Teaching flows through Teach For America corps member Taylor Hamilton’s blood. Read why it was imperative he continue the family business at home in Hawai'i.
May 7, 2015
Teaching flows through Taylor Hamilton’s blood.
“My grandma taught elementary school for 35 years and my mom for 12 years,” he says. “When I was growing up in Hawai'i, I would always be hanging out in their classrooms, helping them out in the summer with the heavy lifting and cleaning.
“I think most of all, after watching them lead others, I viewed them as role models, and that’s when I realized I wanted to be a teacher.”
By 2013, Taylor was a senior at Villanova University in Philadelphia, and his mind was set on joining Teach For America after three pivotal events.
“For one, I talked to a TFA recruiter for an hour, and we had a great conversation. I liked what they stand for, and with my background, I thought it was the best avenue for me to start teaching,” says Taylor, who was a history major and Japanese and business double minor at Villanova.
“Also, I read a book called Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, and it resonated with me how education is important, and how I wanted to make a difference in students’ lives.”
The third moment involved the first teacher in his life—his mother.
“Ohana is a Hawai'ian term that means family, but it also has lot to do with community,” he says. “It’s a big thing here, and my mom always told me that a lot of people leave for the mainland and they won’t come back because they find something better.
“That’s why I came home. She’s really proud of me making a commitment to help out people in the place where I grew up.”
Taylor grew up on the west side of Oahu in a middle- to upper-class neighborhood and attended Punahou School in Honolulu, known nationwide as President Barack Obama’s alma mater. Now he teaches Algebra 2 at Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, located on the southwest part of the island.
“When you graduate from Punahou, alumni tell you that to whom much is given, much is expected,” he says. “The whole idea is that you receive such a great gift of an education from such a great school, so what are going to do with that gift and how are you going to make a difference elsewhere?”
For Taylor, the place has become Campbell, a Title 1 school where students—most of whom come from low-income backgrounds—from Filipino, Native Hawaiian, Samoan, white and military families comprise the population.
“A lot of communities here in Hawai'i are really tight-knit. Even if you’re from a different neighborhood, everyone on the island knows each other. Also, being from Hawai'i and having the same ethnic makeup of a lot of my kids gives me an immediate connection with them and allows me to be myself as well,” says Taylor, who identifies as multi-ethnic.
Taylor is about to finish his second year in the classroom and has signed on for a third, citing his growth as an educator during his corps experience.
“The Hawai'i TFA staff and other corps members really give you that a sense of community and family,” he says. “I’ve learned so much from great coaches and mentors, and I got my master’s done through Johns Hopkins. I’ve gotten a diverse array of perspectives on teaching that has opened my eyes to different ways to teach the same concepts.”
This past school year, Taylor led his Algebra 2 students toward achieving 86.3 percent average student mastery of the curriculum and an average growth of three points on the ACT math section, with 80 percent of them passing the state End of Course Exam. He also helped the varsity football team reach the state tournament for the first time in several years as an assistant coach.
“I’d love to be an administrator and run a school one day when I’m much, much older, but I love what I do now, and education is something I want to be a part of long-term,” Taylor says. “As for now, I haven’t yet arrived at my destination as an educator. I’m constantly mastering my craft.”