She’s a preschool teacher at King Elementary, teacher-mentor, Jump Start co-coordinator and member of the district’s early learning task force. Now, Kendra Yamamoto also is Educational Service District 112’s 2017 Regional Teacher of the Year!
We sat down with Kendra to discuss teaching, early learning and mentoring new educators. Responses have been edited for brevity.
Vancouver Public Schools: You’ve wanted to be a teacher since you were 5 years old. Do you remember what it felt like the first day you were actually in your own classroom?
It was pure bliss. I was assigned to Peter S. Ogden Elementary School, and my family moved to Vancouver in June or July. I was so anxious to get my keys to the building. I would actually go and peek in the window and walk the perimeter of the building. Once I got my keys, I would spend every waking second in there organizing and decorating. I felt—and I still feel like this to this day—like getting that class list was like Christmas, like receiving presents. I was so excited to meet all of the kids.
What surprised you most once you started teaching?
I knew going into teaching that I would love the kids and that I was going to love teaching, but I didn’t realize how quickly I would begin to love the families and continue relationships through the years. It’s been a gift to have kids contact me to say, “Mrs. Yamamoto, I’m graduating!” In addition to the students reaching out and maintaining a relationship with me, their families have, too. That was an unexpected gift.
What keeps you interested year after year?
There isn’t any other job in the world where you can open the door and have kids running in with excitement, and it’s daily. I feed off of that excitement.
I often think about teaching as being like a conductor in front of an orchestra. You’re constantly orchestrating how the day goes. That looks different every day. Sometimes it looks different from what you planned even minute to minute. It’s really exciting and fun to read the room and think, what do these kids need? And how can I orchestrate the day so that we all get through it together happily and we’re learning?
How can schools and districts improve early learning?
Year after year, parents come to me and say, “This program is such a gift,” whether it’s Kindergarten Jump Start, the evening preschool we rolled out last year or the daytime preschool. They’ll say to me, “I wish someone had told me prior to my child entering preschool or kindergarten what they needed to know.”
My push for the district is to start welcoming kids to the district as soon as they’re born and working with their families to address their needs and questions. I’ve been working with the district and ESD 112 to build upon each other’s programs. We’re also looking into expanding the evening preschool this year.
Does your teacher-mentor role inform what you do in the classroom?
I’m so grateful because the district allows me to work as a mentor part time while still teaching. I’m able to exchange ideas that worked for me yesterday so that new teachers can implement them in their classrooms. And I do the same thing. I’ll say, “That lesson was amazing. Can I have a copy of that?” There’s a lot of collaboration.
When do you feel most successful as a teacher-mentor?
Hearing from all the teachers I’ve mentored is so meaningful to me because it means that we still have a relationship. It’s a continuum. I like that we have that start together, and then it just grows from there.
What do you like to do when you’re not teaching?
I have three kids who are 2, 7 and 9 years old, so we spend a lot of time at the soccer fields and the football fields and the basketball courts. My life, whether it’s at home or at school, is filled with children, but that keeps me happy!
Pictured above: In this March 2016 photo, Kendra Yamamoto teaches the Early Explorers preschool program at King Elementary School.