On this Teacher Appreciation Week, the one week that is focused on our profession, thank you. Thank you for being who you are. Thank you for sharing who you are with your students, on good days and on days that are not so good. On days of elation, when time flies, and on days of frustration, when time crawls. On days when the magic happens and those when it doesn't. Teaching is about offering our whole selves, our talents and abilities as well as our shortcomings and flaws, and continuing to do so, day after day. The days are long, but never long enough to get everything done. For the gift of the best of who you are to your students, your schools, and your communities, thank you.
As some of you may know, I have a visual impairment. I was born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome and my vision has always been poor to the point where I'm unable to do some of the everyday things that are considered normal, like driving. That means that I missed out on some of the normal rites of passage. I never went through the ritual of learning to drive and getting my license. And in some ways that put a barrier between me and my classmates. As I watched with envy as each of my friends celebrated getting a permit, passing the road test, and then getting a bona fide adult license I felt left out, until I was the last one standing. It felt like I had never really become an adult. That lonely feeling of being excluded stuck with me for a long time, and I would do my best to cover up and compensate for my disability. I was determined to do everything that every able-bodied person was able to do, or to zealously hide the fact that I couldn't.
When I was in the student teaching phase of my teacher prep program, my supervising teacher pulled me aside after school on a day when things didn't go so well, her voice full of concern, "I notice that you hold the book really close to yourself when you read." "Yes," I sighed, and reluctantly and nervously shared about my disability. I was afraid that it would be a deal breaker and the end of my career. "It's OK," she finally told me, "Kids need to have all kinds of role models." I left school that day feeling that the tremendous weight of years of expectations and disappointments – mostly my own – had been lifted from my shoulders. Yes, kids do need to have all kinds of role models. I finally felt that my identity had been validated. That it was OK to be fully and completely myself. Students need to see our profession reflect the diversity of all students. I appreciate each one of you for who you are precisely because of who you are. You belong here and we need you.
As teachers we are often seen as leaders and the ones in charge. At the heart of teaching is also stepping aside and making space. It's ironic because when we bring the fullness of who we are into our classrooms and share that with our students, we also make ourselves open and vulnerable and it's so hard to reconcile the two. The great thing about teaching is that every day is different. Every day is a chance for new beginnings and a fresh start. All of us, we and our students alike, are works in progress. Learning comes not just from textbooks and curricula, but from each other. It's in the small, luminous spaces of everyday life, between the assemblies, graduations and proms where relationships are nurtured and magical things happen. Sharing a laugh over a corny joke. Assuring a student that it's OK to be who they are. That's where we need you most.
Teaching is a profession with a long horizon. We often don't see the impact we make until months or even years later–if at all. But we do make an impact. Our words matter, and can change life trajectories. Like the words of my supervising teacher they can make students feel complete and whole for the first time in their lives. You matter. Not because of your accomplishments or your abilities, but because of who you are as a human being. So thank you. Thank you for your generosity, your selflessness, but most of all for being someone's teacher.
Dr. Michael Ida is the 2023 Hawai‘i State Teacher of the Year. He has taught mathematics and computer science at Kalani High School in Honolulu, Hawai‘i for the past 26 years, where he has served as mathematics department chairperson, Academic Review Team member and club advisor.
Ida is a lifelong learner who strives to serve the needs and interests of students first and foremost. Having spearheaded the creation of the computer science program at Kalani High, he continues to expand his teaching practice to prepare students to be 21st century leaders and innovators.
Serving on the leadership teams of the Hawai‘i Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the Hawai‘i chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association and the Hawai‘i National Board Certified Teachers Collective, as well as an Advanced Placement calculus exam reader and Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation visiting team member, Ida embraces servant leadership as a core professional and personal value. As a Hawai‘i State Teacher Fellow alumnus and Hawai‘i Teacher Leader Academy cohort member, Ida seeks to uplift all teachers in the work that they do and support them as leaders and agents of change.
Ida has a Bachelor of Science in physics and applied mathematics from the California Institute of Technology, a Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in applied mathematics from Northwestern University, and a Master of Education in secondary education from Boston College. He is certified in secondary mathematics, computer science and physics and has been a National Board Certified Teacher in adolescent/young adulthood mathematics since 2004.