Betty S. Muraoka and Lori Kwee
Betty S. Muraoka and Lori Kwee

Lori Kwee, who was recently named the 2021 Hawai‘i State Teacher of the Year, shares a passion for teaching with her mom, Betty S. Muraoka. Both daughter and mother are graduates of the UH Mānoa College of Education (COE) and have served the Hawai‘i Department of Education (HIDOE) for a combined 50+ years.

A budding writer as a young girl, Kwee says her joy of reading and writing, coupled with her mother’s influence as a dedicated teacher, led her to the COE to study elementary education with a minor in literature.

“My mother inspired me by piquing my interest in teaching as she shared her own teacher stories about her students at Ala Wai School,” Kwee said. “Her love of being an educator genuinely evoked joyful curiosity in me to explore the possibilities of a career as a teacher.”

Kwee’s teaching is grounded Ha (“the breath of life”) as well as 21st century thinking and learning methodology, like the Engineering Design Process. Providing opportunities that her students value and empowering them to solve challenging problems are part of what make her classroom thrive. Beyond the classroom, Kwee engages her students in community service, including saving the Vaquita Porpoise, a Bully Prevention Project, Peace Gardens, Kindness Project, Hawai‘i Genki Balls Restoration Project, and the creation of the #Sharealoha brand.

Muraoka spent 24 of her 30 years as a HIDOE teacher at Ala Wai Elementary School where Kwee teaches today, a “full circle moment” Kwee calls it. The oldest daughter of four children, Muraoka grew up in Hilo where she dreamed of becoming a teacher.

“My dream to be a teacher started as a child when I would role-play school with my siblings and friends,” stated Muraoka. “Being the eldest, my parents worked conscientiously to send me to the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa where I aspired to receive a degree in elementary education.”

One of Kwee’s most memorable and heartwarming moments as a teacher was when her fourth graders presented their Voice and Choice assemblies on bully prevention in front of the entire school.

“They encouraged each other to speak their parts, and inclusion was evident as every student had a part to contribute,” explained Kwee. “When a special needs student was so nervous, another student placed her hand on his shoulder as reassurance while others smiled and nodded their encouragement. He said his two lines slowly and carefully. The smile on his face is a lifetime imprint and one of those peak moments of self-discovery and achievement.”

Recalling cultural events, like May Day, Muraoka says that she enjoyed all of the shared excitement and memories made with her fifth graders. Toward her retirement, she experienced a renewed joy in teaching young children when she transitioned to teaching kindergarten for her last three years.

Asked what advice they would give to someone considering becoming a teacher, Kwee and Muraoka spoke of having the passion to inspire and empower our keiki.

Kwee advised, “Be true to your heart, seek your passions, and identify your signature strengths that will define your purpose. Education is an extraordinary experience that has unlimited possibilities for people to dream, imagine, discover, and believe. Education is the first step toward empowerment and equity.”

“Words of wisdom to anyone considering education is to love children,” Muraoka concluded. “With love stems wonderful relationships to teach and nurture each child as special individuals and as a team. I sincerely appreciate that I am a retired educator who inspired students to follow their passions into successful careers.”

Nestled in my heart
Calling dreams to light my fire
Rays of hope glimmer
– “Inspire” by Lori Kwee



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