Brian's Ramblings

My thoughts in text, photo, and video form

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking Back In Order to Look Ahead

"But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one."
-2 Thessalonians 3:3

2015 started off with signs it would be "just another year." However, it was a very eventful journey. There was great joy, happiness, and satisfaction. Conversely, it brought great sorrow, disappointment, and pushed me to depths of exhaustion that I never experienced before.

I did the best I could as an instructor for the College of Education's (COE) Department of Special Education, preparing future educators of our keiki (children). I genuinely loved every class session I taught, as I tried to provide the best educational experience for the students in my courses.

In Spring 2015, I taught SPED 480 - "Technology for Children with Disabilities" - in two separate forms of delivery. One was traditional, face-to-face, while the other was delivered solely online. This was my first time teaching the same course concurrently, delivering it in two different ways in the same semester. I had to make sure I was addressing the correct topic for each class, as I had two different schedules for each section. Was this the wisest decision? Probably not, but by going through it I'll hopefully develop into a better educator.

I also saw Boyz II Men in concert, on Valentine's Day! It was nice to see a live performance by a group I grew up listening to. Valentine's Day was still just "another day," though. I was just happy to experience something wonderful with someone I truly appreciate. Later in the year, we enjoyed a Janet Jackson concert. We'll enjoy a Brian McKnight and En Vogue concert in February 2016. It's nice to do fun things that provide a moment of "escape" from reality.
Boyz II Men (blurry because I took the photo)

Janet Jackson (Photo credit: Brian Kajiyama) 

Additionally, I experienced something "new" for work, an annual review. Prior to this, I was considered a "casual hire," meaning I would have semester-to-semester contracts. Preparing a self-evaluation was somewhat stressful, as I had to demonstrate that I was doing a decent job in the position I was assigned. Within this process, one needs to boast about what she or he accomplished. Maybe it's the Asian characteristics and values I carry, but bragging about myself was not exactly comfortable. Fortunately, I was deemed as doing well enough to be considered for another contract. What I did not realize was that protocol called for my chair, Dr. Amelia Jenkins, to draft a letter informing me I would not have my contract extended or renewed. In the moments where I waited for Dr. Jenkins to meet with me, all I could think of was, "oh my goodness, I'm going to be unemployed!" But, my meeting with Dr. Jenkins went well and I learned that the letter was drafted that way, as contracts can't be renewed, but the department could request that I be offered another year-long contract. Phew!

I also participated in interviewing students for admittance into College of Education programs. I did this, as I knew there was a demand for interviewers and I also wanted to learn more about the process. There's no better way to learn about a process or system, than going through it yourself. It helped to be paired with faculty who had gone through the process of interviewing potential COE students previously. It was neat to be on the other side, as I've almost always have been the one being interviewed.

The Student Council for Exceptional Children (SCEC) was as active as students' schedules allowed. We participated in the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Hawaii's Great Hawaiian Rubber Duckie Race, which has become a staple project for the SCEC. We help with roadside collection of monetary donations prior to the rubber ducks being dumped into the Ala Wai canal to start the "race." The SCEC also spearheaded a food drive for the Hawaii Foodbank, which was part of the campaign that the entire University of Hawaii at Manoa participated in. This was a great success thanks to the wonderful faculty, staff, and students in the COE. We also participated in the Best Buddies Friendship Walk at Kapolei High School, where the SCEC used funds from Jim's Trust Store to sponsor walkers, with proceeds supporting this organization. We did other service projects, which I really enjoyed; I appreciated students and other supporters making time in busy, busy schedules to volunteer!
Me and Zeus enjoying Aidan James at the Friendship Walk (Photo credit: Joy Sato)

Le'a, me, Joy, and Joshua at the UCPA-HI Dessert Fantasy (Photo credit: Grace Kajiyama)

 Donations for a canned food drive during November 2015 (Photo credit: Min Wook Ok)

A face/hand painting booth at the Hawaii School for the Deaf and Blind's (HSDB) Winter Festival

Early in 2015, I experienced something I did not ponder previously. I grew up with my grandparents being a big part of my life; my grandpa was my biggest "cheerleader;" my grandma was my second biggest "cheerleader." Sometimes in life, you take things for granted, expecting things to always remain consistent. My grandma was taken ill from December 2014, but battled as much as she could until Super Bowl Sunday, February 1, 2015. On that day, she went to join my grandpa up in heaven. Again, I was asked to compose and deliver the eulogy. It's an honor to be asked, but it's one of the most difficult writings one could be charged with.

Fortunately, I was able to see my grandma while she could still sit and appreciate having her grandchildren there. She expressed how proud she was of all of her grandchildren, and I left with positive thoughts of her. My grandma LOVED our annual family Christmas gatherings. This year, being the first without any grandparents, was different; something was missing. I'll need to get used to the feeling of having something "missing," as the years go on.

At my grandma's funeral, on the Big Island, I saw relatives that I normally don't get to see.  I appreciated that aspect, especially seeing my uncle and aunt from my mom's side of the family. My aunt was just getting over a battle with cancer, but looked really happy. I also saw one of my good friends, Jess, who took time off from teaching so she could attend the service for my grandma.

Getting back into the mindset for teaching was tough, I don't know how I was able to carry on without having any of my students, nor fellow colleagues, knowing I was dealing with "stuff."

There was another realm of life that I did not think I'd ever be in. It's a deeply personal matter, so I won't elaborate. But, I'll say this - learning about a "system" was extremely fascinating. Through this journey, I met amazing individuals who are truly passionate about what they do. I also learned that sometimes in life, you'll experience things that can break you, especially without strong faith and without a deep relationship with God. Again, I was reminded of how blessed I am to have such an amazing family; they have been there for me at ALL times.

In early March, I received a call from my friend, Jeff Reinebold, who was an assistant football coach for the Hawaii Warriors during the time I was a graduate assistant coach. We were playing phone tag, reaching the voicemail box of the other, until I finally reached him as I sat in the parking lot of Costco. He wanted to establish a scholarship in my name and felt this was the "right" time to do so. I put up a fight, as I didn't feel deserving of such an honor. But, Jeff was persistent and I finally caved  in. In May 2015, the Brian Kajiyama Heart of a Warrior scholarship was established, under the larger umbrella of the June Jones Foundation (I am very appreciative of this, as having Coach Jones' provides greater "legitimacy" to the scholarship). We had a press conference in the COE's Andrew W.S. In College Collaboration Center (CCC), which I felt was the "best" place, as the COE has become my "home." The excitement of a press conference was amazing, but I'll admit the cart was put in front of the horse.
Press conference for the Brian Kajiyama Heart of a Warrior scholarship (Photo credit: Grace Kajiyama

The real work began once the press conference concluded. This has become another endeavor that has forced me to learn about another "system." Over the summer, I was fortunate to have people, much smarter than me, help draft and refine the application, criteria, description of the scholarship, and create a beautiful website. Our goal was to have high school seniors submit applications by mid-December, so we could award the first scholarship in early spring 2015. I learned many things through this particular journey. I cannot expect others to have the same high standards of excellence that I may have; I need to trust that others will fulfill their responsibilities; and I need to trust the process! I'm personally determined to make this scholarship the best it can be, and I hope it continues well beyond after I have left this earth.

In Fall 2015, I had a wonderful opportunity to teach a "new" course; one that I've been a guest presenter in numerous times. SPED 201 - Disability and Diversity - is an introductory course that makes students, who are mainly comprised of freshman, aware of various disability categories and issues through media (books, videos, news, etc.).  I consulted with my wonderful colleagues, Dr. Rhonda Black and Dr. Bryan Cook, to absorb their great wisdom about the content of the course. They were generous of their time and resources, but ultimately left me to design the course in any way I chose. I had my very first kupuna (senior citizen) to audit my course! I truly appreciated the presence of the kupuna, as she brought a perspective I could never provide myself. She was extremely prompt and engaged, taking notes diligently during each class session. I also used media that I did not think I could use - material that contained vulgarity and offensive comments. This was my attempt to keep the course as "real" as I could; I can only hope that my students appreciated this.
SPED 201 class picture (Photo credit: Grace Kajiyama)

Additionally, I informally mentored two new teachers, who graduated from the merged cohort. This was a new experience, but as a mentor I didn't do grand things; I tried to be a sounding board that my two graduates felt comfortable in reaching out to me if they needed anything. One highlight was being able to adopt a classroom through the Hawaii Jaycees Adopt-a-School program. The SCEC donated funds to three schools (Ben Parker Elementary, Kea'au Elementary, and  Kapalama Elementary), so teachers could purchase much needed resources so they could enhance their teaching.
Me and Maya (teacher at Ben Parker Elementary)

I also taught my final SPED 480 in it's current form this fall semester. After this, the course won't be required for all general education programs at the College. It's fair to say I strongly don't agree with this decision, as all cohort coordinators have heard nothing but positives from their teacher candidates who took the course from me and other faculty members. I went into this semester with the intent of making this round of SPED 480 the very best it could be. I invited as many guest speakers as I could; I'll openly admit that others bring much more "rich" dialogue into the discussion of assistive (and instructional) technologies (AT). I enjoyed the students in this cohort, as they were really enthusiastic to learn and to engage in various activities in class. On the last day of class, I was presented with something I never had received before. It was a "thank you" card from the whole class! Each wrote a simple note of thanks. This gesture provided me with some comfort that I actually did something "right!"
My last cohort for "traditional" SPED 480

I had doubts about my teaching overall in the fall semester, as I could not fully concentrate my efforts and energy on teaching. I had to deal with the other "stuff," which was simply draining in ALL ways (emotionally and physically). But, somehow I found a way each week to be present and available for my students. I also tried to be as transparent as possible, especially when class sessions didn't go as planned when technology didn't work the way I planned.

Another challenge about the other "stuff" came in the form of feeling like the elephant in the room. More colleagues and friends became "involved" in this happening, which was the last thing I wanted to occur, as I value my privacy. However, I am extremely grateful that ALL of them took time out of their busy, busy schedules to be a part of the "process" or "system." If you're reading this, THANK YOU.

As I look ahead to 2016, I have very lofty and concrete goals. I don't refer to them as resolutions, as those can easily fall by the wayside. Goals are more focused, I feel. One goal is to just be a better person - friend, colleague, brother, son, nephew, etc. Another goal is to try to start my own  501(c)(3) non-profit, tax-exempt foundation, so the Brian Kajiyama Heart of a Warrior scholarship can live on it's own, allowing for easier access to critical information, such as how much has been contributed to this specific scholarship. I'll also tighten up the application process and all associated documents. And the selection committee will likely change, as I am learning that a quality committee is comprised of individuals who are committed to paddling in the same canoe and in the same direction. This will require tough decisions to be made, but by assuming responsibilities as chair of this scholarship, I owe it to the scholarship recipients to convene the best people possible. In a sense, I may be considered as a head coach of this scholarship, who relies on having awesome assistant coaches, who fully respect my opinions, but also aren't afraid to tell me things that I NEED to hear, rather than just saying what I WANT to hear.

My instructional duties for Spring 2015 are, yet, different challenges. Sometimes God places you in situations where He pushes you to make difficult decisions; I need to be obedient and truly listen to where He needs me to be. Ultimately, He will provide me with all of the strength and guidance to do the "right" and best thing.

Just to say it, as many have asked my opinion, yes I'm happy my friend, Nick "Rolo" Rolovich, is the new head coach for the Hawaii Warrior football team. He's been a terrific friend from the time he came to Hawaii to play under coach June Jones. His performance over a three-game stretch has to be the greatest performance by a quarterback in NCAA history. IF a position opens and if I'm asked, I would be foolish NOT to listen, as I LOVE being in that environment (being part of something greater than any one person). As Rolo said in his press conference, he's looking for Simba's so we can conquer Pride Rock! But for now, I'm just happy for Rolo and his grand opportunity to do something special.
A simple graphic I created in support of my friend, Nick Rolovich, head coach of  Hawaii Warrior football

Coach June Jones has been nothing but gracious and supportive in the decision made by athletic director, David Matlin. In spite of coach Jones' desire to come back "home" and bring the program up to where it was prior to his departure, he's been very professional and supportive of Rolo. That speaks volumes to the character of coach Jones. We (Coach Jones) communicate regularly and he's able to do things that weren't possible before with the luxury of a more "free" schedule, though he still keeps quite busy!

Even though there have been days when I thought there was NO way I could keep going, God has constantly provided me with the strength to carry on and has protected me, greatly, from any "attacks," from the other "stuff" I dealt with in the latter part of 2015.

I also appreciated having my sister, Lynn, my brother-in-law, Jeff, and my nephew, Jacob, visit Hawaii in 2015. My nephew is destined to grow up to be a genius, as my sister teaches him so much each and everyday!

I look forward to a wonderful 2016; I know there is a LOT I need to accomplish. Some can be achieved in the next year, while other endeavors will require me to be steadfast and faithful in seeing things through.

I have no hesitation in sharing that one goal for 2016 is to find my "last," as my window of starting a family of my own is not getting any wider. It's actually closing slowly, with each passing day. I want to ensure that I'm around to see my child, or children, go to proms, come home after a stated curfew, graduate from high school, go on to an institution of higher learning, and to just see a son or daughter be happy with life!

If you've read up to this point, thank you! I appreciate that I have a handful of "subscribers," who receive push updates when I post a new entry.
Here's to new beginnings (first, we must look back before looking ahead!)

Until next time... 

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