As the Storm Lake Community School District celebrates another milestone with the hiring of North Elementary's newest third grade teacher, Dep Ung's current concern rests with preventing the first-day jitters.
Recently hired as the first certified Laotian teacher in the school district, Ung will take the helm of a third grade section as part of last spring's approval by the Board of Education to consolidate North and East elementary schools.
By no means a stranger to the district, Ung worked for the past 10 years as an English as a Second Language instructor and a classroom instructional assistant at North and East schools. As ESL instructor, Ung served as not only a teacher and interpreter, but also as a liaison between the Laotian community and the school district.
"The role has changed greatly over the years," Ung said. "It started with taking kids to the dentist and things like that, and it's really evolved into helping entire families adjust to living in the community."
In efforts to earn teaching certification, Ung took classes at Iowa Central Community College three years ago, and was later chosen as a recipient for the Career Ladder Grant, a program offered by the state of Iowa to aid minorities with educational expenses in order to achieve higher certification. With the grant, Ung attended classes at Iowa Lakes Community College and Buena Vista University Learning Centers, eventually earning her teaching degree last May.
Ung, who, with her husband, Wa, has two children, Melanie and Matthew, said that despite balancing school, work and family, her education and certification were worth it.
"I really enjoyed my time doing it," Ung said. "I had the advantage of working in a school, so I pretty much know what's going on. I also had wonderful teachers that I observed and learned from."
The eighth of ten children, Ung arrived to the United States with her family in 1975 after crossing the Mekong river and staying in a Taiwanese temple while fleeing from government oppression in Laos. The family lived on a military base in Arkansas and later relocated to Iowa City, assimilating to America while sponsored by the West Branch Lutheran Church.
Ung said that while she does plan to share many aspects of her Laotian heritage with her students, her main goal will be to teach not only reading and writing to her students, but also tolerance and awareness.
"Our community is so diverse, so by teaching, I hope to be a role model for not only minority students, but to teach all of my students that the world is filled with so many colors," Ung said. "I really want to bring awareness into my classroom."
Ung said that while she feels she will have a grasp on how the classroom operates thanks to her previous experience, there's no denying that butterflies.
"I'm very nervous about being on my own for the first time, but it's fair to say that it's a typical teacher thing," Ung said.
"I've been having some nightmares, but even experienced teachers are telling me it still happens to them. That helps a lot."