Congratulations to Antioch University Seattle alumnus Danny Vuong for being selected as the 2019 Renton School District Outstanding Teacher of the Year. Vuong, a graduate of Antioch’s master’s in teaching program, teaches fourth grade at Benson Hill Elementary School, where he also attended elementary school.
“I feel really honored and humbled to receive this award in only my third year of teaching,” Vuong says. He tells his students that receiving extrinsic rewards is a “cherry on top” of an ice cream sundae and that it’s best to not expect anything in return for the things they do. Still, Vuong says that this honor reinforces for him that he has found his true calling in teaching. He didn’t expect to become a teacher; he decided to pursue teaching six years ago after not being admitted to nursing school. “Little did I know,” he says, “that the rejection letter would be the key to open up all the other doors I didn’t even know existed.” Although he felt uncertain about his future, Vuong forged a new path for himself in teaching, discovering a passion for educating young minds.
Now Vuong is inspired daily by his fourth-grade students. They help him strive to be his best self as he teaches them not only math, reading, and history, but also how to be kind to one another, how to persevere through challenges, how to have integrity, and how to manage and regulate their emotions. “I believe in these kids more than they believe in themselves and that is what it takes to help them be successful,” Vuong says. He reminds them often that they don’t have to be perfect but he does expect them to strive for excellence. He believes that each can be successful if they are willing to work hard for it.
Vuong views the field of education through a social justice lens. “My hope is to ensure that EVERY student has equitable access to education, regardless of who they are or where they come from, whether they are a student of color, come from trauma, or have a disability,” he says. He believes that the key to this is for school districts to hire and retain passionate, highly qualified educators as well as educational reforms such as smaller classroom sizes or re-evaluating standardized tests that don’t favor a diverse population, among other reforms.
Despite the challenges he faces in and out of the classroom, Vuong is determined to persevere. He instills this resilience in his classroom, modeling for his students that when he makes a mistake, he keeps going, and when they make mistakes they can keep going, too. The pressures of being responsible for the education and well-being of more than 30 students who come from diverse backgrounds and who have different learning needs is great. But Vuong finds great joy in teaching. “Teaching is not a job but part of who I am,” he says. “The most rewarding part of teaching is getting to know these kids for who they are and building relationships with their families and watching them grow into their best selves throughout the year. It is rewarding to play an active role in helping these kids get a little closer to their hopes and dreams.” He adds, “And when I hear that a student took what they learned in class and apply it to their own lives outside the classroom, it means a lot to me.”
Watch a YouTube video of Vuong’s award acceptance speech where he discusses in more depth finding his calling to be a teacher and how he works hard to inspire his students as they continue to inspire him.