Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, August 23, 1999

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Moanalua Intermediate School teacher Nohea Chang
doesn't love getting up early for school after summer
break, but she makes sure she's in "enthusiastic mode"
on the first day of school.

Teachers return

By Tim Ryan


Teaching children may be both the best and worst of jobs.

There are the smiles, the hugs, and the joy of sharing knowledge with other human beings, and watching a mind develop because of your efforts.

But teachers also have a host of other duties that seem to have little to do with learning: being a stand-in parent, counselor, nurse, social worker, law-enforcement officer, even entertainer.

It's not surprising some teachers suffer burn out. But the majority return annually, recharged after summer break.

Usually, it's the students who get asked "What did you do this summer?"

We asked some Oahu teachers to share their experiences to find out how they recharge before facing their new students. The favorite method is traveling, while others go back to school themselves; a few like Al Perez, a math teacher at Moanalua Intermediate School, continue teaching.

"I like teaching at (Moanalua) high school in the summer to see the students I just had in the eighth grade," said Perez, who lives in Kailua with his wife and two young children.

He also returned to Moanalua Intermediate almost daily to help the staff or other teachers, or prepare for the upcoming year.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Moanalua Intermediate School teacher Al Perez teaches
math, but takes time on the first day to share left-brain,
right-brain tricks with students.

"People say I'm crazy to hang out here all summer, but I have to come into town anyway to drop off my wife for work," Perez said. "So where am I going to go?"

Because of his teaching and Moanalua's new modified school schedule, summer doesn't give Perez and his family much time to vacation. At Christmas, when he gets three weeks off, he'll take a trip to the mainland.

"It's a great time to go to Disneyland because of the lack of crowds," he said.

Perez, who gave up a career in engineering to teach, said performing duties other teaching "helps build relationships" with other staff members.

"They see you as more than just a teacher," he said. "And I like to see the kids come in when they register because they're so excited about school."

Perez also makes sure his classroom is well-organized before the first day students report. "I get my desk cleared out and make sure my classroom policies are all printed," he said.

His Day One agenda is always the same: A left brain-right brain test that teaches students about themselves.


Nohea Chang has been a teacher at Moanalua Intermediate off and on since 1966, when the school opened. Today, she's the Student Activity Coordinator and teaches two other classes. Summers she travels to the mainland "to get a different perspective" and during this year's break taught a fourth-grade writing class at Iolani School.

"For six weeks I work with a number of students whose parents pay a lot of money so their children can have what they believe to be a quality education," Chang said. "The climate of parent and school support (at Iolani) is what makes life really nice there."

Chang and her husband, also an educator, only were able to travel a week this summer before school began. This may have been her last stint teaching summer school.

"I have children on the mainland and I really like to get away," Chang said. "It's nice to be able to visit people on the East Coast but with that long flying time you need more than a week to do it."

It's important for her to go someplace where she doesn't have to answer phone calls about school issues. "My husband and I play a game every summer to see who can go the longest without talking about work," Chang said. "Unfortunately, we're never able to do it for very long."

Chang never seems to get her desk as organized as she hopes, but she makes sure she's in her enthusiastic mode on the first day. "If I don't come back excited it'll be really hard for a kid who was enjoying the summer to be sitting in a room with me."


Punahou sixth-grade teacher Marsha Teske used to teach summers, but no more. She and her husband, who teaches at Iolani, travel to their lake home in Minnesota. This summer, they were out away more than two months.

"I needed a real vacation," she said. "It's important for me to do things like water skiing and camping, to be a regular person so I can return fresh and energized."

Teske also has more time to read for enjoyment rather than focusing solely on professional literature. Despite the vacation, she visited schools in Florida that use the middle-school concept, which Punahou is developing.

"And I worked on my laptop (computer), updating school materials I had used in the previous year, so I guess you're never ever really completely away from it," Teske said.

Teske credited Punahou for having programs to help teachers make the transition from vacation to the classroom. So by the time Day One arrives, Teske says she's "very pumped up."

"I'm just giddy, happy to be back teaching with colleagues I love to be around socially and intellectually, working at a school which gives teachers so much support, and meeting new children."


At Kamaile Elementary -- a year-round school in the Waianae area -- fifth-grade teachers Deanna Fontanilla, Sandra Dolbin and Tina Lopez spent summer taking classes to improve their teaching skills. They had one week off to get ready for the new year.

Fontanilla spent some of that week meeting with other teachers, but doesn't do much to prepare until she meets the new students.

"You can't be too specific because you want to structure your teaching to their needs," she said.

Dolbin joked that her one week off was spent "sleeping a lot."

"Resting gets me ready physically for the year," she said. "If you come in tired the students sense it."

As for emotional readiness, Dolbin prays "for wisdom, patience and help with my instruction."

Dale Arakaki, also a fifth-grade teacher at the school, worked as a school counselor last year.

"It helps me to talk a lot with my colleagues to brainstorm ideas before school begins," he said. "And I remind myself to work with my strengths: being flexible, truthful and (trying to) relate to the needs of the students."

During vacations Dolbin hikes; Lopez walks with friends or bicycles. Arakaki spends time with his family "to make sure I have balance in my life," and plays softball.

Vacations seem to be difficult for Fontanilla because "when I have a lot of time on my hands I really don't know (what to do) it's such a luxury."

For Dolbin summer vacation is never long enough. "I never have enough time to finish things."

Added to the stress is knowing school violence is on the increase nationwide.

"It makes you a little bit more aware each day that you can't take anything for granted," Fontanilla said.

"You have to always be aware of safety and whats going on around you," Arakaki added.

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