Hmong Teachers: Life Experiences and Teaching Perspectives

Article excerpt

Introduction

There have been many areas researched relating to minority teachers and their teaching experience. For example, minority teacher recruitment (Bachler, et al, 2003; Futrell, 1999; Villegas & Davis, 2007), the status of minority teachers (Assessment of Diversity, 2004), the impact minority teachers have on student achievement (Dilworth & Ardila-Rey, 2004), and how standardized testing impacts pre-service minority teacher retention and attrition (Brown, 2005) have been studied. Alternative certification processes for minority teachers have also been examined (Dieker, 2003; Peterson, 2009; Shen, 1998). Additionally, life experiences of minority teachers (Foster, 1990) and how their life experiences can impact student achievement and school climate have been considered as well (Ayalon, 2004; Brand, 2004; Eubanks, 1999).

One of the emerging groups of ethnic minority teachers within the broader Asian and Pacific Islander category that has not been thoroughly looked at is the Hmong. In the last three decades, the number of Hmong teachers in the United States has steadily increased. An excellent example that reflects this change is the number of Hmong teachers currently practicing in the state of Wisconsin.

Since the 1980s, when the Hmong began settling in Wisconsin, the number of Hmong teachers has grown from one teacher in the early 1980s to over one hundred in 2006 (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2008). This trend is consistent with national statistics reported on minority teachers. There was an increase from 8.9% in 1987-88 to 16.3% in 2003- 2004 (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2004).

Being relatively new to the teaching landscape, there are few studies conducted to date on Hmong teachers. Those conducted have focused primarily on the preservice phase, federally-funded teacher training, and the retention and attrition of Hmong pre-service teachers (McClain-Ruelle & Xiong, 2005; Rochon, Root, Rudawski, & Taylor, 2003). This previous research has not addressed practicing Hmong teachers or documented their life and teaching experiences. Therefore, this exploratory study looks at the life experiences and teaching practices of five Hmong teachers practicing in Wisconsin.

Background of Hmong Teachers

The Hmong, a tribal group from Laos, came to the U.S. in the 1970s, as refugees from the Vietnam War. The ancestors of Hmong Americans are believed to have left China in the late 1800s and then settled in Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Burma (Yang, 2009). In the 1960s and 1970s, the Hmong were recruited by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to aide in the fight against communism in Southeast Asia, specifically the Secret War of Laos (Hamilton-Merritt, 1999). Their mission was covert and clandestine, which involved rescuing American pilots and sabotaging the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

After the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam and Southeast Asian in 1975, many Hmong were left behind in difficult situations. Many fled Laos to refugee camps in Thailand, eventually relocating to third countries such as the U.S., Australia, France, and Germany. Most Hmong Americans reside in Minnesota, California, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Over recent decades, Hmong Americans have made substantial progress in education, employment, and other areas of development (Hmong Census, 2003). Initially, the transition was challenging. It included overcoming cultural, language, and racial differences, all of which lead to generational clashes, lack of academic achievement, and increases in violence and criminal activities among Hmong youths. Since then, steady improvements have been made in education, business, politics, and cultural adjustments and settlements. One area of change has been the increase in the number of Hmong educators in many communities and at various educational levels and grades.

Coming from a preliterate society in Southeast Asia, formal education is a new experience for many Hmong. …