Immigrant teacher empowers students at Farrington High School

Inspiring students to recognize their strengths

Sponsored by UH System and the Hawaii State Dept. of Education

Norman Sales is a teacher at Farrington High School and the department head of English Language Arts. He first fell in love with teaching while attending the College of Education at the state university in Ilocos Norte.

“When our immigration papers arrived after more than a decade of waiting, I moved to Hawaii. I arrived here and I heard many stories of professionals from the Philippines who cannot make it here, and that is what I set to demystify,” Sales explains. “I was fearful and anxious, but I eventually earned my Hawaii teaching license. I wanted to teach at a high school with an immigrant community like Farrington High School where I can learn along with students who share the same experiences that I have.”

As a teacher in Hawaii, Sales set out to change the world. Today, he sees that change through the questions his students ask and in their overall growth from the beginning of the year to when they leave before the summer.

“A day in the classroom is not always a teacher-hero movie, but it’s definitely filled with small moments that bring me joy,” he says.

Sales feels there’s a stigma attached to being an immigrant or being a multilingual student, and even in living in a low-socioeconomic community. He says students internalize that shame and untangling that sense of inferiority is challenging. He explains that many of his students often feel voiceless or powerless, and he does his best to help.

“One of the most rewarding things about teaching is noticing that my students begin to recognize that their perceived deficits are actually their strengths,” Sales says. “Our Seal of Bi-literacy candidates, an award for our multilingual students, tripled in number this school year.”

Sales says the multilingual poets of Voice: Poetry by the Youth of Kalihi, who used to believe that their voices did not matter,  continue to inspire students and teachers across the state. The group even received a Migration and Media Award in the Philippines last year.

“Teaching and learning are at the forefront of change in our communities. We have the privilege of working with our future leaders, innovators, and disruptors,” says Sales. “We are surrounded and supported by passionate people who believe in the power and voice of our keiki. We need educators who speak like our students. We need strong role models so that our students know that their opportunities are limitless even if they come from immigrant or multilingual families.”