Talk Story with Bonnie Kakinami

LIHUE — Although Bonnie Kakinami retired last May after 24 years of teaching at Kalaheo Elementary School, she holds her former pupils close to her heart.

“I miss the students,” Kakinami said. “I enjoyed spending time with them.”

Kakinami also taught for three years at Kapaa Elementary School after her son started school in 1987.

Kakinami grew up on Alameda Island in San Francisco Bay.

“It’s a lot like Kauai in that you cannot readily get the things that you want but a great place to grow up because it’s fairly protected for kids,” Kakinami said. “It was great.”

She attended Foothill College, Alameda College, and earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Hawaii.

Then she moved to Kauai in 1980, and earned her master’s degree in professional development through Heritage College.

“I came over in my early 20s and just loved living in Hawaii as an adult,” she said.

How did you know you wanted to become a teacher?

I was in my late 20s and I started to take education classes and then realized that this is the way that I could use my interest in people, and especially children, and decided to teach.

What was the best part of being a teacher for you?

The best part of being a teacher for me was watching the light be turned on for a child and you could see it in their eyes; the moment the light started shining and as it got brighter, as they became more confident in the things that they were learning and that made all the days of hitting your head against the wall and trying to figure out how to teach differently so a child that learns differently would understand it. It made it all worthwhile.

What was your favorite moment of being with your students?

The favorite moment or time that I spent with them was reading to them. I taught next to a teacher that read to her students quite often and I noticed that I was listening to her stories and I would read to my students maybe once a day. And after listening to her stories and realizing how much I was enjoying them, I then would read to my students every time they came into class or at every opportunity that we had I would read to them and at the end of the year we would read chapter books and I would get copies so they could read along so that going into summer they were all very, very confident that they would be able to read through the summer.

What were some of the challenges you faced as a teacher?

Sometimes the challenges that not only I faced but other teachers faced were trying to get help for a student who desperately needed help and needed it quickly. Years ago there was a court decision … and if anyone were to identify a child that they believed needed extra help, anyone being a parent, a custodian, a cafeteria person, teacher or principal, they could ask for that child to get extra help and that child would then be screened to see what kind of help, if indeed they needed help, and what kind of help they might be able to get.

When I retired the challenge was having a child in class, and I taught first grade my whole career, so having a child in class who had been in school for possibly a year and a half who was frustrated beyond belief because they may have had a learning disability or need help in some other area and the child not having received the help that they needed because the system is so darn long now. And the steps that need to be taken in order to get help for a child are, I believe, can be very realistic, time consuming and I believe that we may be losing the child in the meantime and their enthusiasm for education.

What were your favorite subjects to teach?

I think reading was my favorite subject to teach because it can take us to so many wonderful places.

If you could go back in time and change anything about your teaching, would you?

I know that I was a strict teacher and sometimes that can be taken, especially by parents, as being unbending. But my students came out in the end learning and being happy with what they had learned and, I feel, being capable of learning the things they learned in first grade. So for me personally, I would have liked to have been a teacher that kind of giggled and laughed during the day a whole lot but although we laughed and we had fun, I wasn’t Mrs. Happy. And I taught next to Mrs. Happy and I would listen to her and I would try to have the same intonation in my voice and I would just crack myself up but the kids knew very well that they were valued and loved in the class.

What did teaching mean to you?

Teaching I think is a privilege. To go in as teacher, for parents to loan us their children, so to speak, throughout the day, to teach them. It’s such a privilege to turn on those lights and to see the joy and the confidence. It meant everything to see the joy and the confidence the child came away with and the tools that they had to better prepare themselves for life.

What has it been like for you since you retired?

Immediately upon retirement I started taking exercise classes, hula, tennis. I went back to tennis, having taken tennis years ago. Hula, which I had never taken before and it is only a fun hula. It is not with a halau. It’s a hula for fun and fitness. I continued with Pilates, started taking Zumba, took out my sewing machine, worked on my yard and then everything came to a screeching halt in February when I got a puppy … I had to stay home and start training a puppy and now in I’m back exercising.

Would you ever consider teaching again?

I do substitute teach now which is the best job because you do not have any of the paperwork. You don’t have to worry about the mandated testing, you don’t have to do a bunch of reports. So I get to go in and get the material that the teacher has put forth that she would like the students to be taught that day and you get to teach it and interact with the kids and none of the other things that most all teachers wish would go away, which is everything but the teachings. Actually, substitute teaching is getting to do what we were trained to do and getting to do it all day.

What do you hope for the children you’ve taught?

I hope that the children that I have taught knew, as far as for me personally, that I absolutely loved them unconditionally no matter what happened today. Tomorrow is a new day and for them to carry that in life. That no matter what is happening in their life that tomorrow is a new day and sometimes we may fall down on our path but if we fall on our face, that’s good because we’re falling forward. That they’re going to have many challenges and if they try hard and accept help that is offered to them that they will be able to do the things that they set out to do and that each and everyone of them is very, very capable of becoming the citizens that will be guiding my future.

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