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The Power of Language

Nicholas Vang
January 11, 2017

Nicholas Vang mixes genres to liven middle school classes.

“It’s show time,” Nick Vang announces to his high school English class. Books close, and a buzz of talking and laughter fill the room. First Nick shows clips of rap battles from the MTV show "Wild N' Out" and then he drops the bomb. "You're going to do this with Shakespeare. Find a character and find a speech to present to the class."

After poring over their books, a few brave students come forward for the first rap battle. A boy and a girl start. The boy poses, announces his play, All's Well that Ends Well, and then recites, "This woman's an easy glove, my lord, she goes off and on at pleasure."  The class laughs. The girl is next. "This is from The Merchant of Venice," she states, and then performs,  "You are a villain with a smiling cheek, a goodly apple rotten at the heart," and she pounds herself near her heart. The boy reads his lines again, this time putting on imaginary gloves. The class applauds to determine the winner, but Nick declares a tie.

Days later, Nick announces, “It’s show time.”  This time the class is ready. Hands shoot up in the air.  One by one, or two by two, often running to the front, they perform. One boy pulls a skull from his school bag, tilts his head back and holds the skull up to the ceiling, "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times, and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!” The class bursts into laughter.
Nick Vang, a teaching communication arts and English double major, brings his eclectic tastes to his students. In music he goes from classical to hip hop, in literature from John Dunn to slam poets. He is looking forward to creating engaging exercises in his own classroom after he graduates from UMD in May 2017. He is currently student teaching at Lincoln Park Middle School.  

He’s able to create lesson plans that reach children from all backgrounds because of his own experience. At Roseville Area Middle School he was invited to join a college prep program called Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID). After high school he was invited back as a tutor at Roseville Area Middle School and high school. “It was great. I worked with kids on English, math, and science,” he says.

Nick also taught during the summer at an Upward Bound program and a Hmong Language camp, and after arriving at UMD, he worked in three Duluth-area middle schools.

In addition to Nick’s UMD fall courses, he mentors students at Lincoln Park Middle School. He’s learned a few things from the kids he works with.  “I really enjoy working with indigenous students. I’m finding that part of me is a story teller,” he says.

Nick’s teachers have faith in him. They nominated him for the UMD Education Faculty Diversity Scholarship and the Ann H. and Alfred Hartley Scholarship in English. In return, Nick is committing himself to Minnesota students. He says, “I absolutely love the energy and excitement students bring to the table.”

Visit the Department of Education website.