Michelle Faatuai: 'At the heart of it all, it's always got to be students first'
She fondly remembers wanting to become a teacher at 8 years old when she started teaching lessons to her stuffed animals and younger sister at home. Her family also has a long history in education. Both sets of her grandparents and her mom all worked as teachers.
Michelle loved going to school and enjoyed all aspects of the experience. She’s an MPUSD student from start to finish having attended elementary, middle, and high school within our district. Michelle’s dream of becoming a teacher started during her time at Del Rey Woods Elementary School in Seaside. She had teachers who cared about her and took the time to get to know her.
“My fifth-grade teacher, I remember getting this on my report card when they were still handwritten, wrote ‘you will make a great teacher one day' and since I saw that I think it just solidified, I knew I was in the right direction,” Michelle said.
Michelle feels her dedication to the profession is her greatest contribution to education. She still attends training during her spare time to improve her skills and learn different techniques from other experienced teachers.
She knows the trust-building techniques she’s acquired over more than two decades of teaching are the ones that really make a difference.
“At the heart of it, I encourage teachers to be able to connect in some way with every one of their students. Whether that’s, ‘Hey! Hang out with me for these couple minutes of break, I just want to ask you how your weekend went.’ Kids don’t care about what you know until they know that you care about them,” Michelle said.
Throughout her career, Michelle has seen each new school year as a new opportunity to improve her craft. What makes her an outstanding teacher are the strong bonds she forges with her students. She does this to understand their actions and knows their needs are ever-changing.
“I have like 600 kids that have been mine in my span of teaching and I always tell them before they leave 'once my kid you’re always my kid.' I might not be your teacher next year but my door is always open,” Michelle said. “My first years’ class, they’re 32 now. They invite me to their kid’s baptisms, they’re putting their kids in my class now. It’s so full circle now, that I’m getting my kids' kids and I just love that.”
Michelle encourages people to learn more about what teachers are actually doing on a daily basis. She says more people need to know teaching a grade or subject is actually just a portion of what they’re able to provide students within the classroom.
“Under the umbrella of being a teacher, we are social workers, we’re second parents, we’re a cafeteria for some of them,” Michelle said. “I’m so glad that I knew early on that what makes a great teacher is someone who can take care of all those needs for students.”
Michelle knows our society will benefit if more people realize teachers hold a very special role in our communities. That's because time spent learning in the classroom is what prepares students for life into adulthood. Michelle is proud to know she has a hand in helping her students develop their sense of self.
“There’s just so many decisions you make throughout your day when you’re teaching. But at the heart of it all, it's always got to be students first,” Michelle said.