Relationships Are the Key to Good Teaching

Q&A with Teacher Education Alumni Eubene Kim

Eubene Kim (left) pictured with a colleague on her last day of clinical practice at Cherry View Elementary School.

Eubene Kim (left) pictured with a colleague on her last day of clinical practice at Cherry View Elementary School.

When Eubene Kim came to the United States, she was about the same age as many of the students she encountered while completing her clinical practice hours in the teacher education licensure: elementary education (K-6) program at St. Thomas. “My dad worked for Samsung for 15 years but decided to take the biggest adventure of his life and move to the U.S.,” said Kim. Her father’s job ultimately relocated the family from Korea to Lakeville, Minnesota. “I was 12 at the time and didn’t speak one word of English, so school was really tough for me,” she said. “Being part of an ESL class, I didn’t have opportunities to make new friends in the mainstream classes. Those years were tough.”

The young student who was once placed in an ESL class is now fluent in Korean, English and Spanish. After finishing a study aboard experience in Spain, Kim traveled solo for one month visiting London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Budapest, Vienna and Prague. “It was the most rewarding and adventurous experience I've ever had!” she recalls. In addition to earning her degree in spring 2015, she completed her nationalization interview to become a U.S. citizen. CELC recently caught up with Kim to gain her perspective on the profession as a new teacher.

What excites you about teaching?

Everything! But, mostly the fact that I get to meet 24-26 students and watch them grow into young adults. I look forward to building a close, personal relationship with each student and supporting their dreams and goals throughout the school year.

When did you want to become a teacher?

In high school when I was an assistant teacher at St. Andrew Kim Korean School. I did it for the volunteer hours at first, but I soon realized that I enjoyed teaching children and building positive relationships. One day, one of the boys I was teaching came to me after class, gave me a hug and told me, "I'm going to be a great teacher just like you when I grow up." I think that is when I decided to become a teacher, so that I can hear that again from my future students.

Why did you choose elementary education (K-6) as your area of concentration?         

Elementary students show curiosity in everything and have the strong desire to learn. They are creative, fun, playful and cheerful. Sometimes they surprise me with their depth of knowledge and talents.

What do you enjoy most about the teaching profession?

I get to share my experiences, thoughts, opinions, and beliefs with students and other teachers. During clinical practice, I learned something new every day from either a student or a teacher. I enjoy when the students enjoy learning from my lessons and achieve their personal goals, and I also enjoy building great relationships with the other teachers at the school.

How was your clinical practice experience?

I was very doubtful in my teaching abilities after the third field experience. Teaching sixth grade math was harder than I expected, and I was scared to spend an entire semester with 25 students. Since English is not my first language, I was really afraid that I wouldn’t be able to clearly explain the lesson to the students. But, I overcame this fear by accepting that I was different and used that difference to my advantage. I told my students I came from another country called Korea, and the students wanted to know more about my home country.

 Why did you chose the University of St. Thomas?

It offered everything I was looking for in a college and was close to my hometown of Lakeville, Minnesota. Additionally, UST gave me a feeling of both a big public school and a small private school. When I researched colleges, I found that St. Thomas had one of the top education programs in the Midwest.

How did you balance completing your studies and preparing for your naturalization interview?

I honestly wasn’t worried about my naturalization interview; it never affected completing my university studies. I received a booklet of 100 U.S. history questions—all of which came from fourth grade social studies! I was able to review the questions while teaching my students. This also gave me the chance to share my immigration story with them as they were in the immigration unit.

Are there any professors you consider mentors? How were they influential?

I consider Professors Debra Monson and Ann Howard as my mentors. Dr. Monson was my Field Experience III supervisor so she came to see me teach many times. She also taught Teaching Math and Technology, which helped me a lot since I taught sixth grade math for the key assessment. Dr. Monson gave me great tips and advice on how to make mathematics enjoyable and fun for the students. Dr. Howard made a huge difference in my teaching career because we [students] were treated as if we were in elementary school. I know that sounds a little weird, but, because she did that, I was able to look at science from a young student’s perspective. Because of her, I have more confidence in teaching science.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing new teachers today?

One big challenge facing new teachers is the lack of guidance and resources for lessons and unit planning. Many teachers do not receive enough instructional resources and only a few classroom materials are provided. So many schools are cutting budgets, which leads to bigger classes. Even veteran teachers struggle with 30 students in one classroom. With the bigger class size, there is more classroom management issues new teachers have to deal with.

What do you think are the top current trends in teaching and learning?

Technology, differentiated/personalized instruction and demographic diversity. I strongly believe these three trends will continue to grow and become popular as the world becomes more globalized and technological. Teachers and students use Smart Boards, iPads, YouTube, etc. to teach and learn. School districts look for teachers who are able to use technology and can adapt to this change. I know there is a lot of debate on whether utilizing technology is a good idea for schools or not, but I think it can be a great tool if it's used wisely. Differentiated/personalized instruction is something that all teachers should do. Every student learns in different ways, so a teacher must be prepared to provide instruction in various learning styles. Lastly, the implication for demographic diversity will be more opportunities for students to experience cultural diversity as the number of non-white students grows. Compared to adults, I think it’s amazing how young students can accept others’ cultures and different backgrounds so well and want to learn more from each other.

What advice would you give to students entering the teacher education program?

You are going to have so many doubts about yourself as a teacher. You are going to cry over key assessments, ed-TPA and those crazy 15-page papers. You are going to spend hours writing the perfect lesson plan and researching pedagogical theories. You’re probably not going to make a lot of money after you graduate. Nevertheless, you are going to inspire, motivate and shape young people’s minds.

 What’s the secret to being a good teacher?

I don’t think I’m a good teacher yet because I’m still learning. However, I think the secret is quite simple: show your students that you care about them. Making eye contact, using their names, getting to know their likes, dislikes, fears, dreams, hobbies, and trying to think from their perspectives all count as being a good teacher. Your students may not remember what they’ve learned during that grade, but they will remember you forever because you showed true sincerity and love toward them.