When I was a teacher-for-hire, a bunch of us newbies made our way into a room with a panel of a dozen principals from different leeward district schools. With our futures in their hands, we sold ourselves in the mass interview for the chance to be hired by the DOE.
Among the principals was Mrs. Fujioka, my former math teacher from Kaimuki. She taught geometry and made me love math for the first time in my life. With a student teacher both first and second semesters, she didn’t have much contact time with us. When she did, though, there was no mistaking the quality of delivery that exuded from this veteran teacher.
After being a math teacher, Mrs. Fujioka became the principal at Maili Elementary, which is about as close to the end of the island as you can get along the Waianae coast. For this Kapahulu girl, the distance was daunting but I would have driven off the island and into the middle of the Pacific to have worked with her. I knew that if she was a terrific math teacher, she was going to be a winner of a principal. Alas, it was not my fate to work under her leadership.
My first year of teaching, I had a class of fifth graders at a school in Ewa Beach. I used Mrs. Fujioka’s style as a model for my instruction. I wanted my students to see how much fun math could be and did my best to instill a passion for math in them the way she had done in me.
Today, I’m one of two technology coordinators at an elementary school where, in addition to maintaining the technology, I work with 4th-6th grade gifted and talented students a couple of times a week. This year, I’ll be teaching geometry and guess who I tapped for advice? Mrs. Fujioka.
My question to her was whether or not I should teach my students geometry using the problem-solving process I learned from her 30 years ago. The DOE has many math resource teachers whom I could have tapped for the answer to my question but none of them held the credibility that Mrs. Fujioka holds for me.
And bless her heart, she answered my email.
She explained that math has evolved a lot over time. Who would have thought math could change so much, it’s so black and white! She made me understand that rather than be rigid and conforming, math should be taught with more application so that it is meaningful in students’ lives. How brilliant.
The truth is, if I had heard the same words from someone I didn’t know and trust, the message would not have been the same for me. After reading her email, I scrapped the lesson I had planned. I taught my students about points, lines, planes, segments and rays, then had them take pictures of the basic geometric concepts on campus so they could see that geometry is everywhere in their world.
If I win the Mega Bucks at our 30th reunion in Las Vegas (hmm… mathematically speaking, what are the odds?), a good portion of it will go to our alma mater. We were lucky to have been students at a school with such wonderful teachers.
In closing her email, Mrs. Fujioka wrote, “take care and just call me Ele”. I sank back in my chair with a smile. I am privileged to know this lady who, though retired, continues to teach with warmth and grace. She made my day and school year.