teacher practice

What Parents Should Know

By: John Mulroy

Mind blank. Anxiety sets in.  I am not sure this is for me. What could I possibly write that hasn’t already been written?  What can I offer this group of intelligent and ambitious teacher leaders?

Last fall, I sat in a conference room in Chicago surrounded by Hope Street Fellows from across the US. They were Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Hawaii proud. Our colleague opened the session,  “What do you want parents to know about their child’s teacher?”  

I flashed back to classrooms, colleagues, students, and parents and recalled days when I felt like a “Super Teacher” and days when I questioned if I was good enough for my kids.

But I am here, I thought, I do have a voice. Saying something differently, not necessarily new, will have an impact.  Thinking back on all those days, what do I want parents to know?

Teachers view teaching as a privilege.

Teachers view themselves as professionals.

Teachers are reading professional articles and having collaborative discussions with colleagues.

Teachers are taking professional development courses to improve their practice.

Teachers are proud of this profession.

Teachers are inspired, empowered, and ready to change the narrative and impact policy not only for themselves but for the children you place in their care each and every day.

Teachers are not perfect.

Teachers do not want sympathy.

Teachers are leaders in the community.

Teachers are leaders in their schools.

Teachers call your children “my kids.”

Teachers want to see and hear about your child’s success.

Teachers have shown your children their best and their worst.

Teachers have cried in parking lots when their best wasn't good enough.

Teachers are working with the best and brightest of tomorrow.

Teachers are providing a safe space that might not be provided at home.

Teachers are teaching all day and then mentoring new teachers to become your child's next favorite teacher.

Teachers have thought about your children days, weeks, months, and even years after they lefttheir classrooms.

And, finally, parents should know that teachers can reach students because we are all students too, lifelong learners who put ourselves in their shoes, often embracing uncertainty and anxiety in order to improve our practice and better serve our kids.


John Mulroy earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary and  Special Education from La Salle University and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum Studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He dedicated eight years to teaching in a multitude of special education environments including resource, self-contained, and Co-teaching classrooms. John is a resource teacher and mentor for newly hired Special Education Teachers within the Kaimuki-McKinley-Roosevelt Complex as well as a trainer with Hawaii Teacher Induction Center.


"When I Grow Up, I want to be a Rock Star!": Elevating Teacher Retention

By Aurene Padilla

Starting at the age of Kindergarten when anyone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I would answer, “teacher” without any hesitation.  My two older sisters would always play school with me and later I would play school with my stuffed animals.  

I thought being a teacher was the most amazing job in the world.  What could be better than hanging with and helping other kids?  How cool would it be to have a classroom filled with paint, paper, and books?  The fact that teaching was the family business made the job even the more viable. I loved hanging out at my dad and mom’s schools and their students would treat me like I was the coolest little kid.  In my eyes, teaching was the best job ever!

Growing up, I loved school.  I thought my teachers were rock stars and I wanted to be exactly like them.  My 1st-grade teacher, Mrs. Makekau, made us hand-drawn Snoopy character bookmarks and would write the names of books we read on them.  We all competed to collect as many of them as we could.  In 4th-grade, our teacher, Mrs. Tamura, played a mean ukulele and we would sing all day long; my math teacher Mrs. Yasunaga helped me memorize my multiplication facts with Times Table Bingo.  My 5th-grade teacher, Mrs. Kubota, always had a plastic pond of crayfish in her class for a Science unit.  And Mrs. Mansho, my 6th-grade teacher, was the biggest star of all.  She had perfect hair and make-up and all the girls wanted to grow up to be exactly like her.  

I set a course to become a teacher and studied hard in school.  During the summers, I worked as a teacher’s aid.  I loved working with the kids and marveled at the fact that they loved me and followed me around everywhere.  I was right: teachers were rock stars!

Upon graduating from the University of Hawaii with a teaching degree, I was extremely lucky to land my first job teaching third grade at Holomua Elementary School.  

It was challenging from the start. I spent many long hours after school at work and every Sunday in my classroom. There were many tears in the start of my career.  I will never forget the parent that was so unhappy that she took her child out of my class or the angry letter I received from a father who didn’t agree with our school’s philosophy.  I had 32 students in my class and I sometimes struggled with behavior management, organization, and the sheer amount of time, work, and energy it took to be a teacher.  I was often overwhelmed and wondered whether I could really be a teacher for a living.  However, with the support of a school-level mentor, a cohesive grade level, and the advice from my educator parents, I survived.

This year marks my 20th year in the teaching profession and I am happy that I persevered through the tough times at the start of my career.   I now work as a Mentor for Beginning Teachers and every day I work with teachers new to the profession who are eager and filled with hope and excitement like I had been.  

Unfortunately, only half of the teachers that begin their careers today have stories similar to mine.  Recent studies have shown that teacher attrition is a real dilemma.  50% of beginning teachers quit the profession after only 5 years.  

Why are we unable to retain our teachers?  Why is it that a job that was once so revered has become one that people are leaving in droves?  In my work with beginning teachers, I have found that many teachers didn’t have pre-career guidance and training nor high-quality induction and mentoring support in their formative teaching years.  They feel ill-equipped for the demands of the profession and lament that teaching didn’t end up being like they thought it would.  

When I look back at my own career, I see the people and systems that helped me overcome the struggles I had and led to a path of leadership in education.  All teachers need these types of supports to grow, thrive and survive the early struggles of our careers and make an impact on our profession.

On the Job Training

In many professions, lengthy apprenticeships and internships are required prior to obtaining a license to perform.  In education, most colleges require 3 semesters of practicum and 1 semester of student teaching. However, during the student teaching semester, pre-service teachers simply inherit the established classroom of a veteran teacher mid year for a few weeks.  Such a program does not prepare our teachers to open the school year, organize, or plan to lead their first, second, even third classroom.  Many of our beginning teachers are hired to teach their first class and have never been responsible for the well-being 25 children by themselves ever, not to mention being responsible for educating them too.  

Professional Learning Network

It takes a village to raise a child.  Teachers cannot work in silos.  The larger the professional network a teacher has, the more resources they will have readily to use in their classrooms.  There are no full-proof formulas for classroom management issues, differentiated instruction, or a curriculum for all students: it’s an art, not a regiment.  Teachers need to collaborate with one another through dialogue, observation, and data teams to improve their craft.  The more diverse the network, the more support, advice, and resources teachers have access to face a diverse set of issues.

Instructional Mentor

Hawai‘i’s Department of Education has established a program that pairs all beginning teachers with a trained instructional mentor.  In its early stages, the program has shown great progress.

Leadership Pathway

Teachers enter the profession focused on their classrooms and the students in it. It takes them awhile to acclimate to the school’s environment, their colleagues, and curriculum and instruction.  However, the success of our public school system lies in the hands of teacher-leaders who are in the trenches to lead the way.  Beginning teachers must have a clear pathway to assume leadership on their grade levels and departments, eventually in their schools, and ultimately in the department.  Being a teacher-leader cements the teacher as a stakeholder in the profession and promotes longevity.  Teachers can only collectively have ownership of our profession if we assume leadership roles.

As I look back on my twenty years of teaching I realize that I have not yet reached “rock star” status, however, my career has withstood challenges of the last two decades:  a 21-day strike, Furlough Fridays, No Child Left Behind and Common Core Standards.  I have been able to stay the course because I have prepared for this job all of my life, and have been supported through every step in my career by colleagues that have been amazing role models and leaders.  It is paramount that teachers being inducted to our profession receive the same types of support as they choose to enter our profession and throughout. Let’s make some new rock stars!

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Aurene Padilla is a second-generation educator and is the Induction Program Coordinator for Central District:  Leilehua, Mililani, Waialua Complexes, a Hope Street Group Fellow for Hawaii, and a part of the National Program Leader Network.  She has taught in the Hawaii Department of Education for twenty years and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish, a Professional Diploma in Elementary Education, and a Master’s Degree in Reading Instruction. Aurene is the proud mother of two children, ages 10 and 9.  When she is not teaching or being a mom you will find her surfing, cross fitting, or training for a marathon.

Build Teacher-to-Teacher Relationships to Increase Student Success

By: Lorna Baniaga-Lee

It’s Thursday, 11 A.M. on another hot and humid day. The three of us, team content teachers,  are looking forward to the long awaited weekend. It was a challenging week for all of us, our students included. As we sit to eat our lunch, we casually talk about our families, which leads our conversation about a particular student who seemed removed the last few days.

During first period, my class, she came in late-- again. Just like she has every day, so far this week. She has that faraway, glazed look and only responded when spoken to. Jamie, another teacher, shares how she seemed more focused on the new math concept they are learning, but was still distant. Renè mentions how she chose to work alone on an assignment-- very unlike her. Jamie recalls the red scratches on her arm that he noticed. Our lunchtime conversation becomes about our next steps: I will talk to the student immediately after school today to ask her what is going on. Jamie will contact the counselor to give him a heads up of the situation and request additional support. Renè will call home and let parents know that we are concerned. We end our lunch with an unspoken understanding how we will help our student. It is this deep relationship we built as colleagues over the last ten years that helps us get through our long days so we can help our students get through their long days.

We teach in isolation. Our classroom is our world. We have the power to create the environment and space that we want. In doing this, though, we begin building walls from others as well. It is easy to engulf ourselves in our lesson plans, assignments, and our students’ lives. We may not do it intentionally but when faced with prioritizing our time, we will put connecting with other teachers last on our list. While that may seem effective because we think we are focusing all of our energies within this world we created, it can get lonely and can lead to complacency.

Such complacency can lead to ineffective teaching. Creating and being part of a professional learning network, or PLN is a crucial piece for both students and teacher to thrive. We need to surround ourselves with others who will be that sounding board, who will be that resident expert, who will be our cheerleader and most of all who will be a friend.

I have been fortunate to be surrounded by amazing colleagues who are a part of my educational journey. They play just as much of a role in my students’ successes as I do-- the immediate success of winning an essay contest, the academic achievement of graduating with honors from high school, the impactful accomplishment of being the first in their family to graduate from college or being commissioned as a Naval Officer.

Ironically, teachers’ days are filled with so many “things”: fulfilling mandates, meeting due dates, attending various mandatory meetings-- all of which are supposed to increase student success. Prioritizing our energy to meet those expectations puts relationship building last on our list. It is a challenge for administrators to carve out time in the school year to balance what needs to be done and what should be done to provide meaningful and purposeful opportunities.

Some teachers may be lucky to have an administrator who will invest time to create a supportive culture for all; however for those who are not as fortunate, I encourage you to take advantage of any occasion that allows you to make connections with other teachers in and out of campus.

If you are a new teacher and your school, district or union organizes an event for you, make time to go. It may seem like another thing on your already filled plate, but there are benefits to these events. As a new teacher being surrounded by others who recognize and empathize what you are going through can be the greatest gift that one can receive in the beginning of their teaching career.

Additionally, seek out professional development sessions that interest you. Meeting and collaborating with other teachers is a great way to exchange ideas and share similar experiences. Being around other educators who are open to new ideas and are excited to grow as a professional can be very inspirational.

Lastly, don’t allow time and distance to be your biggest obstacle in making these connections and building relationships with other teachers. Utilize social media like Twitter and Facebook as your professional medium to exchange ideas and be inspired by others. Seek out professional development that can be done virtually. It is just as effective as face to face meetings. As teachers, we teach in isolation, but in this age of technology, isolation is now a choice.

Our goal as educators is to improve student success, no matter what it takes. Success doesn’t just mean grades or graduation rates, but creating a network of teachers that know how to care for our students. But it is important to know that in order to build successful students, we need to build effective teachers. Strengthening teacher-to-teacher relationships should be a part of that foundation. Making connections is fundamental. Engaging in professional dialogues and working collaboratively on meaningful projects will bring greater value to our work. Build teacher-to- teacher relationships to improve student success, no matter what it takes. It will make a difference, just like it did it with our student.

Lorna Baniaga-Lee is National Board Certified and has been an English teacher for the last 20 years at James Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, Hawaii. In addition to being a classroom teacher, she leads the school’s Induction and Mentoring program to support beginning teachers and provides professional development courses to help build teacher leaders. She is also a 2016 Hope Street Group Fellow.