After writing a problem on the board, WCC math professor Clayton Akatsuka turns and asks his students, “What’s the ‘f” word?” A few students’ eyes brighten. They know the answer to this one.
Quickly, Akatsuka realizes what’s about to happen and says, “No! It’s F.O.I.L.!” — a trick for remembering how to multiply two binomials.
Many students call Akatsuka’s wit irrepressible and admire his ability to keep his classes entertained and focused. He’s known for making jokes and sound effects like “zap, zap” while solving problems on the board.
Akatsuka may seem like a jokester, but he is also dedicated to helping the students in his classes. Most students agree that if you fail his class, it was all your own doing.
Math didn’t always come so easily for Akatsuka. During middle school, he hit a small block with positive and negative numbers, which dampened his enthusiasm.
Then his 10th grade geometry teacher came along. Through the man’s exciting approach to the subject, Clayton began to truly find joy in the subject.
In high school, when he was supposed to be practicing the trumpet, he started to tutor other students in geometry. He found out that he had a knack for explaining math to other students.
The thought of being a teacher crossed his mind. “I thought, yeah, I’d like to do that,” said Akatsuka.
After receiving his B.Ed. and Professional Teaching Diploma from UH Manoa, he taught a summer class at his alma mater, McKinley. He then taught one year at Kailua High, followed by 14 years at Mid-Pacific Institute.
What kind of teacher did he want to become? To create his own “method” of teaching, Akatsuka began to observe teachers around him. “I hoped to gain something to incorporate or something that I didn’t like and not do it,” he explained.
“I wanted to be professional, and I wanted to be kind of crazy,” said Akatsuka. He has missed only two days of work while here at WCC and always comes prepared.
“I expect the same from my students,” he emphasized. Being on time and attentive in class is very important to Akatsuka. “Be the best you can be.”
To make math easier to learn, Akatsuka believes in making the environment non-stressful and throwing some fun in the mix.
“Teaching is like being on a stage; you are performing. It’s not just a job. Do the best you can,” said Akatsuka. But doing this day after day and year after year can leave one a bit tired.
“By the time I go home I am dead tired,” he added.
He believes that the best way to overcome math anxiety is by breaking down problems and methods. “I try to have them be successful. It builds confidence and motivation,” said Akatsuka. “The hope is that the student will come to find math both doable and enjoyable.”
Akatsuka’s career at WCC began when he was asked by professor Jean Okumura to teach a summer class. Soon after, he was hired on as a lecturer, and 25 years later he is still here.
When he’s not in the classroom, Akatsuka has applied his ability to lead and teach in different ways.
Growing up, Akatsuka had always wanted a dog, but due to a family members’ allergies the wish had never been granted. Finally, things changed and his long hoped-for dream finally came true. He got a pup.
It was a rather wayward cocker spaniel named Nicole’s Lady Biju. Akatsuka explained that the first part of the dogs name is the “kennel name” identifying the breeder, the rest of the name is unique to that dog.
One Thanksgiving, the mischievous pup decided to help herself to the turkey, and Akatsuka was given a choice: You and the dog out, or get the dog trained.
He chose the latter and took his dog to obedience classes. “And you know, that dog proved to be rather smart,” he added. She went on to earn both the C.D. and C.D.X. degrees – which are the BA and MA of the dog obedience world.
This started Akatsuka on a 20-year adventure of breeding, training, grooming and handing top show dogs and winning in specialty and all-breed confirmation shows. Many number one champions and top-winning cocker spaniels came from Claywood kennels (bred by Akatsuka).
This chapter of his story came to an end when Akatsuka decided to leave the show dog world to spend more time with his two sons. He became a Cub Scout den leader and then a Boy Scout assistant scoutmaster for nine boys, all of whom became Eagle Scouts.
As for his life at WCC, some wonder how someone can teach the same unchangeable subject of math for so long? Akatsuka smiles and says, “People ask how I can still teach it. But it’s not the math, it’s the teaching aspect — the challenge of working with students and getting them to enjoy math.”
by Tiffany Hayler, Ka ‘Ohana Co-Editor