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If you ask anyone what makes Lisa Tsukamoto a great teacher, the words that constantly come up are “patient,” “positive” and “kind.”
Take a peek inside her kindergarten class at Rosa Parks Elementary School, and it’s easy to see why. When visitors enter the room, Ms. Tsukamoto and her students excitedly and respectfully greet them in both English and Japanese (Ms. Tsukamoto teaches through the school’s Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program). She frequently encourages children during daily activities by complimenting their work, even if a student might be hesitant about the task assigned that day.
On one of those days, Ms. Tsukamoto asked her students to handle and identify various types of worms, including nightcrawlers and red worms. Throughout the activity she called her students scientists (“Scientist Matthew,” “Scientist Kelly” and so forth).
One boy said he wasn’t a fan of the experience.
“Bad,” he succinctly put it.
“Why was it bad?” Ms. Tsukamoto asked.
“Because I don’t like worms,” he said.
“Thank you for participating anyway,” Ms. Tsukamoto said graciously.
“They move around, and I don’t know what they want,” another student chimed in. Another commented that he loved seeing the worms because “they looked like they were dancing.”
“Thank you, scientists, for sharing your observations,” Ms. Tsukamoto said. “I heard all kinds of wonderful observations. Thank you for listening so attentively.”
Volunteer Katherine Coleman, who has dedicated time in Ms. Tsukamoto’s class through the San Francisco Education Fund for the past seven years, has seen first-hand the way students respond to Ms. Tsukamoto.
“She comes up with wonderful ideas for the kids, and they love her,” Coleman said.
In one example, Ms. Tsukamoto asked her students to compare English, Japanese and Mexican versions of the classic story “Cinderella” and look for common story elements. “Even as kindergartners they are really big picture thinkers,” Ms. Tsukamoto said.
Perhaps it is the way that she treats each student with kindness and respect that helped earn her a Mayor’s Teacher of the Year Award last year after being nominated by the school community. Principal Paul Jacobsen echoes the sentiment.
“Her students genuinely love her,” Principal Jacobsen said. “They look forward to spending time with her because they know they will feel happy and have fun.”
Students who aren’t even in her classroom love to say “hello” to her each day. “She extends a warm welcome to everyone she sees on campus,” Principal Jacobsen said.
Ms. Tsukamoto said she was inspired to teach after witnessing her mother’s positive impact as a teacher and District administrator. She’s also in a unique position to teach the Japanese program at Rosa Parks, having graduated from the program herself back when she was in school. “It had a huge impact on me growing up, so I thought if I could share the incredible experiences I had in JBBP with the present generation, that would be a dream come true for me,” she said.
Principal Jacobsen emphasizes Ms. Tsukamoto’s talent for modeling equity and inclusion at the school. “She stands up for what is right,” he said.
“I love to teach about social justice, civil rights, Japanese-American internment so that even at the kindergarten level they understand that sometimes people make bad decisions,” Ms. Tsukamoto said.
Ms. Tsukamoto said it can be tough to not always have the resources and the time to teach children everything that she’d like to, but she added that she feels “really lucky” to be at Rosa Parks, where families and staff put so much of themselves into ensuring children receive a great education. “I work with incredible teachers and staff at Rosa Parks,” she said.
“The kids are amazing, and I love coming to school every day to be with them and to teach them,” Ms. Tsukamoto said. “They are really wonderful, sweet, passionate and fun.”
If you love this story, share with your friends on social media and spread the word about the amazing work teachers like Ms. Tsukamoto do in our schools. Want to learn more about how you can thank a teacher in San Francisco? Visit thankateachertoday.org.