Zoo Moua was looking forward to getting into the classroom and putting his new teaching degree to work when he graduated in May of 2018 from University of Wisconsin-Stout.
Little did he know what fate would have in store for him. By the end of the summer he was doing just that in a place that felt like home — his old middle school in his hometown.
Moua began work as a technology education teacher in fall 2018 at DeLong Middle School in Eau Claire. A little more than a decade ago, he was the student looking up to the teacher. Now, he’s the one shaping young lives.
“About three-fourths of my teachers are still here,” Moua said. “My first day on the job we had a staff meeting, and I ran into my old science teacher from seventh grade.”
He teaches one class with one of his former teachers, Cory Bixby. What’s it like going from student to peer? “Boy, is it different,” Moua said with a smile.
Being on familiar turf has helped make the transition from student to teacher a little easier on Moua, but he’s also happy to be back in a place where he has many good memories.
“I had an amazing experience at DeLong,” he said. “I was involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, like sports and choir. That’s where I found myself. I enjoyed school, and I still have my tech ed projects.”
Familiarity hasn’t necessarily made teaching easier, Moua has learned. After student-teaching in Hudson, he found himself in front of his own classroom only about a month after landing DeLong the job, which opened late in the summer.
“I struggled greatly at first, knowing how to handle kids. Every minute you have to have your A game. If you don’t, kids have that sixth sense. It’s gotten easier,” he said.
Moua is teaching one required course and another elective course. The elective course involves problem-solving with engineering and design elements.
Along with embracing the role as teacher, he’s embracing another as role model for the many Hmong students at DeLong. “You’ve got to be comfortable doing goofy stuff, especially with Hmong kids whose walls are up and it feels like they can’t joke or laugh.”
Moua was born in Eau Claire, but most of his older siblings weren’t. His family emigrated to Eau Claire in 1993 from a refugee camp in Thailand. He grew up speaking Hmong and English.
He is the third youngest of eight children. All are college graduates or on their way to having college degrees, thanks in part to his parents pushing higher education, Moua said.
Only about 3 to 4 percent of teachers in Wisconsin are minorities, said Todd Hayden, multicultural retention and recruitment coordinator in UW-Stout’s School of Education.
“Zoo is among a handful of students I think about when I think about Stout,” said Hayden, noting Moua was involved in student leadership conferences for aspiring educators and as a counselor/teacher for the university’s TEACH precollege skills program. “He is a dynamic, mature, dedicated young man.”
Lessons for life
Beyond middle school, Moua had two memorable experiences that helped cement his decision to become a teacher and helped shape how he teaches.
At Eau Claire North High School, he remembers accidentally melting an electronic component while working on a project. The entire lab smelled, and he was to blame. However, teacher Damon Smith used the moment, one-on-one, to make sure Moua understood what he did wrong rather that criticize him.
“That one moment made me want to become a teacher. That did it for me,” he said.
At UW-Stout, he remembers a similar struggle in a research and development class taught by Professor Jerry Johnson. At first, Johnson was going to fail Moua. Johnson reconsidered, however, after re-evaluating Moua’s work based on the effort and not just the outcome.
“It was an embarrassment for me, but I think back to that experience all the time,” Moua said.
Now, as the teacher, Moua takes into account how a grade “might be based on skill or effort. I have to be able to accept the effort that they put in,” he said.
“As long as they come out of tech ed with a positive experience. At this age, that’s what it’s about,” he said.
UW-Stout’s technology education degree has roots in one of the university’s first teacher education programs, industrial education, dating to the early 1900s. Recent graduates of the program had a 100 percent employment rate. The university also offers a science education program.
Zoo Moua teaches two technology education classes at DeLong Middle School in Eau Claire, where he grew up.
At UW-Stout, Zoo Moua was a technology education major.