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Back to School with Dr. Phitsamay

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

From the desk of Dr. Phitsamay S. Uy Equity & Inclusion Scholar & Practitioner, Southeast Asian American Specialist, First generation refugee, Associate Professor Umass Lowell

It is the end of summer and fall leaves are upon us. For many young people, this time of year aligns with going back to school whether it is in our K-12 system or in higher education. What I love most about going back to school as an education professor is in fact the students. Their energy and excitement of starting anew is contagious. This September marks my 27th year of teaching. Before as an elementary teacher, I would start by preparing my classrooms with a bulletin board filled with Welcome Back signs and new student cubbies with construction paper, crayons, and Magic markers. Now as a teacher in the education faculty, I am prepping my Google Classroom with attendance sheets and looking over my syllabi. One common factor that I utilize regardless of the grade I teach or the ages of my students is making sure that I incorporate culturally responsive teaching. Culture is central to learning and students’ identity. It shapes communication styles and how people receive information and it also influences the thinking process of individuals and groups. Culturally responsive teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning (Ladson-Billings, 1994).

Asian American and Pacific Islander cultures have been absent for many years in U.S. classrooms. In response to the rise of anti-Asian American hate and discrimination recently, states and school districts are requiring the teaching of Asian American history in U.S. schools. I am proud to have been chosen to work on the New York City Department of Education project called Hidden Voices: Asian American and Pacific Islanders in United States History. The project consists of a series of 26 profiles of individuals and portraits of four eras in Asian American and Pacific Islander history. I volunteered to author the profile on Legacies’ founder, Channapha Khamvongsa. In the essay, I wrote about Channapha’s upbringing and how she created Legacies of War with the help of Laotian artists, community members, U.S. politicians, anti-war activists, and volunteers. A link to the Legacies curriculum is included in the essay.

The Hidden Voices project is an example of a culturally responsive pedagogy because it provides examples for Asian American girls and more specifically Lao American girls to see themselves in U.S. history and in their classroom. It also teaches all students the powerful lesson that education matters and that with education comes the power to change a world that is unjust. When Channapha found out about the unexploded bombs in Laos that were left over from the secret U.S. Air War (1964-1973), she educated others about that fact and with the help of other Lao Americans advocated for the removal of the bombies to ensure future generations have a chance for a better life.

That is why I go back every year to the classroom. I am excited to teach the next generation to make a difference and to help them see that they are the change agents our ancestors had hoped for. See you in class!!

The Hidden Voices project is still in progress. Stay tuned for more information on its release.

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