By Mene Tauaa
Have you ever taught an evening class and when a church bell rang, students stopped their work, asked the teacher to be excused so they can go to church, and came back after an hour to repeat their work? What about asking to move a class to another day because on Friday, there was a women church service in the island that the ladies in the class have to attend? These are a few examples of the effects I had experienced through my journey with the Manu’a teachers as they pursue their degrees with the University of Hawaii Territorial Teacher Training and Assistance Program in American Samoa.
In 2015, I began my historical journey in Manu’a as a cohort coordinator for the first ever cohort in the American Samoa Department of Education and the UHTTTAP to be delivered and implemented in the islands of Ta’u and Ofu. In the past, student teachers from Manu’a had to leave their homes to be trained in Tutuila for two and a half years. Now, student teachers stay in Manu’a while UHTTTAP delivers the program through distance learning and on-site visitations.
Twenty teachers began their journey with me for two years. Now, seventeen teachers remain in the course. One passed away and two withdrew because of medical conditions. This journey was met with excitement, challenges, and success.
A journey of 2,200 miles of traveling between Tutuila and the Manu’a Islands began with small steps in preparing the classroom for students, writing and delivering lesson plans, conducting field observations, taking courses in the evening, completing assignments and projects, and balancing time between work, school, family, church, village, and ourselves. It was a big undertaking that required commitment, passion, determination, motivation, patience, and sacrifice. There were times that students were overwhelmed and wanted to quit because the requirements and expectations were beyond their reach. However, because of the strong support and encouragement of their families, church, and village, they were able to face these challenges.
Many times when I arrived in Fitiuta or Ofu, I would be greeted with news of gas shortages or internet problems. I started to worry about traveling from where I stayed to the schools or how I would bring everyone together for the evening classes. However, I had an available seat on a school bus and often carpooled with villagers to their places of work. Government offices, family homes, or motel were opened for evening classes to remedy the slow or poor wifi connections at the schools. These experiences, though difficult, did not hinder our journey to achieve our goals for the program.
One thing I cherished from this journey is the warm and inviting hospitality of the people. Home was not far away because I was always in the comfort of Principal, Faanoi Mose and her son Peter’s home in Fitiuta and Horizon or Asaga Inn in Olosega. The lavish meals served daily satisfied the hunger after a long day of conducting observations, meeting with teachers, and teaching evening classes. The only problem is that I do not eat seafood.
In March, the student teachers successfully implemented their unit plans entitled, “Hope” for their student teaching experience. It was inspired by Michelle Obama’s last speech in the White House to recognize the school counselors of the year. It was a unit that spoke of their journey as students, as members of their families and community. It represented a dream by ASDOE, UHTTTAP, Manu’a graduates, their families, church, community, and themselves. It was hope that carried them through their difficult journey. Through limitations that were placed on them, there was always a belief that something good will come out of it. It was hope that offered a guarantee that through their experiences, everyone around them will be inspired. It was an inspirational unit because they and their students were affected by the stories of prominent figures such as Razia, Ruby Bridges, Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, and Dr. Martin Luther King.
I am pleased to be part of this journey because of the people I met. They positively influenced me in their unique characteristics and talents. The shared accounts of their desires empowered me to work well with them. The student teachers were challenged and they accepted it with courage and perseverance. Moreover, they could not have done it without the help of their families, church, and community. I am confident that with the education and training they received from this program, the future of Manu’a is in great hands. I hope they continue to stay in Manu’a and teach there because the islands depend on them to give their children the best education they can ever receive.
I thank Manu’a for this wonderful journey. I am not from Manu’a or my parents but the experience left memorable lessons to cherish in life. It is an experience that if asked to do it again, I will.