Elementary education major Hilary Lindor '16, Cyrus, Minn., is spending her spring semester student teaching at Island School in Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii. We caught up with her to find out how her experience has been so far.
How did you end up with a student teaching placement in Hawaii?
I actually started asking if student teaching in Hawaii was a possibility back in my freshman year. I've traveled to the island with my family and fell in love. Dr. Deb Grosz is the field experience director and helps align our student teaching placements. I gave her the challenge of finding me a school on Kauai, and she rose to that challenge. She contacted public schools on the island and was turned down because they work with student teachers from the University of Hawaii. Then she dug deeper and found private schools. She contacted Island School in Lihue and Cristy Peeren, the elementary department head, said she would take a student teacher from Minnesota. And here I am today!
What is different about teaching in Hawaii?
Quite a bit is different. Instead of kids unloading from buses in the morning, their parents drop them off and linger around until school officially starts. In first grade classrooms in Minnesota there would be a lot of helping with snow gear, but here my kids come running in and take off their slippers (flip flops) before entering the classroom. Something unique to Island School is morning circle. Every morning the whole elementary school gathers in the cafeteria to do morning announcements. The announcements include welcoming students who were gone back to school, singing a song, celebrating birthdays with the birthday song, and listening to student and teacher announcements. Also, teachers are all called by their first names. My cooperating teacher is called Ms. Cristy and I am called Ms. Hilary. It's a nice change of tone.
Did anything surprise you?
The thing that surprised me the most is the cultural influence in the school. In Hawaii you'll see signs outside of houses that say, “Mahalo for taking your slippers off,” and then at school you’ll see students barefoot in the classroom!
I don't know if it's because of the culture or that it's a private school, but the parents have a very strong presence in the school and very actively participate. Our classroom has two "room moms" that help the teacher with projects outside of the classroom. For example, we have an auction coming up and the parents helped the class build, paint and decorate a wooden picnic table.
On a field trip, I noticed that parents encourage their children to call the other parents "uncle" and "auntie." That's something I've never seen before. Even out in public, a dad told his children not to splash me by saying, "Don't get auntie wet!" and I'm basically a stranger to them.
Another cultural difference is that my students have an enrichment course called Hawaiian studies. At this class, they sing Hawaiian songs, learn Hawaiian chants, blessings, words and games, create art with nature, and do gardening.
Always find your balance, but everything will work out if you go with the flow. – Hilary Lindor '16 Click to Tweet
What has been the best part of your student teaching experience so far?
Goodness, every day has been great. I get to drive to school during a Hawaiian sunrise. The backdrop to my school is volcanic mountains. It's beautiful here. I was also lucky enough to go on some great field trips with these kids. On my first week here, I went on an overnight hiking and camping trip at Koke'e State Park up the in the mountains. It was a wonderful bonding time for the students, my cooperating teacher, the parents and me. Then the next week we had a field trip at the beach! (I helped my class win at tug of war!) Just being around these young 6- and 7-year-olds is a blessing. They love handholding and think I'm funny. We have fun at all times of the day. We have a Niblet in the room and they love to decorate him.
What has been the hardest part?
Tough question. It is odd to be alone thousands of miles away from home and college. The staff here are so welcoming and I don't feel homesick, but there's the aspect of not having my peers, friends, family and professors around that makes things more difficult. I'm five hours behind Moorhead, so communication is limited.
I also miss Concordia's fabulous curriculum center! My classroom has a library and so does the school, but we all know Connie (Jones) stocks that center with tons of new, great books that cover every topic. I miss being able to just go into the library and find a handful of books to read to my kids or have them read to themselves.
What is your biggest takeaway so far?
Noisy, messy learning is perfectly OK. These students are young, but they are capable of so much. Give them the opportunity to think and discover on their own. Work with what they give you and expand on that. Natural learning versus forced learning. When people say teachers need to be flexible, that is no joke. Always find your balance, but everything will work out if you go with the flow.
Laura Caroon '06 is a content strategist at Concordia College.