The Washington Post has honored UMBC double-alumnus Sean Pang as its 2017 Teacher of the Year in recognition of the supportive connections he makes with Rockville High School students as an educator, tutor, coach, and mentor.
The honor is tremendously meaningful for both Pang and UMBC’s education programs, particularly following last year’s recognition of Shalonda Holt ’07, biological sciences, teaching certificate in education, as 2016 Washington Post Teacher of the Year.
Sean Pang ’09, English, M.A. ’11, education, has taught ninth-grade English, creative writing, TV production, and an academic intervention course since he began working at Rockville High School in 2011, but he didn’t always realize he had a passion for writing and language arts. Pang arrived in the United States from Hong Kong at age 6, and his love of English literature grew over time, particularly through his undergraduate years.
“UMBC was not only my home for six years during both my undergraduate and graduate pursuits, but I identify with this university as the place I found my calling,” says Pang. “As an undecided and nervous freshman, I had no clear line of sight for my career path. But, through my amazing teachers and mentors who inspired me to be my best on a daily basis, I soon realized the answer to my worries was always in front of me; I wanted to teach.”
In particular, Pang thanks his UMBC mentors Sally Shivnan, senior lecturer in English and associate director of writing and rhetoric, and Jim Thomas, lecturer in philosophy, for inspiring his teaching career and guiding him on that career path.
“The first thing I did when I heard about my award was to visit UMBC and personally thank my teachers,” Pang shares. “Among them, Sally Shivnan was a great spark of hope, as she encouraged me through my ups and downs as my undergraduate advisor. Jim Thomas is the teacher I still always want to be. His humor and ability to captivate my interest… He genuinely had fun while he taught and Jim pretty much sealed the deal for me.”
Pang’s award comes as no surprise to his professors. Says Shivnan:
Having taught Sean Pang in English classes starting in first-year composition and all the way through to his time as editor of our creative arts journal Bartleby, I can say I am not surprised to see him win this honor. His energy and commitment were always incredibly impressive…[and] the values that won him recognition as DC-area Teacher of the Year—passion, creativity, and caring—reflect UMBC values.
Cheryl North, clinical assistant professor of education and director of secondary English education, agrees. “We are proud of Sean but not surprised that others have recognized him as Teacher of the Year,” she says. She notes it was clear early on that Sean is someone “who was knowledgeable in English, student-centered, and a leader.”
Offering a glimpse into Pang’s classroom, the Washington Post describes the space as “always abuzz with students — at lunch, before school, after hours. Some gather for club meetings or come for help with schoolwork. Others just hang out or update Pang on their lives.”
This “buzz” of activity directly reflects Pang’s teaching philosophy: “to get involved in as many ways as you can.” He applies this advice to his students and himself — encouraging students to try new things to find their passions, and working to connect with students in a wide variety of ways. He also applies it to his own professional development as a teacher, building connections with colleagues whom he sees as mentors, and constantly working to improve and grow in new directions.
“This award showed me my work has been successful, but that I also have so much to learn,” Pang says. “This award will only strengthen my resolve to push myself to become even better.”
Ultimately, he sees being an educator as a path of continual growth, always working to find what way of teaching, what approach, will connect with a particular student. “Sometimes I succeed; sometimes I fail,” he told the Post. “When something clicks, oh my gosh, it’s like opening Christmas presents.”
Photos of Sean Pang by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.