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2 SPPS Educators are Finalists for Minnesota Teacher of the Year

Michael Houston and Ong Xiong have been named finalists for the 2017 Minnesota Teacher of the Year award.

Michael Houston is a math teacher at Harding Senior High School. Ong Xiong is a kindergarten teacher at Phalen Lake Hmong Studies Magnet.

Overall, 11 teachers from across the state have been named finalists in the Education Minnesota’s annual award. A panel of leaders in the areas of education, business, government and nonprofits selected the finalists from a group of 37 semifinalists.

The 2017 Minnesota Teacher of the Year will be named Sunday, May 7.
 
 
Michael Houston

Michael Houston

How long have you worked for SPPS and at which schools?

I am in my 13th year of teaching at Harding High School.


Why did you want to become a teacher?

I decided to become a teacher because some of the most impactful people in my life have been both teachers and coaches. In college, one of my professors -- who is also my mentor -- always expressed such joy while in the classroom. His ability to create a community within the classroom, while also sharing his passion about the subject, influenced me to consider teaching as a profession. Now, 13 years later, I am glad that I chose this profession.


What’s the best part of your job?

Personally, the best part of my job is building great relationships with my students. I look forward to learning their personalities, understanding what drives them, hearing their individual stories and their laughter, and helping them comprehend math concepts.


What’s the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is not being able to connect with every student that I have. Whether it's finding a mutual interest including through sports, similar personality traits, interjecting humor within the classroom to provoke a smile, or other ways, it's rather unsettling to not find something to draw a student in.


What is the most important thing your students have taught you?

Probably that it isn't the end of the world if the entire class time isn't devoted to content, and that some of the class time is used to try to connect with them. Our students have a hard time trusting adults and building a strong teacher-student relationship gets them to open up, build trust and ultimately promotes learning in the classroom.


If you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you choose?

If I was not a teacher, I would probably be working as an accountant.


What does being nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year mean to you?

For me, it has been tremendously humbling. Being recognized for such an honor has made me more reflective of my teaching practices over the years.

 
Ong Xiong

Ong Xiong

How long have you worked for SPPS and at which schools?

This is my 7th year at Phalen Lake. Overall, this is my 20th year teaching. I first started teaching at a charter school on the East Side of Saint Paul called A.C.O.R.N. Dual Language Academy (now called Achieve Language Academy). Phalen Lake Hmong Studies Magnet is the first school in SPPS that I have taught at.


Why did you want to become a teacher?

I have always enjoyed kids. I knew I had a lot of patience when dealing with children. I grew up with no Hmong classroom teachers and thought I could change that image.


What’s the best part of your job?

I really enjoy teaching the Hmong Immersion classroom because it is a personal journey for me and my people. The Hmong language is an endangered language and I want to be a part of trying to preserve it. My energy in teaching is driven by my passion to preserve my culture and language. It is definitely a personal endeavor.


What’s the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge for me in my current position as a kindergarten Hmong immersion teacher is trying to create materials to supplement my teaching due to the lack of Hmong materials and resources available.


What is the most important thing your students have taught you?

My students have taught me many things over the years. The things that keep reoccurring is that my students are smart, capable and want to belong. I try my best to facilitate and create an environment where they can apply who they are, what they can do, and know that they belong.


If you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you choose?

I would probably choose to be in a profession that also works with children. I can see myself as a social worker or a physician.


What does being nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year mean to you?

This nomination means a lot to me. It is a great feeling to be acknowledged by my colleagues. It is a humbling experience being that I am surrounded by so many exceptional teachers here at Phalen Lake.




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