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Verona English teacher named one of the top teachers in Wisconsin

Hong went from not speaking English as a child to teaching the language to teenagers
Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 8:37 AM CDT
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VERONA, Wis. (WMTV) -The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recently named their five “teachers of the year”. Verona Area High School English teacher Kabby Hong was one of the five recognized for his stellar work in the classroom.

“I was completely caught off guard because, first of all, I thought I was in trouble. I thought I missed another Zoom meeting,” Hong said with a laugh.

Hong has been a teacher at VAHS for the past 17 years and absolutely loves his job.

“It’s incredibly gratifying working in education,” he said. “What really keeps me motivated is the relationships I have with my students,”

To get where he is today hasn’t been easy. Hong grew up only speaking Korean and had to learn English as a child.

“My parents are Korean immigrants, and they came to this country in the late 60′s and so I only spoke Korean at home,” said Hong. “School wasn’t a positive experience for me. I wanted to leave and get home as soon as possible because I couldn’t really communicate with my teachers,”

Kabby Hong credits his parents for much of his success
Kabby Hong credits his parents for much of his success(Kabby Hong)

Hong grew up in Trenton, Missouri. It is small town with a population of about 5,000 people.

“We were the only Korean family -- one of only two families of color in the community so we kind of had to learn English. There was no other option for us,” he said.

But Hong persevered – he credits his parents for pushing him to keep working.

“My parents always told me I had to do well in school because it was the key to my future success, and they were absolutely right,”

Hong found school difficult at first because he didn't speak English and couldn't communicate...
Hong found school difficult at first because he didn't speak English and couldn't communicate with his teachers(Kabby Hong)

Hong’s students think what their teacher has accomplished is pretty impressive.

“I think it’s pretty remarkable, yeah. Anyone who can do that is pretty remarkable to me,” said Abdoulie Trawalley, a freshman at VAHS.

“He’s learned English and now he’s just teaching it, its just crazy,” added fellow freshman Aimon Van Houten. “I think he’s a great teacher, definitely one of my favorite teachers I’ve had,”

District Superintendent Dean Gorrell called the win a “remarkable honor” for Hong and the district, pointing out that Hong is the first Verona Area School District teacher ever to win.

“We could not be happier for Kabby to have received this designation and wish him well as he represents the profession throughout the next school year,” Gorrell continued.

The English language may be difficult to master – but Hong is proof that finding the right words can change your life.

“The thing I love about English is that it helps young people at a very formative time in their life find their voice,”

Hong says being named one of the top teachers in Wisconsin is a distinction he never saw coming.

“It’s been a very long and very challenging school year so to get this recognition at the end of a very long and challenging school year is incredibly gratifying, so I’m very grateful,” he said.

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