Talk Story: Caroline Freudig

Caroline Freudig intended to be a substitute teacher on Kauai when she and her husband moved here from New York with their two young children in 2005. She didn’t plan to work full time because she wanted to make the transition for her kids as seamless as possible.

But Freudig’s passion for teaching keiki turned into a full-time career.

A graduate of Queens College in New York City, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, Freudig began to realize that she could impact students on a wider scale, not just in her classroom, but by mentoring other teachers.

Freudig never had a mentor to look up to and learn from when she started teaching. But now, serving as the Kauai Teacher Induction Program Coordinator, she oversees how teachers get prepared to take on the job of teaching Kauai’s youth.

Can you describe your job to our readers?

I’m a district resource teacher, so I work for the DOE for the Kauai Complex Area. And my official title is the Kauai Teacher Induction Program Coordinator. I coordinate the induction program for our entire district.

Can you describe that induction program?

About 2008-09, the state of Hawaii came out with research-based reasons to go with a statewide induction program for all of our teachers. What it is now is that every complex area has an induction program coordinator and our role is to get all of our new hires acclimated into the system.

First of all, if they’re brand new to teaching, so beginning teachers like some of our first- or second- year teachers, there’s a specific aspect to the program where we support them with instructional mentors.

And other teachers that are just coming in with lots of teaching experience, we still provide some type of support to get them inducted into the world of the DOE and into the world of teaching at their school and what it looks like here on Kauai.

How difficult can it be to get these teachers acclimated to working and living here on Kauai?

So specifically for Kauai with our induction program, four years ago we collaborated with Kamehameha Schools to ensure that our induction program is really embedding a cultural piece.

Whether teachers are born and raised here on Kauai or whether they’re just fresh off the boat from New York or something, we made sure that our induction program included some type of orientation in the summer to get them thinking about the Hawaiian ways of being, doing and teaching.

Building relationships with students and families and really getting to know a sense of place of where you are and where you are teaching, we really just focus our teachers on that.

It’s really important for them to know how important the culture is here on Kauai. Like we all know that Kekaha Elementary School is quite different from Hanalei School, right? They’re just two different cultures.

And also just because they’re teaching on Kauai doesn’t mean that they’re teaching students from Kauai.

How often do the mentors meet with these teachers?

The mentors meet with the beginning teachers once a week. So for example, when a new teacher gets assigned to an instructional mentor, that instructional mentor meets with them to provide them support with their instructional strategies and their teaching practices while continuing to build off relationships with students.

The purpose of having an instructional mentor for the brand new teachers is to really accelerate teaching practices, right from the beginning. College is one thing, and the reality of a classroom is way different.

Some of these teachers are coming in with bachelor’s degrees in business and things like that and they’ve never had any instructional strategies or anything like that. So the mentors support those beginning teachers with things that they might not experience in a classroom on a regular basis.

Why do you think it’s so important to help young or new teachers to the island assimilate themselves to living and working here on Kauai?

I think it’s twofold. So we’re talking about teachers with teaching experience who come to Kauai for the first time to teach and then teachers who have been born and raised here who are teaching for the very first time.

The reason why I do this — and I really do miss working with the kids, though — is that I really believe in the importance for them to understand the importance of building those types of relationships from the get-go and really getting to know the students and what their strengths are and what they can do.

Sometimes beginning teachers, they’re lost in the shuffle of everything else in the day-to-day business. And for teachers who don’t have these assigned mentors because they taught elsewhere before Kauai, they need support and help because they might have taught for 10 to 15 years, but it’s vastly different from teaching here. But it can be hard because we have teachers come and go. That’s just the way our teaching system is in the entire state.

In some schools, there’s a new fifth-grade teacher almost every year and the parents notice that, so they’re like “OK, who is it going to be this time?” and “Who is this person?” so it’s really important to us to advocate for our teachers to rebuild that community within their classroom and their parents so that the parents know that they’re here and they’re here now to listen to them and that they do care about their child.

And even if they do only stay for the year, so be it. At least they were there for a year caring for their kid. And we let them know that that’s just how our state recruits.

What would you consider the most rewarding part of your job?

I have to say, and I know I already said that I miss working with students, but I have to say that I love to see teachers, maybe a couple months after I’ve seen them the first time or even a year after, and I see them doing things that are impacting their students. My reward is seeing teachers touch the lives of hundreds of students.

I’ve only been in the position since 2012 and I’ve had teachers come back a couple years later thanking me for being a part of the induction process that really helped ground them right from the get-go. It’s a district effort, I’m not the only person that works with the program, including our Superintendent Bill Arakaki who has supported us and how important this is through his lens as well.

On the flip side, what would you consider the most difficult part of your job?

The most difficult part of the job is really balancing that support of all our teachers that come in that are newly hired with the hiccups that come along the way. When teachers don’t stay and you have that turnover, you know? That constant turnover. And it’s difficult to sustain relationships schoolwide because of the turnover. So each year, schools hire 10-15 teachers and they have to rebuild that school culture each year. So I’m trying to get teachers supported within our district and within our schools but if the school is constantly changing the teachers are constantly moving so that’s a little challenging.

You get some of the veteran teachers who have been there for a little while who get a little turned off and so they start saying things to the teachers like “Oh well, you’re probably not going to be here anyway after a year,” and things like that. But we don’t want to hear that, we really want to embrace them and welcome them. Like it’s not their fault that the person there the year before left.

So you used to work with students as a teacher before taking this position?

Yes, we first moved here in 2005 from New York City with my husband and two kids and I ended up getting a job at Wilcox Elementary School and I taught third grade there for years until I became a mentor-teacher for a student-teacher. I started taking some mentor training classes so through that, I became a mentor for the district, mentoring beginning teachers and so from there, I ended up getting appointed into my current position in 2012.

What made you want to become a teacher mentor?

I think it had to do with always wanting to do more for more kids. And when I was approached about this idea to mentor other teachers, I was like “This is awesome!” because I’m a very collaborative person the thought of working alongside another teacher was great. And then when that teacher came in I realized, “Wow. If I can really help this teacher and support this teacher in becoming their own teacher, they can impact more students.” It’s really just that line of thinking of always wanting to reach out for the kids and do more.

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