HONOLULU (AP) – Roberta Zarbaugh, a language arts teacher at Kapa’a Middle School known for her exuberance and drive, was named Hawaii’s State Teacher of the Year for 2003 on Thursday.
“As far as she’s concerned, there’s no stupid child,” said her husband, Kent Zarbaugh, who flew over from Kaua’i with her for the ceremony at Stevenson Intermediate School. “Every one is smart in their own way – and she tends to bring it out of them.”
Zarbaugh was chosen from among six district teachers of the year from around the state, all of whom were honored during the ceremony at the Board of Education’s meeting. Schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto told the crowd that her students say she “makes the words jump off the page.”
“I’m very honored to accept this award on behalf of all our teachers,” said Zarbaugh, who was moved to tears even before her name was announced as the winner. “You know how hard we work.”
The charismatic teacher now goes on to compete with her counterparts from across the country to become National Teacher of the Year, in the oldest and most prestigious awards program for educators. The winner of that competition takes a year off from the classroom to serve as a national advocate for the teaching profession.
Zarbaugh always planned to be a teacher, but jobs were scarce when she received her education degree from the University of Hawai’i in 1975, and she wound up working as a flight attendant for 10 years. She then owned a retail shop on Kaua’i while raising her two sons before starting to teach in 1992. She went on to earn her master’s in education from UH in 1996.
She settled on middle school as the place she felt she could make the most difference for students, remembering it as a time when she had tested boundaries, back at Sacred Hearts Academy in Honolulu.
“The students are still pliable and they need positive role models,” Zarbaugh said. “They need someone who doesn’t get shocked easily.”
Her oldest son, Kalan, 21, said she expects a lot of her students – as well as her kids – and she usually gets it.
Each district winner received $500 each, and Zarbaugh will receive an additional $1,000 from the Polynesian Cultural Center, the local program’s corporate sponsor. The district teachers of the year also win free use of a brand-new car for a year, courtesy of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association.