A Passion for Teaching: Mrs. Shirley Neumann
For Mrs. Shirley Neumann, K3 teacher at Hanalani Schools, teaching isn’t just a professional career – it’s a lifelong passion. She’s been at Hanalani Schools for nearly 21 years and truly loves what she does. “You see so much growth in the K3 students from the first day of school to the last day,” says Neumann. “The kids are so full of joy and excitement, eager to learn and it’s just a lot of fun to be with them.”
For Neumann, the Hanalani Schools experience has extended to her family. Her husband Wolfgang is a maintenance groundskeeper and her son Jonathan works in IT – he attended Hanalani Schools from K3 through graduation. “Hanalani has allowed for our family to be closer,” says Neumann.
She’s been a teacher long enough (28 years, specifically!) to see how Hawaii’s early childhood education system has changed throughout the years. At Hanalani Schools, she’s seen a shift from a structured focus on academics to more project-based learning. “We now teach important academic core knowledge in combination with hands-on learning,” says Neumann. The incorporation of new technology has also made learning more applicable for kids. By using tools like iPads, TV screens and laptops, Neumann is able to enhance the way she explains certain concepts. “For example, when we’re introducing them to the concept of a farm, we can take them on a fieldtrip and they see a farm, but on Oahu they’re still not able to see a farmer milking a cow. I can show them a video of that,” says Neumann. “And, when we talk about the concept of winter on the mainland - I can show them what a snowball fight looks like. Then we can use paper balls to reenact a snowball fight in the classroom!”
Inspired by her sixth-grade teacher Ms. Shidel in Guam, she hopes to be a fun, enjoyable teacher to K3 students at Hanalani Schools. “I remember how Ms. Shidel took an interest in each one of us and spent time talking and getting to know us. Whatever troubles were happening in our lives, she knew about it. In the same way, I wanted to be able to make a difference in students’ lives and share the joy of learning with them,” says Neumann.
Her fondest memory at Hanalani Schools is when students’ parents helped her out during the last day of school. The students brought her a lounge chair with an umbrella, a cooler bag full of snacks and drinks (even a plastic champagne glass!). “They pampered me the whole morning. Then they surprised me with a memory scrapbook, which made me cry because it was so touching!” says Neumann. But it’s the everyday moments that make her career rewarding, she says. “When you see that ‘Aha!’ moment when their eyes light up and they’ve grasped a concept. It’s the joy you see in their face. That’s what’s most rewarding for me as a teacher,” says Neumann.
Her hope is that her students will continue their enthusiasm for learning and that she’s helped them prepare for the next grade level. “When they first come to class, a lot of them are afraid to try new things. At the end my class I want them to be confident, ready to face challenges and prepare for life itself,” says Neumann.