Denise Mazurik, Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Secondary Education Student

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Denise Mazurik
“Hawaiʻi is unique and the significance of our people, place, culture, and values is woven through the fabric of the PBSCE program.”
Hometown:

Hilo, HI

Department:

Institute for Teacher Education

Degree:

PBC in Secondary Education Student

Where do you work?
I work at Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole Elementary and Intermediate School (KEIS) in Papaʻikou on Hawaiʻi Island’s rural Hāmākua Coast.

How did you become interested in the field of secondary education?
I had been working on the elementary side of KEIS for two years when I was offered a long-term substitute position in the intermediate school. To be honest, I was a little (okay, maybe a lot) anxious walking into the first day of class. I did not have experience with adolescents and was concerned about classroom dynamics with older students. It turns out that secondary students need exactly what elementary students need – to know you care about them. I quickly fell in love with secondary teaching in large part because relationships with students are made rich through nuanced exploration of more advanced content together. At the secondary level, there is more opportunity to exercise my passion, apprenticing students into using a social justice lens to navigate and unpack social studies.

Briefly describe your road to college.
I have always been drawn to public service. I had planned to pursue social justice advocacy through a legal career, but my daughter turned 10-months-old the week after I graduated law school and earned a Juris Doctor, forever changing my life and my priorities. Rather than devote the time and energy to being a new associate attorney right when my baby was having all of her firsts, I accepted a position in higher education using my legal training to write research proposals. When my daughter became school aged, I volunteered in her classroom and realized how much I loved helping students. I immediately knew I was meant to be an educator. I started working for the Hawaiʻi Department of Education three years ago and still feel lucky each day that I get to go do what I love for a living, and I feel even luckier now to be back in college becoming the highly qualified educator our students deserve!

Why did you select the UHM COE?
The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Education was a clear choice for me for several reasons. First, the COE’s commitment to culturally responsive social justice education in Hawaiʻi through the adoption of the Teaching Tolerance social justice standards and Nā Hopena A‘o (“HĀ”) framework signal the priorities and forward thinking of the college and reflect my own core values. Hawaiʻi is unique and the significance of our people, place, culture, and values is woven through the fabric of the PBCSE program. Second, because I live on the Big Island, I needed a statewide program that would accommodate us folx living on neighbor islands. UHM made it easy to connect via the Zoom platform and reimbursed my airfare each time I had the opportunity to travel to the UHM campus to collaborate with classmate-colleagues. Third, I consider myself a teacher-researcher so the fact that UHM is a Carnegie rated “Very High Research Activity” university aligns with my vision of lifelong learning and adopting evidence-based best practices in my classroom. And finally, teaching is a calling, but it is also a profession. UHM is the flagship institution of the UH system, known for its excellence in research, scholarship, and programs. Credentials from UH tell employers and colleagues that you take your education seriously and are a leader in your profession.

What does the “Grow Our Own” initiative and stipend mean to you?
I wanted to become a certified teacher from my first day in the classroom. The Grow Our Own initiative made it financially possible for me to return to school while my husband supports me by picking up the slack at home, enabling me to continue to teach while taking on the college’s rigorous secondary teacher certification program. Despite my dedication and desire, without the Grow Our Own Initiative, I would not have had the resources to become a certified teacher. This initiative has made all the difference for me and the young people and communities I serve. I am forever grateful to Senator Michelle Kidani for her unwavering support of education and for leading the Grow Our Own initiative.

Is there anyone in particular who inspired/inspires you to pursue teaching as career?
It is often said that parents are their children’s first teachers. In this way, my daughter inspired me to become an educator. When I became a mom, I started seeing everything through her eyes. I found myself trying to find the right words to explain life’s enormity, diversity, and intricacies and looking for ways to safely let my child explore the world on her own. In fact, volunteering in my daughter’s kindergarten classroom is how I discovered my passion for classroom teaching. Now, both my child’s insatiable curiosity and the eagerness of my students to spread their wings and learn inspires me to keep becoming a better version of myself as an educator and as a person.

What are your plans after graduation?
I am excited to graduate in May 2020 and accept my first tenure track teaching position in Hawaiʻi. In my formal studies within the PBSCE program, I have learned much about culturally- responsive teaching. I have also committed a considerable amount of time to educating myself on trauma-sensitive teaching for mentoring students facing adverse childhood experiences. Together, culturally-responsive and trauma-sensitive pedagogies can help alleviate educational inequities faced by marginalized students. At the heart of both of these approaches is facilitating a physically, emotionally, and intellectually safe learning environment; valuing the lived experience of all individuals; developing authentic and collaborative relationships with and among students; helping students learn how to analyze and reflect through teacher-modeled critical thinking; engaging students with real world problem-solving; utilizing restorative discipline practices; and helping students to develop the intellect and agency to co-create new knowledge and advocate on behalf of themselves, their beliefs, and their communities. I intend to take a leadership role in promoting the adoption of these practices, specifically in our Title I schools. Knowledge is power. I cannot wait to see the positive influence that implementing the social justice strategies I have learned will have on my students and, in turn, the impact they will have on their communities and our world!