A Tale Of Two Terrific Teachers

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - October 28, 2009
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Farrington High teacher William Grindell

Studies by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education suggest that you can no more predict how well a novice teacher will do in the classroom than you can predict how well a great college quarterback will do in the National Football League.

Teacher candidates with great test scores in college can fail miserably in a room full of kids, just as the San Diego Chargers rookie Ryan Leaf failed miserably despite being college quarterback of the year.

And sometimes a person who’s mediocre while pursuing a teacher’s certificate turns out to have the gift of engaging young people.

The Gates Foundation reports that “if you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.”


Gates Foundation economist Thomas Kane says that within two years of a teacher’s classroom entry, parents, colleagues and principals know if they’re good at their job or bad.

This is about two young Hawaii public school teachers who have turned out to have the gift. They have excelled and were selected by principals at my request.

William Grindell, 29 and married three years, is a teacher that principal Catherine Payne says “came quietly to Farrington High School ... but it was not until I visited his classroom and saw how he interacted with all of his students that I began to realize that he was gifted.”

Grindell attended Kamiloiki Elementary from the third to fifth grades, then Niu Valley Intermediate, then on to the Mainland. “My family moved around a lot,” he explains. “I was never the best student. I tended to do whatever I needed to in order to get a passing grade. I maintained a C average for the most part.

“Unlike a lot of other teachers who know that they want to teach from an early age, I had never considered the profession. In fact, that was probably the last profession I would have seen my self in at the time of my high school graduation. I sort of fell into teaching.”

He was working as a supervisor at Old Navy but didn’t see himself moving up in the company. So he enrolled at San Diego State University and got a teaching certificate.

“My first day as a student-teacher I was nervous, but after 15 minutes in front of the students and seeing that they were genuinely interested in what I was teaching them and that they wanted to learn, I started building my confidence and I made it a point to make sure that from then on I would do whatever it took to keep the students interested and engaged in the learning processes.”

This year he’s teaching ninth grade guidance and world history to at-risk students at Farrington.

On parent involvement: “For the most part, other than progress reports and letters sent home to the parents requiring signatures, I do not hear from the majority of my students’parents.”

Principal Payne’s assessment of Grindell: “What I love about him best is that he never gives up on a student. He has an easy, encouraging manner that gives each student the confidence to excel. I think they are amazed when they accomplish the rigorous expectations that he holds as they find learning such a pleasure in his class.”

Toni Joy Romias of Lehua Elementary School in Pearl City:

“In this year’s Merrie Monarch competition in Hilo, I set foot on that stage with Halau I Ka Wekiu seven months pregnant. I had my baby at the end of the school year, two weeks before the students’last day of school, and returned to work a week after delivering my child into this world.”

Now that’s a teacher and a hard-core hula dancer!

Lehua Elementary teacher Toni Joy Romias

Lehua was Romias’ first job. She was an education assistant for 10 years before getting her teaching certificate at Chaminade University. She is a special education teacher in kindergarten through third grade.

I’d asked what’s she’s paid (she’s 34 with three stepchildren ages 21, 16 and 14, and two biological daughters ages 2 and the newborn.) She replied that she’d have to look that up:

“It is not that I don’t care, but that it is enough to pay the bills and take care of my family. I don’t have a large pocketbook or drive a fancy car. All that matters is that I am able to provide the necessities for my family and have a career that I truly love.

“Teaching is an opportunity to turn on the light within the soul of a child. Their eyes speak volumes and are enough to remind me of the importance of what I do.”

On parent involvement: “Parents spend the most time with our students. Certainly more time than teachers do. I don’t possess the power to fix what is or may be broken in that home relationship, but I can certainly get the ball rolling. If I am experiencing no parent participation, I will turn the finger toward myself. I will evaluate myself as to what efforts were made - or not made - on my part to reach out, communicate, listen and build trust. In the short time I have been teaching, this has made a huge impact on the success of my students and the community in my classroom.”

She acknowledges that she faces a tough work schedule, long school days plus her own family and her outside interests, such as hula. But she’s not complaining.

“Am I making a difference? I hope so. I do know that my students have made a difference on me, and I am extremely thankful for that. I believe being grateful brings more joy into my life, and I must not wait for things to be perfect. I must fall in love with it now, and indeed I have - both the challenges and celebrations that present themselves each day. When you love what you do, you can’t help but pass it on and hopefully make a difference.”

Her principal, Fay Toyama, says: “Mrs. Romias is always looking for new ways to do things better. She requested to visit other schools with a special education resource room during her first year of teaching. When she returned to Lehua, she was bursting with ideas on how she could improve her room to benefit her students’ individual needs. Every year she looks for ways to increase her knowledge to reach her students.

“This school year, she is serving as a mentor to teachers new to our staff. Although she is not yet tenured, Mrs. Romias has a way of being approachable by helping others to make them feel comfortable and to ask questions.”

A couple of observations about the life of a classroom teacher in Hawaii.

The pressure is on to turn out students who can pass the state’s standardized test and thus the No Child Left Behind requirements. President Obama has suggested we think about worldwide test standardization rather than just the United States or, in our case, a state test.

And teachers no longer get those long summers to do advanced education or just unwind. Our state schools have become much more year-round. For the current school year, teachers have a one week break at the beginning of October, three weeks in December-January, and two weeks for spring break.

The BOE has approved what’s called a 1-2-1 calendar for next school year - one week at the beginning of October, two weeks for winter break, and a week’s break in March. School in 2010 will finish at the end of May, adding another two weeks to the summer break.

Next up will be nationwide discussion of merit pay, also supported by Obama and his education secretary. Teachers who excel would be paid more than those that don’t. That’s very contentious, however, with arguments about the definition of excelling and who would make that judgment.

It’s going to be a hot-button year for education.

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