PBSPED Severe/Autism PreK-3, 2020-2022 Cohort

Haruka Hopper

"I want to support students in finding their voices to express themselves and create an accepting environment where all students' strengths are seen and voices are heard."


Honolulu, HI


Special Education

Related Degrees

  • Post-Baccalaureate Certificate, Special Education (PBSPED)

What and where will you be teaching?

Next school year, I will be working as a TVI (Teacher of Visually Impaired) at the state office of Student Support Services, Exceptional Support Branch.

Did you always know you wanted to become a teacher? Briefly describe your road to this career. 

I remember my very first childhood dream was to become a doctor. The reason was to cure my brother’s sickness and help him live his life like “others.” Then I quickly learned that he did not have sickness and did not need to become part of the “others.” That was when I first thought I wanted to become a teacher to help individuals with disabilities like my brother improve their quality of life and let everybody know that disability is not a category to put someone in but a personality and character to be embraced. Since then, becoming a teacher was always my dream, and I started the path soon after graduating with my Bachelor’s degree.

How did you become interested in the special education field?

The reason I became interested in the field of special education is my brother, who was diagnosed with CHARGE syndrome when he was born. As a younger sister, I always wanted to help my brother and ensure he was safe and happy every day. That is how my interests in special education started to grow and developed my passion for helping as many individuals with disabilities as possible to make sure they enjoy their life by being who they are. Growing up with him made me who I am today and helped me grow as a person and an educator. Although I started my teaching career as a high school PE teacher, my heart and passion have always been in the field of special education.

Why did you choose to pursue the Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Special Education, Severe Disabilities and Autism track?

I chose to pursue this program because I found it to be the most suitable program for my interest: becoming a licensed special education teacher. Also, the stipend opportunity was a significant factor in my decision. In 2017, I contacted the recruitment specialist, Ms. Janet Kim, for the first time and started exploring the program. Although it took me three years to finally take my step forward to enroll in the program, Ms. Janet was always supportive and kept motivating and encouraging me to pursue this path until I was ready. I am very grateful that I could have her guidance before starting this program.

What was the best part of the program for you?

The best part of the program for me was that it was a field-based program. As a person with a different cultural background, learning in the actual field helped me fill the gap between my educational experience in the other country and the educational system in the United States. The course content and assignments were designed to be applied in the field as I learned new knowledge and strategies from the literature and lectures in class. It helped me develop a much deeper understanding of what I learned throughout the program. Learning in the field gave me numerous opportunities to reflect on my skills and helped me grow as an educator. My cooperating teachers at all my field placements were incredibly supportive and always willing to use their time to teach, guide, and motivate me, which I greatly appreciated.

Which school(s) were you placed at for your field observations and student teaching?

Koko Head Elementary School, Waiʻalae Elementary Public Charter School, Liholiho Elementary School

How had your cooperating teacher(s) impacted your teaching practice?

My cooperating teachers had a significant impact on my teaching practice. They taught me not only what the effective and meaningful lessons were but also many important tips and advice that helped me gain wide perspectives to become an effective educator. I learned about classroom management, how to be an organized and efficient teacher, what the teacher’s responsibilities are, how I should communicate with paraprofessionals, members of the IEP teams, and families, and how I could maximize the impact when I teach students. I cannot be grateful enough for the amount of time they used for me and the kindness they showed me. They are my role models, and I could not be the educator I am today if they were not my cooperating teachers.

What was the best part about your field placement experience?

The best part about my field placement experience was that I could meet teachers, administrators, and related service providers who are passionate about special education and have a heart of gold. Being able to be in the field and having hands-on experience and learning from experienced teachers helped me not only acquire the skills and knowledge necessary but also build effective relationships with people in the field. Another thing I want to emphasize as the best part about the field experience is that it helped me develop a much deeper understanding of what I learned throughout the program. Having a place where I could demonstrate my knowledge and skills allowed me to have time and opportunities to reflect on myself and helped me grow as an educator.

How did the people in the COE help you along your way to becoming a teacher?

It was the greatest experience for me to have significant support from everyone I met during the program. I am thankful for all my knowledgeable and experienced professors who inspired me and provided me with great resources and opportunities to grow. I am thankful for incredibly supportive field supervisors who believed in me every step of the way. I am thankful for accessible advisors who always guided me to be successful. Lastly, I am thankful for my amazing cohort, who inspired, motivated, and encouraged me throughout my journey to becoming a special education teacher. Although we never had a chance to meet in person until the very last day, I felt that I was very fortunate to be part of my cohort and to thrive together. This program helped me build my knowledge and confidence in becoming a well-prepared educator.

What words of advice or recommendations would you give to someone who is interested in this program?

It will never be too late to start what you truly love and are passionate about in your life. At the beginning of the program, I felt like I was way behind my cohort since many of them were already working in the field of education, and I was not back then. I did not have a placement or student to work with and had no idea how I could be successful. I regretted not starting sooner. However, with the incredible support and encouragement I received during the program, I built my confidence to follow my dream and reach the goal. If you are interested in this program, I recommend contacting the amazing recruitment specialist and exploring the program first. Even if you are not sure or ready yet, that first step will help you find your path no matter how long it takes.

In what ways do you hope to make a difference in the field of education?

I hope to make a difference by creating a safe and positive learning environment for all students with and without disabilities to learn and grow together. I strongly believe that the inclusive setting is the best way to raise awareness of each student’s uniqueness and build positive relationships among students. One of my good friends with a disability once told me that he did not have a disability, but he had a “different ability.” I want to teach all my future students that they have different abilities that would empower them and let everyone know how amazing their abilities and capabilities are. I want to use my experience as a sibling of an individual with a disability to become a bridge to connect school, family, and community. By doing so, I want to support students in finding their voices to express themselves and create an accepting environment where all students’ strengths are seen and voices are heard.

What are your future plans?

My future plan is to continue learning to be a teacher who advocates for all my students and their rights to express their voices. For the next two years, I will be pursuing my master’s degree in Special Education with a specialization in visual impairment. I am excited to have another great learning opportunity to become a more effective teacher who can support my students achieve their goals. My long-term goal is to be a lifelong learner and take a leadership role someday to hand my knowledge and experiences to others and make a difference in the field of special education, just as I experienced throughout this program.

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