For nearly four decades, Somchanh Baccam has been a friendly face greeting students at Cedar Valley Montessori School.
But as this school year comes to a close, so too will Baccam’s teaching career as she is set to retire after 39 years.
Ms. Somchanh, as she’s known by students and colleagues, first started working as a lead directress at Cedar Valley Montessori School, located in downtown Cedar Rapids, in 1979 and has spent her whole career with the school, even through all the moves and transitions.
A refugee immigrant from Laos, Baccam first came to the United States in 1972 as a student on scholarship at Coe College. She decided to stay in the United States when she graduated and sought employment as a teacher. She then became a U.S. citizen in 1983. To this day, she remains grateful for the opportunity to have studied at Coe College and to have been hired on at Cedar Valley Montessori School. “I came here at just 20-years-old and I’m so thankful to Coe College,” she said. “Then after I had just completed a Montessori training seminar in Chicago in 1978, I was hired here at Cedar Valley Montessori in 1979 and I’ve worked here ever since.”
Over the years, Baccam has educated several generations of children, sometimes even the children of former students. “When you’ve been teaching since 1979 with more than 20 kids in your class each year, you’ve touched a lot of families,” she said. “I have kids of the kids I taught. And I am so proud of all of my students, some who have gone on to be doctors and lawyers. I am grateful I was hired here because I know so many wonderful families and children. This is a beautiful place to bring your young children.”
Of course, Baccam has seen many changes over the years, beyond those in her students. “I didn’t have as many materials back then,” she said of when she started out teaching. “And there weren’t as many students.” She’s seen Cedar Valley Montessori grow and change and is so proud the program now has more than 100 students enrolled. “I’ve enjoyed working in a small environment where we all get along and like to help each other out.”
Her work day looked a little different years ago as well. When she first started her day stretched from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. so she could prepare materials for the next day’s lessons. These days, Somchanh works from 7 a.m. to 1:30 or 2 p.m. “I say I’ve worked for so many years I need to get home and rest,” she laughed.
Somchanh counts herself lucky to have spent a career doing what she’s always wanted to do.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“When I was younger I always played house and pretended I was a nurse or a teacher,” she said. “The children are just really drawn to me. And I will miss working with children, especially the ones who are so bright that you have to stay one step ahead of them. I’ll miss cooking for them and playing house and braiding hair and polishing nails. I treat these children as my own children.”
The variety she sees in each day also has helped to keep her fulfilled over the last 39 years.
“No day is the same,” Somchanh said. “Sometimes I have an active classroom and some days I have a quiet classroom. Kids are so different. They don’t all develop at the same time, and for me that makes teaching more fun.”
Baccam knows she’ll miss Cedar Valley Montessori, her students, the families and her co-workers. She does look forward to traveling with her husband to see their children and grandchildren who live all over the United States.
Not surprisingly, Baccam said she is walking away having learned more from her students than she could have taught them.
“They taught me to be patient and loving and kind and giving. I’ve seen and learned all of that from them. Montessori has been my second home, my family.”