The Heart of Teaching
Paraluman Stice-Durkin’s trajectory as a research scientist took a turn while pursuing an advanced degree at Stanford University. Her advisor suggested she go into teaching after watching her light up while interacting with students in the classroom, so the Castle High School graduate decided to change gears. Decked with a degree in geophysics and a math minor from UH Mānoa as well as a master’s from Stanford, she returned to Hawai‘i and applied to Punahou, where she has been teaching for over 30 years, with additional stints in Atlanta and Marin County.
In her chemistry and AP environmental science classes, she emphasizes hands-on learning and incorporates local environmental issues into the nationalized AP curriculum. In addition to teaching science, she prioritizes caring for students as an extension of being a strong role model for her own children, by embracing their individual paths to becoming who they want to be.
What are your passions in the classroom?
I started teaching under what was then the Mentoring at Punahou (MAP) program, and I had a great mentor, longtime Academy science teacher Gail Peiterson. She taught me a lot about science, but more importantly, she taught me the foundation of how to care for kids. She taught me what the heart of teaching is, that we’re here to help shepherd kids through this foundational time in their life. So, I never wanted to leave Punahou after that.
You’ve been a strong mentor for your students, you’re also a mother. How have your experiences with your own children influenced how you are in the classroom?
I have three children. Matias ’23, who’s heavily involved in JROTC at Punahou; Kainalu ’19, who is pursing acting in New York City; and Averi, who graduated from Mid-Pacific Institute in 2020 as a classically trained ballet dancer. Averi uses they/them pronouns.
With Averi sharing with us who they are as a trans youth, it definitely informs how I treat students. Yes, I’m a science teacher, but at the end of the day, my role is making sure that students can be their best selves. Every day I ask myself, what am I going to teach them, and how am I going to get them to feel like they can be themselves?
What advice would you give to people to help inspire more communication around topics people might be afraid to talk about?
There are lots of different ways we can lend support. We’ve always said to our own children, you can be whoever you want to be and whatever you want to be. We say that in a career-minded way, like, you can choose your career, but gender is part of identity. For me, I had to acknowledge, this is who my child is, and we can support that too. It’s taking what we as parents already know and want to do, and having the bravery to say, this is also part of that support that I provide. I love my kid. I want the best for my kid. The best for my kid is allowing them to be who they are, right?
When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?
Outside of the classroom, I have my fingers in many pies at Punahou. I’m the director of Summer School, a production assistant for the Carnival Variety Show, and regularly join students on beach cleanups and other community service work. On a personal note, I walked the last Honolulu Marathon and enjoy yoga, and going out sailing with my husband, Robert. My biggest hobby has been my children and prioritizing family.