Daily 49er

CSULB professor Darith Ung honored at Fourth Annual Teacher Recognition Ceremony

Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell presents awards to Long Beach teachers.

Cal+State+Long+Beach+Khmer+Professor+Darith+Ung+poses+with+assemblymember+Patrick+O%27Donnell+and+former+student+Sambath+Phann+after+receiving+an+award+at+the+Fourth+Annual+Teacher+Recognition+Ceremony.
Cal State Long Beach Khmer Professor Darith Ung poses with assemblymember Patrick O'Donnell and former student Sambath Phann after receiving an award at the Fourth Annual Teacher Recognition Ceremony.

Cal State Long Beach Khmer Professor Darith Ung poses with assemblymember Patrick O'Donnell and former student Sambath Phann after receiving an award at the Fourth Annual Teacher Recognition Ceremony.

Cal State Long Beach Khmer Professor Darith Ung poses with assemblymember Patrick O'Donnell and former student Sambath Phann after receiving an award at the Fourth Annual Teacher Recognition Ceremony.

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As the room buzzed with teachers sharing notes on their material and methods, Darith Ung sat quietly in awe at the mere fact he’d been invited to accept an award.

“I feel that there are so many other people that they could have recognized and I’m just a simple teacher, so I didn’t expect anything,” said Ung, language professor at Cal State Long Beach.

Ung was one of 15 Long Beach teachers awarded at the fourth Annual Teacher Recognition Ceremony Thursday in downtown Long Beach. The winners were chosen by Patrick O’Donnell, the assemblymember for the 70th District of California and chair of the Assembly Education Committee.

Attendees were from various levels of education, ranging from middle school to college, but Ung was the only teacher from the university to be awarded.

Ung has been teaching the Cambodian-based language Khmer for over 20 years, starting at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in 1997 before teaching at Long Beach last August.

He called teaching the language a privilege for both himself and the students, with many of them belonging to the Cambodian population in Long Beach — the largest outside of the country. According to a Scalar study, there are over 20,000 Cambodian-Americans living in the city.

“[Wilson] is the only high school in the Long Beach area that offer[s] Khmer language as a foreign language,” Ung said. “I am so admiring that they want to take the language of their ancestors, and that they want to keep the culture alive.”

While presenting the award, O’Donnell recognized Ung’s teaching as important for bringing Cambodian culture stateside for students.

“This is important for kids who came from Cambodia, or didn’t come from Cambodia quite frankly, because it gives them a connection to their homeland,” O’Donnell said. “It also [gives them] a connection to their elders they often feel disconnected with, because their cultural experience here has been so different than their own families.”

With the recent expansion of a Khmer language minor at the university, Ung hopes to teach more classes and see students graduate with more familiarity in the language.

In the past, Ung has required his students be native speakers of Khmer before taking the class; however, he has accepted students who are new to the language into his class this year, including a Hispanic student who he said is more skilled than many of the native speakers.

“I feel proud of him, also in a sense I feel proud of myself, because he’s learning something,” Ung said. “I feel like I’m doing the right job and I’m very inspired and he’s a role model for the other students to follow.”

Ung notes that while he very is proud of teaching the language and being the only credentialed Khmer teacher in California, he fears for Khmer’s survival in the state.

“What happens if something happens to me?” Ung said. “I don’t want that program to go away. So for me it’s a privilege to be able to [teach], and I’m happy to see my students come to class and want to learn and that they learn it. That’s the most rewarding for me.”

 

List of Winners:

Gabriella Anorve

Torrie Jean Baker

Brandie Borges

Etic Cabacungan

Tony Damico

Jacquelyn Gainer

Alina Heavin

Andrea Hoover

Juliane McCall

Monica Patterson

Pamela Penn

Ethel Seminario-Laczko

Lyle Theile

Laurie Wilkerson

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