From her humble beginnings in Lincoln, Nebraska to Delaware Teacher of the Year, The Universal Asian spoke with Kimberly Stock, English learner teacher at McKean High School. We found out her reaction to receiving this prestigious award, what teaching means to her, and discovered what school was like for Kimberly growing up as a Korean-American adoptee in Nebraska.
Congratulations on receiving Delaware Teacher of the Year 2021! Can you tell us what it was like to receive such an accolade?
I’m going to be honest; every step along the way I’ve been surprised! I was not expecting it. But luckily, I had prepared two speeches; one speech in case I won, and just for luck I put it on top, then I had another speech just in case I lost. It was one of those things where I was really happy and surprised, and my family were watching too. So, to make my two teenage daughters proud is really a big deal! It’s just such an honour, but very unexpected.
And how much did it mean to you to win?
It meant a lot. I believe I’m the first Asian-American woman to win this award, but I don’t believe that there’s very many teachers of color who have ever won. So, to represent Asian teachers, of which there aren’t very many, was important and not something that I ever take lightly at all.
In your winning speech you said, “You deserve to see yourself represented in what you learn and on the walls of where you learn.” How much does equal representation in the classroom matter to you?
It matters. It’s everything. More recently, we’ve understood that we need to confront our complicit biases. It’s a really imperfect journey, but I think that it’s one that we need to continue on. With there being those from the other side who are very anti-this and -that, it just becomes another hurdle to getting to that fight to have representation in the classroom and to break down the structures of why it is that in education, or in society, where certain groups of people tend to have an easier time than others. I realize this is going to be an uphill battle, but I think that the more people we can get on our side, the better.
What techniques do you implement to ensure that equal representation of all students (no matter their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.) is met in the classroom?
It’s intentional. So, the first things that we have are diversity committees both in terms of adults in the district and with students at school. From a curriculum standpoint, we look at the Social Justice Standards, which goes through four main components of identity, diversity, justice, and action. I love that they don’t just stop at looking at the issues of injustice, but that there is a component of asking ourselves as young members of society: “How can we actually go about this?”
I learned a lot from my students. I’m really lucky that I work at a high school, because young people are constantly teaching us things. I strongly believe that as educators we have to lead the way in society and we can’t be scared of that. This is really our job and why we’re here.
What was school like for you growing up? Did you like school much?
There were things about school I liked, but it was really difficult to grow up in Nebraska with my family because there was just a lack of understanding. My parents didn’t have the same kinds of resources that adoptive families have today. Growing up, I was very angry at them but I realize now that they couldn’t have known what they didn’t know.
Although I liked learning, I also felt tormented. As I was applying for Teacher of the Year, I realized that there was one teacher in particular who told me I should be an English teacher and it meant so much. She read to us "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou, and it was the first time that I read something from a woman of color. I could relate to things she talked about as being othered, and I could relate to the trauma of racism. It’s really why I am who I am today. It made me realize the kind of impact the teacher can have on individual students.
As Delaware Teacher of Year 2021, do you feel a sense of duty to let other Asian-Americans know that they too can be teachers?
Yes, definitely. One of the things I did with my teacher of the year is that I successfully ran a campaign to become a school board member of the district I live in. Our opinions and viewpoints, as teachers, are not valued even within the education professions. So, to have that conversation about whether teachers should be allowed on the board is something I had to prove.
And finally, what advice would you give to people, like yourself, who want to get into education?
I think you need to be willing to work really hard and be patient because, oftentimes, the reward and why we teach doesn’t happen until years from now. If you love kids and have a passion in whatever subject in education, then that’s exactly the kind of person we want. Your background doesn’t matter, because we need all different kinds of people to reach all different kinds of kids.