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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, October 18, 2002

Language arts teacher best in Hawai'i

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Roberta Zarbaugh, left, of Kapa'a Middle School on Kaua'i, yesterday was named teacher of the year.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

A Kaua'i teacher with a passion for poetry and a love for students in their most tumultuous period of adolescence was named the State Teacher of the Year yesterday.

With lei piled to her ears, Roberta Zarbaugh, a seventh- and eighth-grade language arts teacher at Kapa'a Middle School, accepted the award, a standing ovation from her peers and the attention of Colata Loganimoce, a junior at Brigham Young University-Hawai'i who performed a Fijian warrior and celebration dance at the Board of Education meeting to honor her.

"Wow," she mouthed to other teachers in the front row as all eyes were on her. "Being that we are sometimes removed from the resources available in Honolulu, this is an honor for my island."

Herbert Watanabe, chairman of the Board of Education, called Zarbaugh a highly respected teacher with enthusiasm for language and a gift for communication.

Superintendent Pat Hamamoto noted that Zarbaugh begins each morning by reciting to herself: "Listen to and value your own voice. You are the teacher."

Zarbaugh said it's the same message she tries to pass along to her students. "They accuse me of being crazy," she said. "I say, 'I have to be crazy to be here with you.'"

She chose to teach middle-school students because she remembers it as the most difficult time in her childhood and a period where she was always trying to push the boundaries set by her parents and teachers.

"I think I can still make a difference," she said. "I think they're still pliable and they need positive role models."

She invites authors to speak in her classroom, uses the biggest vocabulary possible to challenge her students and pushes them to enter their work in poetry competitions and literary anthologies. Her favorite teaching memory is when a student with a discipline problem and from a broken home, whose mother was fresh out of prison, entered — and placed third — in a statewide haiku contest.

"I emphasize that you write to be read," she said. "It showed him there's another avenue."

Zarbaugh graduated from the University of Hawai'i in 1975, but didn't enter teaching for nearly 20 years. When education jobs proved hard to find after graduation, she went to work as a flight attendant for Aloha Airlines for 10 years. She later owned a small business on Kaua'i for seven years, waiting until her youngest son was in high school to make the switch to teaching — her original career path.

"I think an education degree prepares you for all kinds of experience," Zarbaugh said.

She joined the faculty at Kaua'i High in 1992 and moved to Kapa'a Middle in 1997.

Yesterday, Zarbaugh received the keys to a new Volkswagen Jetta and a $1,000 check from the Polynesian Cultural Center. She will become Hawai'i's representative in the national teacher of the year competition.

Other district teachers of the year, who also were honored yesterday at the Board of Education meeting, are:

• Gail Teshima for the Honolulu district. She is a fine-arts teacher at Farrington High and has 31 years of teaching experience.

• Susan Miyashita for the Hawai'i district. She is a first-grade teacher at Konawaena Elementary and has taught for 28 years.

• Jamie Kahalewai for the Central district. Kahalewai is a food-service teacher at Radford High with four years of teaching experience.

• Marlene Bourke-Faustina for the Leeward district. Bourke-Faustina is a music and chorus teacher at Wai'anae Intermediate and has taught for 31 years.

• Margaret Almony for the Windward district. She is a third-grade teacher at 'Ahuimanu Elementary and has 20 years of teaching experience.

There is no district teacher of the year for Maui this year. That district had wanted two Moloka'i teachers to share the honor, but it was not allowed under the DOE's rules and those for the national teacher competition.

All district teachers of the year will receive a free, one-year lease of a new car. The cars were donated by Hawai'i Volkswagen Dealers Association, Nissan of Hawai'i and its Nissan dealers, TheoDavies Big Island Honda, Servco Toyota, Subaru of Hawai'i and its Subaru dealers and Hawai'i Mitsubishi.

Each teacher also receives a $500 award from the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.