MEdT Dual Secondary & Special Education, 2017-2019 Cohort Graduate
“When I was researching different tracks to becoming a teacher, I found UH's MEdT program with double licensure. It felt like all the stars aligned. I could combine my passions for social justice, community, and education all in one career track.”
- MEdT, Teaching - Dual License SPED/Secondary
Are you currently teaching? If so, what and where do you teach?
Yes. Kona Pacific Public Charter School in Kealakekua on the Big Island. I’m an elementary special education teacher and Behavior RTI Coach.
Did you always know you wanted to become a teacher? Briefly describe your road to this career.
I didn’t know I wanted to become a teacher until my late twenties when I became a mother. The scope of the importance of education and its impact hit me then when I had my own little one and I got really excited about the potential to not only directly be involved in my child’s education but those in my community.
How did you become interested in special education in particular?
When I was researching different tracks to becoming a teacher, I found UH’s MEdT program with double licensure. It felt like all the stars aligned. I could combine my passions for social justice, community, and education all in one career track. I wanted to make the students who school was the hardest for, feel good about themselves. I wanted to be their advocate and make them smile while also holding them to the high standards they deserve.
Why did you choose to pursue the MEdT Dual Secondary & Special Education program?
It was important for me to pursue a program that was rooted in Hawai’i’s education system because living and teaching in Hawai’i is unlike anywhere else in the world. When I found out the program would be eligible for stipends and I could commute from an outer island, it was an easy choice!
How were you able to manage being in the program and working full time as a teacher?
It was really challenging! I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family and friends for childcare and support. To manage the work load (of being a first year teacher and a full time student) I made sure to prioritize and actively schedule my own self care and not compromise on the things I love that fill my cup. I also had very supportive administration to help make it all possible – they understood that encouraging me to be successful in the program was an investment in our school.
How had the MUSE mentor and program supported you as an emergency hire?
My MUSE mentor was amazing! She came with years and years of experience so any question I had about special education she had so many resources and practical suggestions for me. She was also such a strong emotional support system for me. Anytime I needed to vent, Joy had a listening and sympathetic ear for me and honestly that is priceless. She made me feel like a had a special support system just for me – and I needed it! I graduated in 2019 and Joy is still available for help whenever I need her.
Do you recommend taking the emergency hire route to others thinking about the program?
It is doable – it is also very, very hard and stressful. For many people, becoming an emergency hire is the only way they can afford to house and feed their families. Emergency hires in 2017, were paid $38,000 a year. That salary in Hawai’i is a poverty wage. For those taking the traditional route, I think it’s socially irresponsible to expect students to go into outrageous debt and work for free during the program, especially since they already have a bachelor’s degree. There needs to be major reform around salary, housing, and expectations of teachers in Hawai’i.
What was the best part of the program for you?
The best part of the program for me was building such strong relationships and support in my cohort. I loved the opportunities for collaborations with my truly inspiring classmates.
What advice or recommendations would you give to someone who is interested in this program?
My first advice would be to “Do it!”. My second piece of advice would be – it’s going to be challenging – and you’re going to have to dig deep – but it’s so worth it. I feel like having been through a teaching program at a master’s level so well prepared me for my career.
In what ways do you hope to make a difference in the field of education?
I hope to make a difference in education by continuing to spread equity and wellness to all our students. At my school I have been working on curriculum reform to make sure we have place-based studies that are reflective of our population. I am also passionate about training and coaching teachers on wellness-based discipline. We are in our premier year at my school of having a Behavior RTI program and it’s been lovely watching both the staff and students respond so positively to these changes of perception and action.
How did the people and the program in the COE helping you along your way to becoming a teacher?
Huge shout out to Joy Kawachika, my mentor throughout the program! Her mentorship included being my cheerleader, advocate, resource center, and shoulder to lean on and it was so great to have that support from someone outside of my course expectations. I also am eternally grateful to my professors, for their patience, guidance, brilliance, and care they put into being our teachers!
What are your future plans?
I’ve just applied to UH’s Education Doctorate in Professional Practice – wish me luck! For my short term goals, I am excited to continue developing my school’s Wellness program and helping our school operate as a true PBIS school.