“Teacher, You Look Like a Horse!” by Frances H. Kakugawa

Teacher You Look Like a Horse

“My decision to become a teacher was based on the only other alternative I thought was available at the time – becoming a prostitute. Perhaps I’d better explain.”

With these words, in the first chapter titled “Red Nail Polish,” I was drawn into the life and words of elementary school teacher and poet Frances H. Kakugawa. They told me so much about her: that she has a sense of humor, a touch of rebellion, a desire for glamour, and a determination to make choices in her life.

In her book, “Teacher, You Look Like a Horse!: Lessons From the Classroom” (2003), Kakugawa goes on to explain that she grew up in the remote, impoverished Kapoho on the Big Island, where only prostitutes wore red nail polish. In high school, she met the typing teacher, whose nails were painted red, yet who was respected, and watched the parade of teachers walk to the office each morning. “I knew then that I, too, would someday become one of them.”

Despite these humorous observations, Kakugawa’s lifelong teaching started with her love of children and is strengthened by her love of words. She shares her experiences and insights about teaching in Hawaii and Michigan elementary schools, as well as the children and their writings that taught her to be a better teacher.

She reveals that “A person who explores herself with turn her class room into one of exploration of new ventures and a safe place for learning” (page 4). Some of the memorable lessons for teachers (and parents): * Good teachers enjoy children. * Good teachers ask “How do students learn?” * Good teachers are honest with older students, acknowledging that sometimes students will not be treated equally (because of special needs or family situations). * Good teachers trust children to make decisions about their education.

She cautions that a good lesson plan doesn’t guarantee learning – “Rather, it is the involved and interested interaction between our students and the lesson plans that makes for good learning, with the students taking lead” (page 10).

Kakugawa was not afraid to acknowledge that sometimes teachers cannot treat every student the same. On the first day of school, she would tell her sixth grade students: “As your teacher, I have information about each of you which the rest of you don’t know about. Because of this information, there will be times when I will not be able to treat you equally and I will sometimes appear to have a teacher’s pet. I won’t be able to be fair all the time” (page 23).

Throughout the book she reveals her love for children, reading, and words. For Kakugawa, poetry is like using words to help blind people see. It lets students explore feelings rather than ignoring them, and teachers should encourage them to write from their own experiences and feelings.  Journals can create strong relationships between a teacher and students, if they write honestly and the teacher can offer privacy when the students need it.

Kakugawa used journal writing to foster two kinds of relationships with her students: group relationships, in which she saw the students as a whole and developed mutual group respect; and individual relationships, in which she fostered personal, interactions and a respect for their privacy.

Her writing is informal, sprinkled with short poems and journal conversations with students that tell us so much about her: that she loves children, that she is hopeful and generous, that she approaches teaching with honesty and fun, that she is open to the things that children can teach us. It was gratifying to read the words of students Kakugawa has inspired and kept in touch with over the years. And I loved Arthur T. Bear, who sat in the Author’s Chair in Kakugawa’s classroom, and inspired notes, stories, and poems, and even the Bearshop Estate condominium.

Kakugawa reminds us all to notice the many magical, golden moments that happen between teacher and students (or parents and children), which might otherwise be ignored. “My wish for you is that you not only enjoy reading about these children but, best of all, come to the realization that if you will let it happen, ‘by the children you’ll be taught.’” You can find out more about Frances H. Kakugawa and read her blog at http://francesk.org.

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6 Comments on ““Teacher, You Look Like a Horse!” by Frances H. Kakugawa”

  1. Dawn | Watermark Publishing Says:

    Aloha Rachelle! Thank you for reading and reviewing Frances’ book! And also for your reviews of other Watermark Publishing titles. We appreciate your love for local books! I would like to add you to our press release list to be notified when we release new titles. Would you email me with your contact info? Mahalo! Dawn for Watermark Publishing

    • Hi Dawn, I try to alternate between “Hawaii” and “general” books every month, depending on what I feel like reading. I’ll send you my email address, and I look forward to receiving new book release notices. Thanks for checking out “Better Hawaii.” aloha, Rachelle

  2. Thank you for this beautiful and very generous review. Even if I look like a horse as one Kindergartener said, did I have fun in the classroom. fyi, this book is being translated into Chinese, soon to be out. I wonder what the Chinese word for Horse is?

    • Ms. Kakugawa, I’m pleased and humbled that you read my review. I enjoyed your poetry and reading about your students and classroom experiences. aloha, Rachelle – PS I believe “ma” is horse in Chinese, with an inflection I’m not sure how to say.

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