Powerful. Empowering. Passionate. Inspiring. Those are just a few of the words WCC students and colleagues shared on the spur of the moment to describe departing English teacher Janine Oshiro.
“Janine is one of those women who are quiet and ‘loud’ at the same time,” wrote former student and Poets’ Society leader Ashley Shankles.
“She has not only inspired what I want to do as a career, but who I want to be as a ‘grown up.’. . . She has taught me in equal proportion about poetry and myself.”
Another devoted student, Kainoa Makua, said Oshiro “gave me hope for teachers.”
Makua described a classroom atmosphere that encouraged students to open their minds and hearts to each other and new ideas.
“She empowered us as students and really made us think,” Makua recalled. “She created this safe, open environment where you could speak your mind and not feel judged. We need more classes like that.”
After seven years at Windward, Oshiro has decided to challenge herself in new ways.
“One thing I tell my students is to take risks — do something that makes you a little afraid. I’m following my own advice,” she explained.
“I love teaching here and I love my colleagues. But I need more time to write to feel fulfilled. In an ideal world, I could do both. But I decided that the security (of tenure, insurance coverage, etc.) was not the most important thing in life for me.”
Oshiro will indeed be missed, say many on campus who know her through her projects, such as the “Out Loud in the Library” series of public readings and the Poets’ Society as well as a faculty leader in developmental education and curriculum reform.
But she would be the last person to tout her own achievements, though they are many. From winning the prestigious 2012 Elliot Cades Award for Literature in Hawai‘i to being honored in New York for her first book of poetry, “Pier,” she is a writer to be reckoned with — locally and nationally.
She said although she loves teaching and helping students find their “voice” through language, she wants to take some time to “clear my head before taking the next step.”
To do that, she and her husband, retired drama teacher Ben Moffat, are embarking on a 500-mile “pilgrimage” walk, the Camino de Santiago, which starts in France and continues through Spain.
“Some people take the walk for spiritual guidance. I see it as a kind of walking meditation,” she said.
But she leaves in her wake many who have felt her personal power in and out of the classroom.
“Janine is a practitioner of transformative teaching and is herself transformed in the classroom,” said faculty member Jenny Webster.
“She demonstrates to her students the meaning that writing can have in their lives, and she shows them, as one student put it, ‘how real circumstances inspire beautiful works of written art.”
Another language arts colleague, Desi Poteet, added, “WCC has been all the richer for her presence on campus. Whether she’s guiding students or coordinating activities, she brings her passion for life and her compassion for others to the creative spaces she builds.
“Janine remains steadfastly student-focused and dares to ask the tough questions about the effectiveness of our programs. She’s constantly looking for ways to improve what we offer and to work with others to effect change,” she continued.
Change for some people can be anxiety-producing, but Oshiro sees only opportunities for improvement and growth — even for the college as a whole.
In the interview, she offered a few thoughts to ponder:
• On being wrong —“On an institutional level, do we value being wrong and making mistakes so we can continue to grow, experiment and learn?
• On changing the nature of college convocations —“I wish convocation could be different so we could engage in authentic communication. What would happen if we “flipped” convocation? Announcements could be handled via email so we could experience actively learning and reflecting with each other.”
• On relieving fears in and out of the classroom —“The Philosophy for Children” classroom model encourages honest questions and discussion. When people are worried about expressing themselves or ‘looking good,’ the institution as a whole may suffer.”
Although she’s leaving the classroom behind for now, Oshiro said she still believes in its magic.
“It’s being in the same room together, where everyone has something to offer. There’s nowhere to hide. We’re giving each other our attention and learning from each other. That is the magic of teaching.”
by Libby Young, Ka ‘Ohana Advisor