Becoming an educator was not initially in the cards for Kindergarten faculty Galen Arakawa ’09. In fact, after graduating from Punahou he went off to play football and study business at the University of Puget Sound. But one circumstance led to another, and Arakawa eventually found himself scrapping his original game plan in favor of teaching. In this edition of the Punahou Bulletin, the ‘Aiea native talks with us about his path from the football field to the playground, how his love of sports translates to his love of teaching, and a few things we all can learn from kindergartners.
Nine years ago you didn’t see yourself teaching, but here you are. What changed?
It was something I wasn’t expecting. I graduated with a degree in business and I had a fifth year of eligibility for football. I planned to apply for my master’s degree so I could play, but then I had a career-ending injury. Luckily, I had the opportunity to coach the team, and that’s how the whole teaching thing began.
I also remembered that as a Punahou student, I worked mornings and afternoons in Wilcox. I worked every summer as a teacher assistant. I actually loved playing with the younger students. Instead of pursuing a master’s in business, I decided to get my master’s in education.
Thankfully for us, you enjoy teaching. You also enjoy coaching. How do you blend the two?
I teach my kids that we’re a team. I want them to understand that everyone needs to look out for each other. No one gets left behind. No one should be by themselves. We are a community; we are a family. At the end of the year, the kids really care about each other and are kind to each other.
Are there any similarities between college football players and kindergartners?
Sometimes the college boys will act like kindergartners! But you just have to calm them down and talk it out.
Learning to communicate is important in being part of a team. Are there other strategies you use to create that environment?
Whenever students ask a question, I answer with a question. When they ask, “Can we go outside to play right now?” I say, “What do you think? What is everyone doing?” I also always give them choices. It is a good way to hold them accountable for their actions. For instance, you can play now and not do your writing, or you can do your writing when everyone else is playing.
Resilience and grit are an essential component in sports. How do you build those skills in your classroom?
I let them know that it is always OK to make mistakes. I tell them to keep going – don’t give up. Mistakes are learning experiences. I also give them small opportunities to build up their confidence. Little by little they can build up – and they can do anything.
Your kindergartners learn so much from you. Is there something you’ve learned from them?
I’ve learned just how much they love their teachers or the people in their lives. Sometimes a kid can make a bunch of mistakes and has to be corrected. Sometimes they even cry but, within five minutes, they forgive and forget.
What keeps you teaching now?
The kids’ attitudes and excitement. Kindergartners have the ability to make even a boring task into something fun. Their natural curiosity motivates them to learn. They are always willing to try. They love unconditionally. Every day is the best day EVER! I can do this for life.
By Karisse Hayashi ’93 Sakahara
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