7 Top Hawai‘i Teachers on What It’s Like to Work in the State Department of Education
We asked a few of Hawai‘i’s best teachers for their thoughts on how to improve the state’s public education system—and how they’ve managed to excel in their own classrooms.
(page 2 of 2)
David Huitt, Kealakehe High
David Huitt doesn’t believe history classes should just be places to learn about the past. He says his role is to help students see the connections between what has happened, what is happening and what could happen. He wants history to be relevant, he says, to be personal. “I try to help them find meaning,” he says. “At the heart of it is helping our students become talented and skilled, caring and compassionate people who are giving back to their community.”
Huitt says he always knew he wanted to teach history. He grew up on Hawai‘i Island, got his bachelor’s degree in history and started teaching in 1994. He still loves what he does—something he realizes not all teachers can say. And he wants his students to love their careers, too. He tells them, “If you love what you do, it’s not a chore. You still have that inner enthusiasm because it speaks to your heart.”
That’s not to say Huitt doesn’t have days when he feels he could throw in the towel. Lots of teachers find themselves in that bad place, he says, because they’re “feeling pretty beat up right now.” They’re held responsible for things outside of their control; they’re blamed for problems they couldn’t possibly fix. To really improve public schools, Huitt says, teachers have to be seen as part of the solution—and the policymakers, community members and students have to realize they have a big role to play, too. “It takes all of us,” he says.
Anthony Kamaka‘eu Williams, Pā‘ia Elementary
Anthony Kamaka‘eu Williams is a Hawaiian-language-immersion fourth-grade teacher. He’s also a Hawaiian-language-immersion coach and mentor, and a kumu hula. He says to really ensure the Hawaiian language is vibrant and alive, his students can’t just speak it in the classroom: They have to encounter it in extracurricular activities. They have to hear it when they run into him at the grocery store, or when they see him with his family at the beach. “We have to develop Hawaiian-language environments outside the classroom,” he says. “It’s not only about school language.”
Helping Hawaiian-language education thrive is Williams’ biggest focus when he thinks about what it will take to build a school system that truly meets the needs of all students. He also wants to see a more robust Hawaiian-language program, and the development of a Common Core curriculum in Hawaiian. And he’d like others to learn from the lessons that the state’s Hawaiian language program offers. For one, he says, school can’t just be about stuff in books. Hawaiian language immersion stresses Hawaiian values, and the relevancy of learning. “We teach kids about making the pono choices,” he says. “It’s easy to do the bad thing, but it’s hard to think about it and make the right choice.”
Williams credits his first male role model—his fourth-grade teacher—with showing him the possibilities of education. Ronald Kato at Lunalilo Elementary School, Williams says, “helped me understand who I am.” Williams went back to Lunalilo several years ago to see him, but Kato had since left and Williams hasn’t been able to find him. If you’re out there, Mr. Kato, one of your former students wants to say thanks.
Marly Madayag, Kalāheo Elementary
Marly Madayag is a little breathless when she answers the phone. “Ugh, you want to know what it’s like to be a teacher?” she asks. “I just killed a 6-inch centipede in my classroom with a rolling pin.” She laughs. They don’t teach you how to handle that in teacher’s college.
Madayag is a veteran teacher—she’s been teaching so long she has to think a little while before she can recall when she started. After a moment, she says, “1992.” She was fresh out of school and not quite sure how she was going to handle the classroom full of kids she’d be in charge of over the year.
She says she quickly realized that teaching isn’t just about lesson planning and parent conferences. It’s about passion and connections, about making sure kids know you care. Madayag is a teacher who doesn’t just want to meet her students, she wants to meet the kids in her classroom—the whole child. So she’ll go to their games to cheer them on; she’ll watch them shoot hoops. She teaches drama after school to help kids express themselves in new ways.
One year, she struggled for months to get through to one of her students. He just kept falling behind. Nothing she tried worked. Then, she went to one of his baseball games. “He couldn’t write, but, man, could he catch a ball,” she says. The experience drove home for her that every kid has talents, even when it’s hard to see those talents in the classroom.