Monday, October 25, 1999

Hawaii's Teacher of the Year

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Elly Tepper, the Department of Education's new State Teacher
of the Year, plays guitar as her third-grade class performs a song
at Keolu Elementary School.

Respect, politeness sparkle
in Keolu Elementary class

By Crystal Kua


The children of Ka Papa Waipahe -- the respectful, polite class -- took turns unfolding and folding a wooden fan before passing it to the next boy or girl in the circle.

The time was theirs to have a say on the day's new assignment. For Aushalyn Haia and the rest of her classmates at Keolu Elementary in Kailua, the morning was spent separating their best writing from the rest of the first-quarter assignments. But with papers strewn on her kid-size desk, the process became a bit confusing at times.

"The good thing about it was that we got to see our (previous) work again," Haia told the circle of classmates while she held onto the object nicknamed the talking fan. "The hard part was sorting it out."

Getting feedback from her third-grade students is important to Elly Tepper, the Department of Education's new State Teacher of the Year.

'Everything is in a positive way.
What we're learning at UH --
positive reinforcement
-- is all she does.'

Vicky Villegas


She learns valuable lessons from her students and gives them credit for helping her win the award. In this case, the students' comments likely will help improve the exercise.

The kids tell Tepper they had trouble reading the instructional chart she had posted on the board.

"What if I made a big chart?" she asked. They liked the idea.

Each year Tepper gives her classes a Hawaiian name, one befitting the class personality.

"Their name represents their identity. ... With this class, the word that kept coming up was respect," Tepper said.

"She thinks we deserve it," student Bryson Gauthe said.

The name also gave birth to a mantra that the children recite daily and which describes their collective traits.

The saying is kept for posterity as part of a brilliantly colored paper "quilt" that adorns the classroom door.

"We are Ka Papa Waipahe, the respectful, polite class," the quilt reads. "We know how to listen to each other and give mutual respect."

Gauthe, 8, said the words on the quilt capture who they are and who they try to be each day.

"It tells us we're fingers on the same hand," said Gauthe, a polite and articulate boy, pointing to a section of the quilt. "It helps us to give good aloha and do a good job."

But if the students strive to be this way, it's because they have a teacher who sets a good example for them, Gauthe said. "I think she's a nice and loving teacher and a very respectful one."

"We know how to listen to
each other and give mutual respect.
We can be gentle, pleasant and
gracious to all. We can forgive our
mistakes because we are good-
natured and easy-going."

-- Ka Papa Waipahe


Vicky Villegas, a University of Hawaii College of Education student who has been observing Tepper's class, said Tepper appreciates the differences in her students and never separates the emotion from the child.

"Everything is in a positive way," Villegas said. "What we're learning at UH -- positive reinforcement -- is all she does."

In a class discussion of homework, Tepper tells one student his incorrect answer is a blessing in disguise for the rest of the class because they were able to review that Thomas Jefferson's house is on the nickel.

"Thanks for making that mistake," she tells the lad. "You helped us out."

That's classic Tepper, Villegas said. "I have two children. I would appreciate it if they had a teacher like her."

Prior to teaching in Keolu, Tepper spent 20 years teaching in Hauula, where her students were also her best teachers. During her tenure there, Tepper gained a love of the Hawaiian culture and a deeper understanding of how Hawaiian children best learn.

Her passion for culture, art and music are evident all around the classroom -- drawing lessons, student art, rhythmic instruments and Hawaiian phrases are on ceilings, walls, shelves, the board and in the rituals of the day.

"I do love ceremonies," she said. "They help you focus your attention on important events."

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