Kaneohe Elementary School principal inspires others through love of teaching

Be a hero. Be a teacher.

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In 1999, Derek Minakami became the first public school National Board certified teacher in Hawaii. In 2001, he was named Hawaii State Teacher of the Year and one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year. This school year, Minakami celebrates his eighth year as the principal of Kāneʻohe Elementary School. While he has an impressive list of accomplishments, Minakami didn’t start off his professional career as a teacher. Instead, he found his way to education later in life.

Ever since he can remember, Minakami wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Since his father worked for the refuse department, Minakami thought he collected garbage and always dreamed of riding on the back bumper with his dad when he grew up. Later, he found out his father was actually a civil engineer and changed career plans.

He dreamed of opening a business with his father, but it quickly dissipated as Minakami started working at an engineering company during his junior year of high school.

“I often felt bored with the work, although I enjoyed my co-workers. Still, I trudged on and entered the engineering program at the University of Hawaii. However, my condition remained unchanged,” he says. “I considered law and medicine, but was unsure of those careers as well. My parents prodded me to finish what I had started, so I begrudgingly stuck with it.”

As graduation neared, Minakami knew he needed to make a decision regarding his future. Engineering, while it paid well, did not suit him.

“I knew I should be doing something else but the most obvious solution evaded me until I heard of a new graduate program offered by the College of Education,” he explains. “When teaching became an option, it seemed so blatant. How could I have considered anything else? It appealed to all of my strengths and all of what I yearned to do.”

Today, Minakami works with parents, community members, and students themselves to build community efficacy — a belief that together, they can strengthen Kaneone and all of Hawaii. He says that as a teacher leader today, you can make a limitless impact.

“My greatest challenge is wanting to do so much with so little time — which is why I realized I can’t do it alone,” he explains. “I have to work with a strong team that supports one another, shares a common vision, and is wholly dedicated to helping our students be inspired to love learning and be equipped to pursue their passions.”

Minakami recommends a major in education to anyone who finds joy in helping others. Be part of a movement that will make a difference in Hawaii’s future generations! Join Minakami at “It’s Great to be A Teacher” on January 25, 2020. Registration is FREE: bit.ly/IGTBAT2020

“As a teacher, I’ve been blessed to work with amazing, inspiring people who collectively improve communities one child-at-a-time, and support others in realizing their dreams,” he says.

For more information: kaneohe-el.com, or on Instagram and Twitter: @KaneoheEl