Hi, my name is Sung. I’m the founder and the host of InspiringEducators, a podcast dedicated to sharing stories of inspiring educators of all walks of life. I started this project to provide a voice to the many dedicated educators. Day in and day out, they go passionately about helping their students fulfill their dreams and goals. Many of these educators receive little recognition, but their labor of love is ultimately manifested in the success and happiness of their students. They’re in the shadows, often unrecognized, and they are the true unsung heroes.
My journey started across the Pacific, in South Korea, and like many immigrants, my parents took a chance and we soon found ourselves with a new beginning in Orange County, California. My dedicated parents made the ultimate sacrifice, giving up their own dreams so that my brother, sister, and I were able to pursue our dreams and goals. Working long hours as factory laborers for two educated individuals was not easy, yet my parents were always there for us and always emphasized the importance of our education.
I still remember my first day at school in the US, at Richmond Elementary in Fullerton. As a young second grader without the slightest comprehension of English and surrounded by strangers, I was a castaway surviving on a social and cultural island, but I was lucky. I had two incredibly caring teachers (whom I still stay in contact with this very day) that went far beyond to accommodate a nervous eight year old. It’s humbling thinking back to those very early days. I’ve never forgotten Mrs. Cudd, Mr. Mo, Mr. Austin, Mr. Bunch, Mr. Takiuchi, or Mrs. Palmer in my life. They were my inspiring teachers growing up and my heroes.
I wasn’t able to walk for my own graduation from UCLA after earning my degree, because I had to report to Officer Candidate School for the United States Marine Corps. After my commission as an officer, I spent time training to fulfill my childhood dream of becoming a Marine aviator. After serving with the Marines for four years active and three in the reserves, I wanted to give back to the community that gave me so much and what better place than to return home where I started my teaching career. I started at a middle school and eventually ended up at my very own high school where I taught earth science, physics, and coached baseball and tennis over the years. I saw a lot of my younger, very lost, and confused self in many of my students, especially among the newly arrived immigrant students. Teaching was dynamic, challenging, frustrating, but I can still count more good days than the bad. What an honor and privilege to have been part of two dedicated organizations in my lifetime. I’ve never forgotten on graduation day, my high school history teacher, Mr. Bunch, citing a Horace Mann’s quote: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”
Taking a Chance: Part I
As with all things in life, we have our ups and downs. Emotional energy took its toll and I was burning out as a teacher. It was increasingly more difficult to get up each morning. I was wiped out at the end of the day and lacking the energy to volunteer additional time for extra curricular activities. Barely able to stay ahead of next day, I was running on caffeine in the morning and on adrenaline in the afternoon. I was losing my momentum. Then just like that, I had an opportunity to work alongside Dr. Gary Reynolds, another Marine in his former life. An outside the box thinker, master motivator, and a passionate educator, the example he set and dedication for teaching was infectious and helped rejuvenate and recalibrate my teaching career.
Sometimes, all the talk of encouraging my students to go out and explore the world and chase their dreams eventually caught up with me. I wanted to further explore the world myself! I submitted my leave of absence and traveled the world, circumnavigating the globe, twice, covering some 50 plus countries. What an experience! The leave of absence was the single most important event in my life to this day and has a profound influence in how I approach teaching and life.
Having returned to teaching after my global adventure, I found the added bonus of sharing my experiences with my students. I was further drawn to great teachers and read volumes of literature on anything that concerned motivation, positive outlook, resilience, and enjoyed having dialogues on the best way to educate and motivate our students. I was in awe and admired many of these incredibly talented group of educators who were often eccentric, risk takers, and filled with unlimited optimism. Their students sat in their seats leaning forward and filled with passion to learn.
I stepped away from education, once again taking my second leave of absence, hoping to create a charter school to fulfill individual needs of a student, integrate all the best of experience based education, technology, and instill the engines that drive and make the school: staffing with passionate educators. As often it is in life, plan A bit the dust. Knocked down, but not out of the fight, I’ve taken a strategic relocation and a modified plan A is still in the works.
I enjoyed listening to podcasts, especially during long commutes, and in the greater Los Angeles area, it’s always a long commute! Podcasts were much needed alternative to the repetitive radio stations, and I loved the eclectic range of available podcasts on all topics. It was available when I wanted wherever. Who are these podcasters? It was a revelation to find out anyone can start a podcast. All that required was some knowledge of the internet, software, hardware, time, and most important it demanded some courage on my part and taking a chance. Oh, a dedicated group of audience wouldn’t hurt either. Always appreciative of innovative educators, I enjoy listening to their stories, and more often, I was curious about the person and their positive approach to teaching and life. Their stories are too good to not be shared. We can all learn from these master teachers; their hard earned experience is priceless. One podcast at a time, InspiringEducator’s mission is to share their knowledge and recognize these unsung heroes!
Whether it’s a veteran elementary teacher in her last year, a newbie student-teacher embarking on her journey, a fired up parent rallying a call to action, an administrator taking the path less taken, a fearless student who knows no limits, or a researcher trying to shake up the foundation, progress will take innovative ideas led by inspiring leaders. I am excited to be on this journey and hope many of you will share your passions along the way. I think as in most travels, it’s often the journey that’s going to be the exciting and the fun part. The destination is myriad as the many different dreams of the individuals. Along the way, I hope to find a common bond among us all. Cheers!