The open house was winding down and I had heard enough from the fifth grade teachers of my eldest daughter. It was September 1997 and it was time to head on home. But first I thought I’d walk down the hallway to check in on Mrs. Tottori. After all, she was still teaching in the very same classroom where I had last seen her in May, 1967. I thought it’d be a “I know you don’t remember me but you were my fifth grade teacher” kind of moment. Boy, was I in for a surprise.
No sooner had I walked into the near empty room when I heard, “Lynne Gartley!” Not only did Mrs. Tottori remember me thirty years later but she remembered where I had been living in 5th grade, the names of my parents, and that my dog was a great dane. Talk about being floored. Even the best politician would be hard pressed to beat that iron mind!
I later told my mother about the experience. After all, she’d taught in the public schools for more than thirty years, albeit in seventh grade, and had her share of students pass through her doors. What did she think? She said to me that “there are always students who make an impression on you every year. You must have been one of them.”
It was no surprise, then, that I was so pleased to find this gem in the Punahou Archives from the Aloha Ceremony program, Thurston Memorial Chapel, May 14, 1998.
Jane began her teaching career with the DOE. It was not long before she became a bit disillusioned with the attitudes of her fellow teachers and some administrators and so, on January 2, 1963 she called Punahou for an application. During the call she was told that she would have to come in for an interview before she could get an application. The gentleman on the phone asked Jane if she could be there in 10 minutes for an interview since his time was limited because he had a tennis match. At the time Jane didn’t know she was speaking to John Fox, then Punahou President. She made the interview in twenty minutes and, fortunately, John had the good sense to hire Jane. The next fall she began teaching 5th grade under the 5th and 6th Grade Supervisor Mrs. Olive Gow.
Jane arrived in a time when Punahou was not known for its ethnic diversity among faculty. Duane Yee and Harold Lee were already teaching at Punahou but there were few other teachers of Asian ancestry and no women, at the time, among them. Little did anyone know how successful she would be over the next 35 years.
Colleagues recognize Jane as a master teacher–a teacher’s teacher. It takes Jane little time to learn the strengths and weaknesses of students and to begin to move them along as scholars and as individuals. She expects and receives a great deal from the children, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. The students respond and work hard. Former students, now adults, remember their time with “Mrs. Tottori” for the guidance she gave in class. They remember the seemingly endless supply of stories that Jane uses to enrich the children’s experience. Whether the subject is math, science, social studies or something else, Jane is able to add her very own personal story to bring the topic to life. It is an unusual gift that few possess. How many great stories do you know about math?
In every institution there are individuals who, through their example and their expertise become teachers of teachers, not only of children. They don’t hold workshops and they don’t lead encounter groups. They share knowledge through daily conversations about how to deal with that one kid who is making you crazy, now-today-next period. They share ideas about how to rescue the lesson you just gave which left your children with “deer in the headlights” expressions on their faces. And they help get you ready for the first parent night or that first parent conference where the parent needs more help than the child. This is Jane. She has helped “raise” many a teacher and several supervisors. Like the children, they remember her help and guidance and are grateful.
We can be assured that retirement will not leave Jane idle. She will be studying to brush up her Japanese as well as resuming lessons in Chinese brush painting. There will also be some travel in her future.
Note: All of the photos are from Mrs. Tottori’s page in the 1967 Na Opio o Punahou.