Kalani High School math teacher Tristan Nguyen was honored on Thursday with the 2022 state Teacher of Promise award. The Teacher of Promise award is granted annually by the Milken Educators of Hawai‘i — a select group of Hawai‘i educators who have been recognized by the nationally renowned Milken Family Foundation — to a classroom teacher for demonstration of outstanding commitment and potential during their first three years with the Hawai‘i State Department of Education (HIDOE).
Nguyen was awarded a $2,000 reward for professional development purposes, sponsored by the HawaiiUSA Federal Credit Union, in front of his colleagues and students during a surprise ceremony at Kalani High Thursday.
Nguyen, who spent his first year in the classroom teaching math to special education students, is known to prioritize a strong teacher-student relationship. He openly communicates with his students, forming connections to help inspire and motivate them academically and challenges his students to connect classroom lessons to the outside world. His efforts help him to target the individual needs of his students, minimizing the need for outside disciplinary and motivational interventions.
“The way I see it, good teaching is about making the kids feel comfortable — especially with subjects like math and science, it can be tough,” Nguyen said after receiving his award. “It’s about making sure they feel welcome, that they are comfortable talking with me and are relaxed in my class so that way, when it comes to content, they are not afraid to speak up.”
Another notable attribute of Nguyen’s teaching style is the way that he embraces professional development and teacher collaboration to find innovative ways to increase the impact he has on student achievement. Over the course of his three years with the HIDOE, Nguyen has attended every district math teacher workshop offered. When his class transitioned to distance learning during the peak of the pandemic, Nguyen worked with his students to see what support they needed and evaluated how he could best provide it. In collaboration with other teachers in the math department, he designed a synchronous curriculum using an interactive whiteboard app on the iPad.
Kalani High School Principal Mitchell Otani attributes much of Nguyen’s success to his character. “Mr. Nguyen is a gem and a very valuable member of our staff,” Otani said. “He brings to the table friendship, loyalty, cooperation, industriousness and enthusiasm. The sky's the limit for this young man and I am looking forward to his continuous improvement as he builds his toolbox of strategies in support of his students and his colleagues.”
Beyond the classroom Nguyen is often seen going out of his way to provide extra support to students. He regularly helps to tutor students at school-wide study halls and extends his own assistance to students beyond school hours. He also plays an active role in the school’s math department, helping to develop and conduct assessments where he gathers data on current practices, shares and provides strategies to achieve better results, and organizes data to help teachers to modify instructional practices to increase student achievement.
Overall, Nguyen’s greatest motivation is his students. “Ultimately, it's all about supporting the students and coming in and seeing the smiles on their faces,” Nguyen said. “That’s what really counts. That’s the most rewarding thing at the end of the day.”
Established in 2007, the Teacher of Promise award alternates annually between elementary and secondary teachers with the state winner selected from a group of HIDOE complex area honorees. Below is a list of this year's complex area nominees:
Keonaona Mahi, Kawananakoa Middle
Alohalani Lisgay, Wahiawa Middle
Jessica Lobo Atnip, 'Aiea Intermediate
Kisa Matlin, Waipahu High
Kayla Emocling, Kapolei High
Mikayla Kloeppel, Kalāheo High
Annie Henbest, Pāhoa High and Intermediate
Hippolyte Assi, Hilo High
William Kjontvedt, Baldwin High
Brianna Craig, Hāna High
Note: Not all complex areas had qualifiers for the recognition.