Teacher’s belief helps instill confidence within students


Teacher’s belief helps instill confidence within students

By Michael Tsai

As a mentor to young public school teachers, Laura Fuku­moto could focus on the pedagogical practices she has researched, tested and refined for more than 40 years.

Instead, she starts with what she knows best: the power of belief.

“You have to believe that all children can learn,” says Fuku­moto, a math teacher at Alia­manu Elementary School. “And you have to believe this 100 percent.

“If you only believe that 99.9 percent of children can learn, then when you come to that one kid who (struggles), you can just say he’s the 0.1 percent,” she continues. “But if you believe that all children can learn, then the onus is on you, and you’ll keep trying to find ways to teach that child.”

Fukumoto sees her own life as a testament to the truth of her convictions.

The second of three children, Fuku­moto grew up in Palolo Evacuation Camp during World War II and later at the Kalihi Valley War Homes.

Fukumoto, who was conceived via a dalliance between her then-married mother and a U.S. soldier, still recalls the shame she felt watching her mother leave for her job at a local bar and the fear she and her siblings felt being left alone at night.

“We didn’t grow up with the right guidance,” Fuku­moto says simply.

Fukumoto says her siblings had great academic potential but were overtaken by their unstable environment. Her older sister was pregnant and married at age 18. Her younger brother spent a wayward life in juvenile detention and prison.

By her own admission, Fuku­moto was a poor student. Still, she showed potential. While she didn’t follow directions in algebra, she still arrived at the correct answers using methods of her own divination.

Fukumoto’s high school biology teacher, Mrs. Bravo, recognized Fuku­moto’s native intelligence and sent her home with an application for a University of Hawaii summer science program. Fuku­moto looked at the form, saw the blanks for father’s name and mother’s occupation, and played hooky for the next three days.

She never filled out the form, yet the knowledge that Mrs. Bravo believed in her was transformational.

It would take years for Fuku­moto to shed the shame and apprehension that shaded her early schooling. She would go on to graduate from the University of Hawaii, working at the cannery to pay for tuition, and learn the art of teaching from valued mentors like Lilian Sode­tani and others.

In giving back to the profession, Fuku­moto has mentored scores of young teachers for national certification and educated many others in Singapore Math and other educational approaches. Last year Fuku­moto was recognized with the Presidential Award in Excellence in Math Teaching.

“I try to create an environment where kids can believe in themselves and know that their teachers and parents believe in them, too,” Fuku­moto says. “When they are happy and have a respect for themselves and each other, the academics come naturally.”

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