Tag Archives: education

Reflective Practice #2: What is a “Teacher?”


 noun \ˈgr-(ˌ)ü, ˈgü-(ˌ)rü also gə-ˈrü\

: a religious teacher and spiritual guide in Hinduism

: a teacher or guide that you trust

: a person who has a lot of experience in or knowledge about a particular subject

– Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Teaching is a flatland. A dead end position. Unless one plans to go into administration, there are no promotions, only raises. You start out as a teacher and end up 30-plus years later as a “teacher.” But are you the same person 30 years later? This is one of those areas in which we as a society and a profession practice a kind of double think: we both know and do not know that a beginning teacher and a veteran teacher are not the same. A veteran teacher makes more money, but does not necessarily command more authority; in fact, they may have not the slightest amount of extra authority than a new teacher.

Itʻs an ironic situation in which the new teacher works very hard for little results, and the veteran produces large results with little effort: is it actually more money for less work? Because research shows that new teachers, on average, have no effect on student learning. On the other hand, I remember teachers who worked 45 years and seemed just as stressed, or even more so, than the new ones. Thereʻs also a very sharp learning curve in the first 5 years. Some improve rapidly and one can tell that they were meant to teach. Others do not improve and will remain mediocre their entire careers. So itʻs do-or-die in this period, and yes, the poor performers are often protected by unions and/or tenure, and hard to get rid of. But incentives to improve are very skewed. They assume the kind of motivation (external motivation) that people in business exhibit, when most teachers, even bad ones, are internally motivated – which is why they often donʻt mind the flat, dead end nature of the profession.

But it is more complicated: the question can become “more effective for whom?” In my first year teaching, I was not effective. I taught low performing students at a high-poverty school. Even though I was one of the only teachers who could pronounce their names – I remember a student named Ioakimi Seumanutafa who was shocked out of his mind that I could say his name on the first roll call – I did not speak, look or act like someone from their community (even though I was, sort of). The next year, I took a position at my alma mater and was able to make students engaged and excited about Hawaiian history. I was one of them. So there are intangible factors, such as a teacher’s own background, that help determine “effectiveness.” Itʻs more complicated still: having only teachers who are like the students creates a kind of incestuousness of ideas that harms learning. [It is precisely these teachers who are at risk of falling into the negative attributes associated with the “guru” above – cultivating a cult-like following.] And then there are some teachers manage to be effective no matter who they work with.

It is for these reasons and this diversity within the profession that I favor the “Master teacher” model. Most systems for choosing master teachers are likely flawed, but the concept at least recognizes that “teachers” are a diverse lot indeed: some are balancing kids, commutes and second (or third) jobs, others simply live to teach, with no other encumbrances on their time. Being in one category does not equate with being a poor or high quality teacher, but certainly it is harder to be effective in the first category. Again, perhaps ironically, veteran teachers tend to fall into the first category and younger teachers into the second, so there may be a kind of balancing out that occurs.

Criteria for master teachers could include: National Board certification, Doctoral degrees (in education and/or the subject area taught), observations and evaluations or some other, hybrid process. Either way, it is time for our “egalitarian” society and profession to recognize that all teachers are not the same, and effort is not the only factor explaining the differences.

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Moʻolelo Refigured – TEDx Mānoa

The comment about cheesecake at the beginning refers to an earlier talk by Brandon Ledward, in which he described how his Hawaiian History class in public school was so pathetic that the “teacher,” who was actually the gym coach, gave passing grades if students brought him a cheesecake at the end of the semester – no other work required.
I like to think weʻve come a long way..

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TEDx Manoa Recap

ImageI donʻt want to give away too much about my talk at TEDx Manoa “Moʻolelo Refigured” – Iʻll save that for when the video comes out – but my theme of moʻolelo (myth, history, legend, story) seemed to be one that ran through most of the talks, as Naʻalehu Anthony noted. Anthony himself explained how ʻOiwi TV was not really about technology, or even the telling of stories exactly, but about the question of who gets to tell the stories. In her talk  Ola (i) nā Mo’olelo: Living Mo’olelo, Brandy Nalani McDougall read poetry framed by vivid commentary on stories and colonialism – her “On Cooking Captain Cook” got a rise out of the crowd, and it was hard to say whether they all really got it. One person who blogged on my talk didnʻt seem to get it – I noticed his comment that I “made an argument on annexation” – the strategy of continually calling history an opinion has been used by those who still control the story.

Lissette Flannary, a mainland born and raised Hawaiian filmmaker, focused on the stories of the Hawaiian diaspora, hula, music and their intersections. Her American Aloha, on mainland halau hula, epitomizes this focus, and many of her films are on hula, like Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula, but she also made One Voice about the Kamehameha song contest, which Iʻm in for one nanosecond.  Manu Boyd skillfully delivered a story that connected the gods of Manoa to the “robust retail environment” he heads in Waikiki -Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center – in a surprisingly captivating and funny moʻolelo. In Hawaiʻi’s Legacy of Literacy, Puakea Nogelmeier focused on the means of telling the story itself – Hawaiian language newspapers, from which I dutifully transcribed my pages for his Awaiaulu/ʻIke Kuʻokoʻa project. His project is directly relevant to mine (a Hawaiian history textbook) in that it could make my project immediately out of date as new voices from the past emerge, and thatʻs OK.

Kealoha, the singularly named State Poet Laureate recited The Poetry Of Us, connecting his background in nuclear physics and poetry in a poetic examination of Hawaiian origins (and all origins). His poem “What are the chances?” spoke of the contingency and irony of existence in a way that was timely and in a contemporary style. And this summed up the TED theme “New Old Wisdom” – new frameworks for old knowledge, or as Vicky Holt Takamine put it, It’s Na’au or Newa.

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