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UH West Oʻahu alum wins national teaching award


Image courtesy of Lydia Saffery

University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu alum Lydia Saffery, a Wai‘anae High School teacher, was one of 12 literacy educators from across the United States to receive the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Early Career Educator of Color (EC-EOC) Leadership Award.

Saffery (formerly Haff), who graduated in 2018 from UH West O‘ahu with a Bachelor of Education in Secondary Education and a Bachelor of Arts in English, was among the 2021-2022 EC-EOC cohort.

The award supports early career teachers of color as they build accomplished teaching careers in literacy education, according to the NCTE website. Honorees benefit from professional learning opportunities, mentorship, and access to a network of peers from across the country,

“I was excited to use the resources and mentorship that was afforded to us through this award to benefit the students at Wai‘anae High School,” Saffery said.

Being able to provide for her students in such a way is meaningful for Saffery, who is from Mākaha. Saffery said she wanted to become a teacher “because I wanted a career that would allow me to give back to the community that raised me.”

‘A gifted writing teacher’

The EC-EOC Award recognizes practicing preK to university-level literacy educators of color in their first five years of a paid teaching career, according to the website.

“The incredible talent and leadership present in the cohort exemplifies excellence in literacy education and points toward exciting teaching careers ahead,” NCTE Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick said in a press release.

Saffery said when she applied for the award, she wasn’t sure she would get it but thought it was worth a try.

Dr. Cathy Ikeda, one of my former professors at UH West O‘ahu, encouraged my cohort to apply,” Saffery said. “She and Dr. Stephanie Kamai continuously keep in contact with us regarding our progress as new teachers.”

Saffery also encouraged a couple of her coworkers at Wai‘anae High School to apply with her. To her surprise, both she and another ELA teacher at her school at the time, Shay Zykova, received the award.

“Our job as faculty is to recognize the gifts our students have and help them to bring that gift forward into their career and life, even beyond our time with them at UH West O‘ahu,” said Ikeda, an associate professor with the Education division at UH West O‘ahu. “Lydia is a gifted writing teacher.”

Ikeda shared that Saffery was a tutor at No‘eau Center, presented at the 2020 National Council for Teachers of English on teaching writing during the time of COVID, and is a teacher consultant for the Hawai‘i Writing Project. Ikeda added that while teaching, Saffery has earned a master’s degree and will start her doctoral program at UH Mānoa this summer.

“She has been able to take her gift and use that gift to make change at Wai‘anae High School and with our current candidates as a mentor teacher for us (at UH West O‘ahu),” Ikeda said.

Empowering students through ‘choice and voice in the classroom’

“My main goal as a teacher is to empower students through the instruction in my classroom and my interactions with my professional community,” Saffery said.

Saffery said UH West O‘ahu’s program instilled the instructional values of student empowerment through “choice and voice in the classroom” — something she carried with her into her teaching practice as a fully-fledged teacher.

“As a student at UH West O‘ahu, I was trained to curate materials and create classroom experiences that put students’ experiences — as children of Hawai‘i — at the center of instruction,” she said.

Students are active participants in the culture, policies, and norms they create together in her classroom.

“Students are empowered through the content and instruction because I curate relevant materials that acknowledge and reinforce the importance of students’ experiences of the world,” she said.

Saffery added that as a graduate of UH West O‘ahu, she knows how to use her community and professional resources to obtain materials for the students and training for herself and/or other teachers.

“I understand that the students benefit when all teachers at my school are given opportunities to expand our practice,” Saffery said.