”

Despite Cha’s minor remembrance of his birthplace, one part of the Korean culture truly stood out to him.

“The food [and] the smells just hit you in the face when you’re walking down the street,” Cha said. “I just remember how great it was.”

Besides his love for South Korea, he has set himself up for a successful future here in Grand Rapids; he attended Grand Valley State University and studied education for five years. This platform quickly booked him teaching jobs all over the area; he started off working at Grant Middle School but resigned after a year and a half. He then ventured on to subbing all over the Forest Hills district at both high schools and middle schools.

Right from the beginning, Cha knew that teaching was what he wanted to pursue.

“I went into this profession knowing that I wanted to make as much of an impact as I can on people—what other job offers that?” Cha said.

This long-term substitution job for American Sign Language teacher Kimberly Anderson came up unexpectedly just last week at the special ed basketball game.

“Principal Passinault was coming into the game with some students and said my name had been mentioned,” Cha said. “He told me Mrs. Anderson was on maternity leave and that I had been suggested.”

Cha was thrilled to have received this job offer, despite the fact that he has zero knowledge of sign language. Because of this, he is working extremely hard to learn what he can until Mrs. Anderson’s return.

“Yesterday, for example, I didn’t really have a lesson planned, so right off the bat I had everyone sign their names to me slowly,” Cha said. “They were only allowed to ask me questions if they signed it.”

“Something that I know as a coaching philosophy, but also just generally speaking, [is that] your value comes within who you are, not what you’re able to do.”

— Joey Cha

Cha has only been in this occupation for two days, but within those fourteen hours of education, he has learned more than he had ever imagined.

“I try to repeat the signs back, and obviously I’m making mistakes, but I’m learning more from those mistakes rather than being perfect the first time,” Cha said. “When I’m learning sign language, I know that there’s a lot of nuances and variations. With facial expressions, the differences are so subtle and the word could end up so drastically different.”

There are five different ASL classes filled to the brim with eager students. Although, each class period has a variety of students ranging from freshmen to seniors. This is a complete alternate environment for Cha; therefore, there are quite a few discrepancies between the students.

“The biggest difference is maturity level. For instance, I think about how I’ll deliver the message or lesson in a way that is going to resume with that specific group,” Cha said. “That’s a unique challenge about subbing at different grade levels, but I enjoy the variety.” 

Nevertheless, the students of FHC have already made Cha feel at home. Cha has already created treasurable bonds within not just his students but outsiders as well. Additionally, it is convenient that he previously knew a few students from coaching them at the Michigan Volleyball Academy. 

Cha genuinely enjoys making other people’s days better. He will go out of his way just to make someone else smile. Especially when seeing his players off the court, he loves to make them happy.

“I was just chasing Katie Costello and Sophia Galan around because I bought them a birthday cake pop at practice the other day. I just love to make people happy.” Cha said. “Also, when I was working at Lowell, a lot of my players went to that school, and if there were ever a break in my schedule, I would go buy some coffee or something for them.”

With Cha working at multiple schools in the area, he often has his players as students.

“It’s nice to see my players, not in the gym setting,” Cha said, “and see how they are interacting with the people around them and how they are as a person.”

His longing to become a high school teacher comes due to the opportunity to spend every day with kids. Cha feels that as an educator, he learns something new every day from his students rather than vice-versa.

“I have learned a whole bunch just in the past two days,” Cha said.” The kids here, they’re very welcoming and they want to help out. They’ve been very helpful in that regard—just rattling off a whole bunch of stuff in order to help me out.”

Managing FHC’s varieties of personalities, the students here have already made a positive impression within Cha’s first two days of this job. Both the staff and students have welcomed him with open arms. 

“The kids have a lot of personality, and you can get a feel for that as soon as you walk into a classroom—and I don’t mean that in a bad way,” Cha said. “They’re very respectful, they’re very responsible, and they make good decisions.”

Cha has taken his knowledge as a coach and transferred that into his way of teaching. His values and morals remain the same, along with his expectations for other people. Cha’s overall goal as a person is to make other people content, regardless of how other people make him feel.

“Something that I know as coaching philosophy, but also just generally speaking, [is that] your value comes within who you are, not what you’re able to do,” Cha said. “I want to make sure that regardless of how people treat me, I’m being respectful of them, I’m being kind to them, and hopefully it starts to get reciprocated. Whether it is or not, I am still going to treat people the way I want to be treated.”