Claire Suguro – Tough Love
“We had a lot of Asians during that time, but all the teachers were white,” says Cheryl Chow, a former student of Claire Suguro, who was the first Japanese American teacher for the Seattle School District.
Chow, now the assistant director of outreach at the Girl Scouts of Western Washington, remembers the impact Claire Suguro had on her students, especially those of Asian descent.
“I think that she was a great role model,” recalls Chow. “How many times do you see a strong Asian woman in a leadership role as a teacher, especially in the 1950s? Outside in the world we didn’t see any role models that look like us.”
Suguro worked as a first-grade teacher for twelve years at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School (1950 – 1962), not far from the International District, before becoming a counselor at Ingraham High School in 1963, becoming the head counselor in 1969 until her retirement in 1993.
Chow remembers learning some important life lessons from Suguro. Once, when Chow was learning to cut artwork with scissors, she found she had cut her artwork the wrong way.
Chow says, “I opened mine up but I cut it the wrong way and the body fell down. I cried, and I remember Claire coming up and asking, ‘What’s wrong?’ Claire said, ‘Get over it; don’t give up. Try again.’”
Suguro’s influence extended beyond the classroom. For Chow, Suguro was a mentor even after Chow had graduated and moved on with her life. When Chow left city council and became interim principal at Franklin High School, she called Suguro, who had retired, and asked her to work at the counseling office, which Suguro did.
Suguro was not only a role model for those of Asian descent, but also a pioneer for Asian American women. She taught her students that it is possible for APIs to thrive in a leadership role at a time when no precedent for such roles had existed.
“She broke down a lot of stereotypes. Way back in those days, people didn’t expect women to speak out, particularly Asian women. She taught us that you can speak your mind as long as it’s done in a respectful way.”
“It makes it easier for Asian girls and boys to have had somebody not fit the greater community stereotype of what we’re supposed to be like,” Chow says. “Her legacy goes beyond just the Asian community.”
Suguro, who passed away at age 88 in 2008, will be remembered among APIs for her pioneering spirit and dedication to teaching.
Betty Lau is a busy woman. Besides working as a grant writer and grant director for FLAP (Foreign Language Assistance Program) in the Seattle School District, she also works hard to raise awareness of the need to educate young people in learning new languages, especially “critical languages” – or those languages designated as important for national security and development in a global economy. The FLAP program, funded by the Department of Education, seeks to develop language programs in elementary and secondary schools to foster greater language competency and cultural awareness in our youth.
Lau, 63, grew up on Fifth and Washington, in the Chinatown/International District. After graduating from Franklin High School in 1965, Lau attended the University of Washington, double majoring in English literature and Chinese. Lau then went to Taiwan to teach before settling back in Seattle and working in education for thirty-seven years.
Besides working on grants for the Seattle School District, Lau also teaches English Language Development at Franklin High School. Her teaching career has spanned almost four decades at various schools, including Mercer Middle School, Cleveland High School, Sharples Middle School, and Madison Middle School.
Lau’s efforts in developing language programs, both as a teacher and grant writer, have been acknowledged in her winning the World Affairs Council World Educator award and UW MAP Distinguished Alumna awards in the same year (2005), the first such achievement for an Asian Pacific Islander. Her achievements in the field of language development programs has resulted in numerous funds being granted for language development, including a $1.5 million grant to start Chinese language programs in Seattle School District.
Lau comes from a family of social activists. In the late 1950s, Lau’s father participated in the case, Krystat vs. State of Washington, the biggest labor law case in the state, described Lau. Her father disliked the unions because when he was first looking for work in the U.S., the labor unions did not admit Chinese or Irish immigrants into the union. As such, when union workers came to Lau’s property to solicit his workers, Lau’s father hosed them down with water and were subsequently sued by the labor unions.
“The case involved whether employers could fire employees who wanted to join unions,” Lau says. “Dad lost, and paying off court costs and fines really hurt our family for years because he and mom were also scrimping to save money to send back to Hong Kong to help three uncles, an aunt, and their spouses and kids.”
By developing language programs for schools in the district, Lau hopes to encourage students to widen their cultural horizons.
“We want to make global citizens. Learning a language is one avenue for becoming a global citizen.”
Many of you may remember that one teacher who inspired you to push beyond your limits, who went out of his or her way to teach you important lessons that carried you well beyond the classroom. Hung Pham, now retired, was such a teacher.
As one of the first Vietnamese teachers in the Seattle School District, Pham, 61, started teaching at the end of 1975, after having immigrated to the United States to escape the perils of the Vietnam War. Over the course of his career, Pham taught at Rainier Beach High School, Brighton Elementary School, James Madison Middle School, and Chief Sealth High School, educating students on American government, war history, and math.
A self-described workaholic, Pham encountered many challenges, both personal and professional, in his career working for the Seattle School District.
“In my thirty-five years of teaching, I was considered a jack of all trades for Seattle School District,” Pham said. “I worked as supervisor for intervention programs for various different agencies, such as King County Juvenile, Bilingual Education, and Special Education.”
Indeed, it is his work in bilingual education that distinguishes him as a teacher. Especially in his early career, Pham dedicated himself to teaching English to wave after wave of Vietnamese immigrants who came to America in search of a better life. Pham’s efforts were so recognized in the community that he won several awards given to him by the Seattle School District, including the “Hero in the Classroom” and “Lifetime Achievement Commitment” awards.
Perhaps his most memorable experience working for the District occurred in the early 80s, when Pham was employed by the Seattle Police Department’s Gang Unit to ease differences between rival Asian Pacific Islander gangs in the Seattle area. Pham worked with these at-risk youth to encourage them not to join gangs and to continue their education.
The assignment was so dangerous that Pham was asked to wear a bullet-proof vest to his meetings with the gang members.
Pham recalls: “I got a phone call from the department saying that my vest was ready to be picked up. They ordered me to wear the vest or prepare for my own funeral.”
These days, Pham works with Vietnamese community group’s language programs on weekends.
“I do care about these kids,” said Pham. “I turned around a lot of bad kids into good kids. It’s a group commitment. In my eyes they are not different, they are ours.”
Hung Pham – Giving Voice