Spotlight: 10 Questions for Ken Kang (HI '17)February 28, 2018
Ken Kang (HI ’17) often talks with his students about leaving a legacy that is ethical and serves others: “I hope they remember that I wanted them to create a brighter future not only for themselves, but for their children and their children's children.” The former engineer won Hawaii’s 2017-18 Award at Aiea High School, his own alma mater, on February 5, 2018.
1. What went through your mind when you heard your name called at your surprise notification?
Ken Kang: It’s hard to say in words what went through my mind. I was just in total shock. Right before [Hawaii Governor David Ige] called my name, I remember telling my colleague, "Hey, you better get your phone out. I think it’s your wife.”
There are so many teachers who are so deserving that I could not fathom that the Award was for me. It was also emotional because I lost my mother in 2016, and she was the one who gave me the okay to switch careers from engineering into teaching. She told me that teaching is a highly respected career and she would be proud no matter what I decided to do.
2. How did your students respond to your Milken Award? What impact has it had on them?
Ken: They were ecstatic! They were so proud of me and kept mentioning that I was so deserving. The entire student body has begun to show some pride—they knew that I had come back to teach at my alma mater. Even students I didn’t know told me that they are so proud to be a “Na Ali’i,” as we call ourselves at my school.
3. How did you end up in education?
Ken: In the engineering field, you work on designs, projects and finding solutions, and I got satisfaction when projects were complete. But my life turned around when I got a call from my own mechanical drafting teacher. He asked me to help with the rapidly-changing technology requirements being pushed by the Department of Education. I agreed and got a part-time teaching job, in addition to my engineering work.
Teaching was even more satisfying. My projects were live projects—the students. I realized that teachers have an enormous opportunity to change the future. That's when I decided to switch careers. The joy teachers get helping students learn the skills they need for their futures is truly the best reward.
4. Who are your role models as an educator?
Ken: Our parents are our first teachers. As immigrants to Hawaii, both of my parents were working many hours, so there were times when we would remain in school. I began to build relationships with teachers who took me under their wings. Mr. Wayne Tokuhama, Mr. Edmund Okada, and Mr. Jonathan Yasuda were mentors for me, always going above and beyond what is expected in the classroom. Mr. Tokuhama was the one who convinced me to switch careers. To honor them here seems very fitting.
5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?
Ken: I wanted everything to be perfect. I spent days cleaning the classroom, making things neat and orderly. My technical engineering side needed my classroom to be configured in a certain way. Boy, did that go out the door! We all have those days when we finish the lesson and they still haven’t gotten it. We wonder how we can keep doing this, day in and day out. Ultimately, I realized that not everything in teaching is perfect and orderly. The sun and the moon will not always be in alignment. I can’t change every student who comes through my door. I learned how to adjust and adapt.
At the end of that year I got a letter from a student who said I had changed their life. They were going through some issues while in my class, and our discussions and experiences had changed their life for the better. The student doesn't know this, but that letter changed my life and my attitude as a teacher and cemented my decision to be an educator. I can’t change or affect all of my students, but I will go forth, be courageous, and continue my lessons and instruction as long as I can make a difference in even one of my students’ lives.
6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your class?
Ken: I hope they remember that I wanted them to create a brighter future not only for themselves, but for their children and their children's children. We talk a lot about leaving a legacy that is ethical and serves others.
They may also remember that I truly did want to impact each and every one of my students. I try to get to know them beyond the student-teacher relationship because I know each student has their own story—one that’s different from mine and different from their fellow classmates.
7. What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?
Ken: If you ask any teacher, the biggest challenge is time. We want to give the students so much, but with the limited amount of time we have with them it is truly difficult. I find myself adjusting lessons to cover as much as possible. It's also hard and sometimes stressful to keep up with changing technologies, and as the technology teacher I'm constantly trying to keep myself up to speed.
8. How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Ken: I believe in giving back. I will be donating 10 percent to various churches. Also, as we are starting a new Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles curriculum, I want to purchase some textbooks. I've also thought about creating an annual scholarship at my school, where the student receiving it will be surprised just as I was. And, of course, I recently got married, so I’ll be treating my wife to various things. ... I have to ask her first.
9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?
Ken: It’s truly the best career, but it carries many responsibilities and requires lots of dedication and time. Each day is different, each student is different, there will be days of joy, there will be days of stress—but if you want a career that you know can make a difference in a child's future, then teaching is it. I would recommend volunteering in a classroom, as I did. Develop best practices to support all the levels of education (classroom management, differentiated learning and different learning styles). There are many tools out there to help you succeed as a teacher. And know that you are helping to develop our future leaders, engineers, and maybe even teachers.
10. What’s your definition of success?
Ken: I'm very task-oriented, so I used to think that success meant reaching my goals and checking things off on my list. But in fact, true success is knowing that you might not complete every task or finish everything that comes your way, and then dealing with that and adapting to it. Success is knowing that you tried your best, and if it didn't work out the way that you hoped, it will be okay. Because you learned from that experience, and the next time you will be better.
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