“Hawaiian Sunrise to Sunset” by Randall Ng

Hawaiian Sunrise to Sunset

The primary problem with the Hawaii school system is “the lack of discipline and motivation among students” (page 176), declares Hawaii educator and school counselor Randall Ng.

We see exactly what Ng means in his eye-opening book, “Hawaiian Sunrise to Sunset: A Middle School Counselor’s Diary of a Working Day” (2011). We witness all of Ng’s frustration, resignation, exertion, and optimism in the course of a typical day working as a middle school counselor in a low-income neighborhood in Hawaii, as he

– slaps down Saturday morning detention on three tardy boys;
– tells a woman that her daughter is pregnant and scared to tell her about it;
– arranges a student-parent-teacher conference for a disruptive student who is convinced that her teacher doesn’t like her;
– calls the police after two home visits – in one, a girl is arrested for truancy and terroristic threatening of a household member and in the other, a girl’s mom is arrested for assault;
– intervenes between a shouting match over a misunderstanding;
– takes 45 gifted-talented (GT) students to Waimano Homes to help them appreciate everything they have;
– resolves a potential fight between middle school gangs; and
– visits a beloved student who battles kidney failure.

Ng is honest, blunt, and apologetic about his methods – at times acting more like a concerned father than a calm counselor. His genuine care, tough love, and willingness to follow his instincts and step out of his office are inspiring and exhausting.

Sometimes kids need someone to lean on outside of the home, and they need a tough love approach, Ng reveals. He describes his students with affection and hope, even when he is impatient with them, to make us see beyond the labels of ‘trouble-maker’ or ‘gang member.’ He shows us their home life, and how the lack of discipline at home has affected them.

Over the course of his day, Ng reveals his irritation with bureaucrats who aren’t teachers, and teachers who lack relationship skills or who are unable to accommodate fast and slow learners.  We learn about his belief in home visits, his conviction that the schools need to accommodate parents who have to work, and his passion for doing whatever works to get through to his kids – whether it’s yelling at them or challenging them.

Teachers and counselors already have a lot of responsibilities, and Ng outlines five things that schools can do to make things better for students and teachers:

1. Create small classes of 20-25 students.
2. Return to homogeneous core classes. This is in direct opposition to the trend of heterogeneous classes.
3. Assign 1-2 aides to assist the primary teacher in the core math and language arts classes.
4. Focus on discipline in the classroom. I would add, teach parents to maintain discipline at home.
5. Integrate district resource teachers with the schools and classroom teachers.

As Ng challenges early in his book, What is the intent and purpose of a middle school? Besides facts and figures, what are we teaching students? Are we supporting them emotionally as well as academically?

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