Seek growth, be patient, keep learning, take care of yourself, ask for help, love your students


Words of advice from our teachers and educational leaders for Hawai‘i's beginning and pre-service teachers as we head toward the end of the first semester.

word art in the shape of a heart

Photo Credit: ESTHER PARK/

Welcome to second quarter! As we approach the holiday season, we are afforded a compelling opportunity to reflect. A question was posed on Twitter: “What words of advice or encouragement do you have for pre-service and beginning teachers?” Experienced educators from across the islands shared their reflections in hopes to inspire and uplift all of you—the newest members to our meaningful profession.

Seek growth & be patient — keep learning!

“Never stop learning. There's always room to grow. Your students and colleagues have awesome lessons to share with you. It's okay to not know everything, so embrace the imperfections that occur each day. Be open to change because education is forever changing. Most importantly, make time for yourself and the people who mean most in your life.”

Leanna Agcaoili, 2nd Grade Teacher, Fern Elementary School

“Teaching is an art and a science. As an artist, it takes time to develop your craft. As a scientist, it takes iteration upon iteration before exactness might finally take the shape and form for which you’ve been trying. Gift yourself compassion through patience and understanding that only through a volume of works and experiments will you become the educator whom you envision yourself to be.” 

Jenny Howe, 9th Grade ELA Inclusion Teacher & Yearbook Adviser, Roosevelt High School

"I used to wonder, ‘How do I know when I’ve arrived?’ I eventually realized that the kumu I most admired always saw the next destination once they ‘arrived.’ They never became the teachers they aspired to be, yet kept striving to grow even up to retirement!”

Derek Minakami, Principal, Kāne‘ohe Elementary School

“Great learning can come from being a keen observer! Allow yourself time to navigate the steep learning curve ahead by watching, listening and asking questions with positive intent. Don’t stay in the shadows just because you’re new. All teachers have something to contribute and new teachers often have very innovative ideas that veterans may not consider. Seek a community of practitioners that serve as models of best practice and bounce ideas of one another. Teach with passion and “show up” for your students every day, they are counting on you. Let your students “know” you by sharing stories about yourself… They will be surprised to learn your human just like them. Set achievable goals for yourself weekly so you identify a target, plan and can celebrate your accomplishments!”

Carolyn Tsukamoto, Educational Specialist, Hawai‘i Induction Center

“Retired principal, former coworker, and lifetime friend, the brilliant Beatrice Zane once told me to give myself three years on a new job. Best advice ever. We should give ourselves three years for any new endeavor. We can’t expect ourselves to be omniscient overnight!”

Celeste Endo, Technology Wizard in Training, Queen Ka‘ahumanu School

“Realize that your first years as a teacher will be filled with growth. Some of this growth will be beautiful and smooth, and some will be ugly and painful. Know that your growth in these first years can help to shape you as a person and in your craft as a teacher. As you are growing, take time to enjoy the beautiful moments that you experience with your students. Record those moments, and when you are having a rough day look back at them to remind yourself that there is beauty in your growth!”

Verona Holder, 5th Grade Teacher, Mililani Waena Elementary School

Take care of yourself & have the courage to ask others for help

“It’s okay to fail forward, our best learning comes from reflecting on our practice, practice self care to bring your best self for students, grow by seeking leadership opportunities, surround yourself with those who elevate you, YOU don’t need to do it all — empower your students.”

Hawai‘i Induction Center

"Seek out your own mentors and people to learn from.
If at all possible, observe them teaching to learn and experience their style and art of teaching to help you build and develop your own and be collaborative. Be willing to fail, learn from that failure, and take time to reflect. Paraphrasing John Dewey: We do not learn from experience.
We learn from reflecting on experience.”

Bobby Widhalm, State Office Teacher,
Professional Development and Educational Research Institute

“The most practical advice I can give a new teacher is to exercise with colleagues when you can. Exercise will help you deal with stress and you will build positive relationships in your colleagues. If you are happy and healthy this will shine through in your relationships with students. Secondly, have a strong sense of self and place. If you are secure in your personhood and know your relationship to the place you live this will reflect positively in every aspect of what you do. Thirdly, allow yourself freedom to learn and grow in your own life and in the profession without fear. If you make a mistake, admit it. It’s okay to mess up. And finally, assume the best in everyone. It’s challenging, but it’s worth the effort.”

Jill Fletcher, 6th-8th grade AVID College and Career Readiness Teacher, Kapolei Middle School

“Find your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers —
I believe this deeply!”

Sarah Milianta-Laffin, 7th Grade STEM Lab Teacher, Ilima Intermediate School

“I just sat with a third-year teacher today and we discussed how important it is to have boundaries that include valuing yourself first. If you are a mess (exhausted, overtaxed, on the verge of being sick) you are not going to be good for your students for the long haul. Also, if you have unresolved emotional issues that cause you to be triggered, please take care of those or you will continue to be ineffective. My overall advice is to get emotionally healthy and stay that way. See a therapist.”

Dulcy Dawson, Special Education & History Teacher, West Hawaii Explorations Academy

“On growing: Be patient first and foremost with yourself. Do not shame or guilt yourself if you don’t have the best lesson or just have a bad day. Be kind to yourself and understand that it is a growing process. Outside of school, do the little things that you love and bring you peace because their impacts are great. It is so important to find your allies in and out of your school that you can call on when you need someone to lean on. You don’t have to be a superstar to be a good teacher, and never be afraid to ask for help.

On relationships: Build strong relationships both between you and your classes but also among the students themselves. It is okay to implement an activity that is built solely for community building (aka fun). These things build relationships and investment in one another and the class itself. Be real with the students, because they will always be able to see your intentions regardless.

A self-care strategy: Make a list of all of your favorite things and the things you love that make you happy. No need to do it all at once, but add to it as often as you are able. Your first year of teaching is a new experience and inevitably leads to feelings of exhaustion, frustration, and overwhelm. Tap into that list of things you love — the foods, music, hobbies, people, movies, etc. because they will bring you back when you need that boost.”

Keil Oberlander, 9th and 10th Grade AVID Elective Teacher, Waianae High School

“You belong. We share and contribute here. Savor the good moments and laugh with others. Expand relationships to grow your practice. Have courage and things will change for the better. Love is everywhere when you look for it and when you give it. Connecting to the school’s greater community brings that alive. As for your students, use your expertise to build up our children as leaders. They know you care through actions, words, quality time, affection and token gifts. Eating lunch together can hit all of those at once! Take care of your body with proper rest, nutrition and exercise. Finally, give yourself time and grace to stay in it for the long run!”

Kristilyn Oda, 4th Grade NBCT, Holomua Elementary School

Love your students—always

“Make sure they know you care about them as a person, not just a grade; be fair; be consistent. Any teaching style and personality can work with this because kids will WANT to try for you if they know you believe in them and aren't worried about rules changing on them midgame.”

Daphne Okunaga, Math Teacher, Pearl City High School

“Greet your students at the door when they enter your room.
Handshakes, fist-bumps, and smiles set a positive tone
and show that what matters at that moment is them.”

Erin Mendelson, Resource Teacher, Central District Student Support

“The best advice I can give to new teachers is to treat your students as if they are your own. In your everyday interactions with kids, what would you do if your own child was in their shoes? How would you want your own child to be treated by their teacher? Especially in difficult times, try to use the same empathy and care you would use with your own child (even if you don’t have any children, just imagine it!). As a middle school teacher with 100+ students, using this type of perspective daily helps me to be consistent in my treatment of students no matter how extreme or overwhelming the situation may be.”

Pi‘ikea Kalakau, English Teacher, Wai‘anae Intermediate School

“Your students will feel your energy. Never forget to smile. When speaking about education never forget that there are always students on the other side of the conversation. First year can be rough but never forget that you’re a glowstick. Sometimes you must break in order for you to shine. :) Love unconditionally and always advocate. Humankind. Be both.”

Ryan Mandado, Special Education Department Head, James Campbell High School

“As beautiful as you were when you entered this profession, teaching will make you an even better human. Your students will change you — let them. Laugh with them, persevere with them, build a community that supports each other through successes and challenges, and share with your students often that you choose to be with them. Bring your heart and passions into the classroom and know that they are gifts for your students. When you teach with joy, they will learn and respond with joy as well. Take the time every day to look each child in the eye, say their name, and remember your why.”

Kristen Brummel, Director, Hope Street Group


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