Student Spotlight: Ger (Maiv Ntxawm) Thao
The first of our Spring 2021 student spotlights is Ger (Maiv Ntxawm) Thao. Read her story below!
I am Ger (Maiv Ntxawm) Thao. I hold a Master of Arts in Education, a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, and a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from California State University, Chico (California). I am a PhD student in Curriculum and Instruction Specialization at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa College of Education with a research focus on Multicultural Education (culturally responsive-sustaining frameworks/curricula) with an anticipated graduation date of May 2023. I am a recipient of the East-West Center Graduate Degree Fellowship. I was a former elementary teacher/reading intervention specialist for the past eight years, and Program Coordinator of the Hmong Language and Cultural Enrichment Program. I was named the 2018 Gridley Unified School District Teacher of the Year and Butte County Teacher of the Year Nominee and am a Hmong American author of a bilingual (Hmong/English) children’s picture book titled The Hmong Journey: Hmoob Txoj Kev Taug.
My past research has been on multicultural literature and cultural curriculum by underrepresented marginalized groups, with a focus on literature by Hmong authors and the teaching of Hmong language and culture. My current research focuses on multicultural education with an emphasis on learning about/teaching through cultures to help educators better serve the unique educational needs of their multicultural and multilingual community. This research will examine frameworks/curricula that integrate the arts with social studies and literacy standards (culturally and linguistically sustaining teaching through the arts). I am currently involved in several projects that support the Hmong, Southeast Asian, and broader Asia Pacific region and communities.
Social Justice in Education Project
I am currently the Graduate/Teaching Assistant for the Social Justice in Education Project in Hawaiʻi with Dr. Amber Makaiau and Dr. Patricia Halagao. This project is a collaboration between the Hanahauʻoli School Professional Development Center and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Education, funded by the generosity and forward thinking of longtime Teaching Tolerance supporters Jana and Howard Wolff. We have developed coursework for both public and private school educators from across the state that will support them in learning how to create a social justice curriculum that utilizes local resources and reflects Hawai‘i’s diverse population, including multicultural, indigenous, Asian, and Pacific-Island perspectives. Professional development workshops focused on early childhood, gender inclusion, and social justice education will be offered. The objective is that educators will use the materials to supplement their curriculum, to inform their practices, and to create civil and inclusive school communities where children are respected, valued and welcomed participants.
The Hmong Journey: Hmoob Txoj Kev Taug
In my early years of teaching, I had, as we teachers call it, a “teachable moment.” I started my career as a first-grade teacher in the Yuba City Unified School District. It was the first week of school, and one of my students was having a conversation with his friend about who their teachers were. When asked, my student responded “Miss Thao.” The other student asked who Miss Thao was. My student said, “Oh you know, that Mexican lady!” Hearing that conversation was a wake-up call for me. I realized that my students had no idea who I am or where I come from. Not only do my students not know about my ethnicity, my colleagues expressed how little they knew about the Hmong or Asian ethnic groups. Clearly it doesn’t exist in the social science/history curriculum nor do I have any literature or time in the classroom to teach them. I decided to write down my family story. I thought back to bedtime stories my Grandma, Song Vue, would tell me of her childhood and the simple life back in Laos. My parents still remember the Secret War and the harsh traumatic journey from Laos to America as if it were yesterday. What started as notes on my iPad became a bilingual children’s picture book titled, The Hmong Journey: Hmoob Txoj Kev Taug. As I drafted, I thought of the message I wanted to pass on to my nieces/nephews and my young learners. I didn’t want to sugar coat anything. I wanted them to understand that our story wasn’t rainbows and butterflies. They were capable and deserved to know the “real” story. It is a historical, realistic fictional book told from the perspective of a Hmong grandma to her grandchild in the form of a bedtime story about Hmong life and the family’s journey first from Laos to Thailand to escape war and persecution and then immigrating to America. I also designed a cultural curriculum to support my colleagues with implementing the basics of Hmong history, culture, and language in the classroom.
Hmong Language and Culture Enrichment (HLCEP)
Hmong parents became aware that their children were not getting enough exposure to the Hmong culture, language, and traditions at home or school. These parents witnessed a fast pace of assimilation into the American culture. Besides the low academic skills of their children, they feared that, someday, their kids would not know what it’s like to be Hmong. I have been the Program Coordinator for the Hmong Language and Culture Enrichment (HLCEP) summer camp in Madison, Wisconsin for the past three summers. HLCEP is a summer enrichment program for Hmong children between the ages of four to thirteen. In the HLCEP, students get to learn Hmong history, culture and traditions as well as Hmong language, both written and oral, while making new friends and having fun. The main objective and or long-term goal of the HLCEP is to instill pride and confidence in Hmong students. HLCEP’s theory of change believes that students, who have a better understanding of their roots and know who they are, are more confident and perform better in school. The purpose of this program is to assist this process. The HLCEP is an intensive eight hours a day, five days a week summer program that is six-weeks in length. The morning is dedicated to learning the Hmong language and cultural topic of the week (history, tradition, etc.) and in the afternoon, students get to experience hands-on interactive activities that are usually related to what they are learning. During the six weeks, there are field trips and guest speakers from different career fields. Purpose of field trips and guest speakers is to expose student participants to different professions and professionals with an underlying goal of encouraging students to be motivated in their academic pursuit.
Hmong Educational Resources (HER) Publisher
Hmong Educational Resources (HER) Publisher believes in the power of education and the impact of stories. It provides publishing services for Hmong students, writers, educators, researchers, and graphic artists to envision a future led by Hmong voices. As an author/educator for HER Publisher, I want to inspire and instill a love of literature in my students’ heritage spoken language(s). I also want to leave a legacy of more published culturally relevant books for classroom usage and future generations to come. In October 2019, a group of educators and parents brought together Hmong authors from around the country to spark and cultivate a love of reading and writing amongst 250 Hmong youths in grades 7th through 12th in the Twin Cities. The theme was “Embracing the Love of Reading and Writing in the Hmong Language.” The conference was free and open to the general public. It was cosponsored by local partnerships: University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, Minnesota Humanities Center, Hennepin County Library, Osseo Area, and Hmong Educational Resources (HER). There were free books giveaway for young participants to spark the love of reading and writing. As one of the featured authors at this event, I believe we need more experiences like this to develop and sustain pleasure in reading for our communities and grow a nation of readers in our Southeast Asian community.
The Power of Stories/Storytelling
I have shared my story/journey with numerous audiences:
- EdTalk at 3rd Annual Better Together: California Teachers Summit
- Hmong Language Association Workshop
- East-West Center Book Talk/Reading
- Hanahau‘oli School Assembly / Poe (Hmong) Immigration Lessons
- The Monday Exchange Performance
- Book Talk for UHM Teacher Candidates
- Presentations/Conferences: 5th Hmong Studies Consortium International Conference, National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention, National Network for Educational Renewal Annual Conference
My story is not meant to only share the Hmong or Asian cultures or voices. I truly believe that multicultural stories and literature opens the world to all our children and students. What ties us together is our common struggle and common opportunity. Telling stories is the best way to teach and even understand ourselves. Storytelling provides us with a powerful tool to make change happen. Through personal and cultural stories, children may step into the characters of others very similar or different from themselves. It is for this reason that stories provide the perfect vehicle, now more than ever, for embracing the beauty and acceptance of diversity. It opens the door for dialogue and builds a sense of community. As I continue to share my story, I realize that I can empower my students to see themselves in stories and books and be proud of their Southeast Asian American identity. I hope that my story will pave that path for my students, siblings, nieces/nephews, and future children to know that they, too, have a voice and that one day they will share their stories with the world. As spoken by C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands, “We read to know we’re not alone.” I say, “We tell and write stories to share that we’re not alone.” We share stories to connect to others. It also gives us a sense of identity and belonging. As educators, we have the power to transform lives with the stories we tell.
Hmong Educational Resources Publisher: https://herpublisher.com/
Hmong Language & Cultural Enrichment Program: http://www.hmongenrichment.org/
Social Justice in Education Project: https://courses.coe.hawaii.edu/socialjusticeleader/