Two Classrooms, Two Good Teachers

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - March 01, 2006
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Kindergarten teacher Noel Hasegawa’s students are working on the “ch” sound, as in “choo-choo, chips, chopsticks, beach.” Miss Noel comes up with some “ch” sounds, and so, too, do her students. Miss Noel, marker in hand, writes their “ch” words on a large newsprint tablet.

The children sit on the floor in front of their teacher, legs crossed, or to the side of their bodies. Some squirm, some look around at their fellows. Miss Noel is constantly dealing with order. In the midst of identifying words with the “ch” sound, she says “Jordan, look here.” A couple of “ch” words later, she calls another student back to the lesson.

A little guy with a buzz cut in the front keeps sucking in his cheeks, making a fish face at his peers. Others laugh and point to him. It’s cute, but it’s distracting. Miss Noel suppresses her own smile as she gently admonishes little fish face.

Hasegawa has taught at Ewa Beach’s Kaimiloa Elementary for the past 16 years, and her classroom reflects her experienced hand. Its walls are laden with kindergarten basics: the colors, shapes, numbers, letters and other phonetic sounds - like “ch.”


From instruction in the “ch” sound, Miss Noel turns to the old standard: “show and tell.” Leslie has brought a doll; Vy a toy; Christie pictures of her family. The showing and telling over and the children increasingly restless, Miss Noel says: “Stand up.

Hands up. Shake it out,” and 17 5-year-olds do just that.

Next it’s math. Miss Noel shows a picture of a string of firecrackers. “The red paper of the firecrackers bring good luck,” she says. “The smoke from them chokes out the bad spirits.”

Call it math and culture.

And art. After discussing the picture and the number of firecrackers, Miss Noel sends the children back to their desks and tells them to draw a picture that includes firecrackers. Kelly, Ravyn, Imaikaluni and Christie all hurry to their task. Others don’t. Miss Noel moves student to student, coaxing stories out of those who dawdle.

Hasegawa worked as a resource teacher for the past two years, but returned to the classroom last fall. “I just felt I’d rather apply what I know directly to the kids,” she says.

Hasegawa admits it’s always a challenge keeping the attention of kindergarteners. “But every day is different with them,” she says, “and that’s what makes it fun.”

How would she improve education in Hawaii? She doesn’t blink: “Reduce the class size. Four students were absent today, and that makes teaching so much easier.”

Second year Kaimiloa teacher Jennifer Silva has no trouble keeping her fifth-graders’ attention. Twenty-three of them sit on the floor in front of her, working quietly in groups on their personal white boards. Silva teaches math and science. Although a comparative rookie in the teaching trade, she’s obviously a natural. Silva owns this classroom and its students - owns them.

Says a recent and frequent visitor to her classroom: “Jenn has an upbeat, happy nature that is very apparent in her teaching style. She is always smiling when she talks to students, but is firm when she needs to be.

“She’s very interactive in her teaching style. She asks a lot of questions and she patiently waits to allow students to answer. She also calls on students to come to the board to explain how they arrived at an answer.”

Several years ago Kaimiloa adopted a curriculum called America’s Choice, which calls on the students to do math every day. Silva has adapted the curriculum to the Department of Education’s math standards.


“What strategy did you use to do the problem?” Silva asks. Using an overhead projector, two girls explain their answer. “Which comes first, multiplication or division?” The entire class responds.

Silva sends the students to their desks, work sheets in hand. They’re doing something called a partial problem logarithm, and Silva asks a young man named Jordan Abdon to explain to a visitor what he’s doing. Jordan rips through the problem; his student, slack-jawed, looks on - a picture of incomprehension.

Each student works individually. Silva circulates around the room with a rubber stamp, checking their work and stamping their work sheets. “A little immediate gratification,” she explains. A kitchen timer ticks on her desk. When it goes off, the students immediately head for the front of the room again.

Time for science. The previous day the students had put various substances on butcher paper - catsup, a hot dog, mustard, a cookie, a dab of peanut butter, mayonnaise, margarine, bacon. Stains have spread around the various foods. Working in groups, today the kids are placing grids marked off into centimeter squares over the stains to see which foods contain the most oil.

Silva is on her hands and knees on the floor - with her kids - helping them measure. “You’ll have to make the call,” she tells one group. “Those two stains are almost the same size.”

The kitchen timer goes off. Science is over. Another group of fifth-graders already wait in line to enter Silva’s classroom.

“I love the kids at Kaimiloa,” says Silva, “and the Leeward District supports professional development. It’s hard to maintain a balance. It’s so easy to be totally consumed by teaching. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this profession, it’s the need for balance and patience.”

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