For most graduates of the Masters in Teaching (MAT) program at Antioch University Seattle, the June Commencement marks a jumping-off point—the opening of new doors to new classrooms. For graduate Danny Vuong, it means something different: the opportunity to realize a dream to teach.
Danny Vuong never intended to be a teacher. He was more interested in becoming a doctor or nurse. At the University of Washington, he dabbled with pre-med and nursing before he ended up with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. However, he did take a course that centered around academic research with a 2nd grade class. Here he rekindled a passion that was there all along.
As a high school student, he would volunteer with his own 2nd grade teacher, helping kids at Benson Hill Elementary in Renton, WA, while he waited for his younger sister to get out of school. When he graduated from the University of Washington in 2014, Antioch’s reputation in the field and among colleagues made it an obvious choice for a Masters. He took a year off to volunteer and work at his old elementary school, intending to apply via rolling admission offered to working adults at the conclusion of the year.
“I was welcomed back to Benson Hill in a volunteer capacity; to the 2nd grade class in the Renton School District I’d observed during undergrad,” said Danny. “I’d been back in the classroom maybe two weeks when a local school designed as a preliminary entry point for immigrant children offered to pay me to use my Psychology degree while working toward a counseling Masters. But my gut told me to stay.
Danny stayed the entire year at Benson Hill, benefitting from the wisdom and trust of a seasoned 2nd grade mentor teacher. In the fall of 2015 when a 3rd grade teacher at Benson Hill announced her impending leave of absence, a parent of a student leaving the 2nd grade suggested that Danny continue with the class to the 3rd grade.
“I learned so much. And I got attached,” said Danny. “My leave coverage ended at Spring Break, and I went back into the sub pools for K-5, middle and high schools in the district. Then I learned there was an opening at Benson for 4th grade for the following year.”
Danny had done well in his one year of experience. So he studied and obtained the “highly qualified” rating on both the content knowledge tests required for the position. After negotiating with the principal, Danny returned to his kinds with an emergency credential as their temporary full-time 3rd grade teacher in November 2016.
Danny found that the MAT at AUS offered a path for certification within a year and a quarter and that the program would work with a full-time teacher. Unlike two-year programs at other schools, he would benefit from the AUS accelerated program that integrates practical experience from the beginning. He stepped onto the Antioch University campus a week after Spring Break, interviewed at Benson Hill shortly thereafter, and designed, with intention, his renewed dream to teach.
“At AUS, instructors practice what they teach,” said Danny. “Relationship-building is intentional—from the very first class. You can’t teach kids you don’t know, and instructors in the MAT program work to know their students, to make the program work.”
Without a dedicated mentor teacher like most MAT candidates in the student teaching role, Danny taught his original class of 2nd (now 4th) graders alone until 3:00 p.m., after which he commuted forty minutes to Seattle to attend class from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. He ended his day planning lessons for the next day, sometimes staying up until the early morning.
“We grew together; my students and me,” said Danny. And his own 2nd grade teacher—the one he returned to as a high schooler and undergraduate volunteer—is now a colleague and a team member.
“The program was rigorous, and it was accommodating,” said Danny. “I never took advantage, but the relationships established in those first core classes at AUS—the instructional, assessment and program support of AUS Field Experience Co-Directors Leann Torgerson and Carolanne Watness, and the close-knit student cohort—made it possible to have the important conversations. I found what I was looking for without even realizing it was my intention; a foundation of social justice that is core to who I am, and a constructivist pedagogy that’s culturally responsive in the classroom. I was even able to apply my capstone project directly to a structural question relevant to my school.”
The door to Danny’s 4th grade classroom will swing freely come this fall. Just days from commencement, he’s turned in his professional growth plan, and his recommendation for licensure has been submitted. Danny’s plan for the summer is to rest up for the next iteration of what he calls Team Vuong.