Life. Teaching. Mauna Loa.

July 17, 2023

BREAKING NEWS FLASH-At approximately 11:30 p.m. HST November 27, lava broke to the surface within Moku‘āweoweo, the summit caldera on Mauna Loa, for the first time in 38 years. (Mauna Loa USGS)

The eruption became a viral topic, caused trepidation to many, and brought a notion that the end was near. Who would not be frightened when the Mauna Loa volcano is the largest active volcano in the world, and it is right next door?

I, too, trembled in fear.

However, what is marvelous about nature is its way of waking up humanity. And if we pause and reflect, we can make great connections between the forces of nature and life’s realities.

Here are realizations about life and teaching sparked by the Mauna Loa eruption.

First, we all have our breaking point. No matter how good we are at self-regulation, our emotions and stress levels can gradually build up; we lose control and erupt. 

Similar situations happen in the classroom when students explode even over a trivial matter. The situation worsens when the teacher can’t effectively manage the outburst and becomes reactive. Teachers must always be the bigger person, at all costs, and know how to choose their battles. It is crucial to become aware of our and somebody else’s triggers and work on them.

Second, Mauna Loa may be gorgeous and calm outside, but there may be signs of impending seismic activity inside. Life may also be the same thing—looks cozy, but under the surface is full of turmoil, with people smiling on the outside but tormented on the inside.

In the classroom, personal issues are ignored, and emotions are quelled. However, instead of suppressing and denying how one feels, we need to name it, talk about it, and face it.

One of the things that teachers need to teach students is emotional intelligence because it is one of the life skills essential to survival. Emotional Intelligence is defined by Salovey and Mayer(1997) as “the ability to perceive emotions, integrate emotions to facilitate thought, understand emotions and to regulate to promote personal growth.” Reuven Bar-on(1997) described EQ as “an array of personal, emotional, and social abilities and skills that influence one’s ability to cope successfully  with environmental demands and pressures.” If students are more accurate at naming their feelings, they can cope more with the emotions.

Third, Mauna Loa initially spilled lava to the southwest of the summit but stopped. The active lava began flowing to the north of the upper Northeast Rift Zone. Like in life, we never know what will happen next, so we need to become more proleptic and proactive. 

In the classroom, teachers plan everything, yet, while teaching, we adjust our ways and will not follow exactly what we planned. Sometimes even when we are well-prepared, we still don’t achieve the goal.

In planning for anything, teachers must look at multiple data sources in different lenses and set multiple plans to achieve the intended outcomes. We must start becoming proleptic,  not analeptic. In building Plan A, or Plan B, we need to consider prospective challenges based on experiences in the past. Then set another plan in case A and B will not work out.  Life is full of uncertainties, so we need to plan intentionally ahead of time.

Fourth, while Mauna Loa is spewing lava, Mauna Kea, a few miles away from Mauna Loa, is crowned with frost. Two opposite forces occur in the same place at the same time. 

The world also has several concepts depicting dualities like Yin and Yang, which describes opposite but inseparable and interconnected forces; Dualism, which suggests the existence of two opposing and complementary forces; and Polarity, which acknowledges opposing poles or extremes and highlights the interdependence and harmony between them. 

In a clearer sense, we have male and female, young and old, light and dark, day, good and evil, well-behaved and ill-tempered, slow learners and fast learners, etc. What makes these dualities problematic is if teachers stick with them. In viewing male and female, what about those considering themselves in between? In viewing young and old, what about those middle-aged people? In viewing light and dark, what about the multiple colors in the spectrum? In viewing good and evil, what about those in the middle, navigating who they are and needing somebody to direct them on the right path? In viewing well-behaved and ill-tempered, what about those who lack attention because they are neither of the two? And while we focus on  intervention of the slow learners and enrichment for the fast learners, what about those who are neither struggling nor meeting proficiency? As we tend to pursue equilibrium, we also need to focus on all of the elements of the continuum, not just those which are apparent and prominent.

Fifth, some residents of Hawaii County were terrified and wanted to evacuate the island if they only had options. On the other hand, people outside Hawaii were fascinated with the grandeur of the spectacular view of fountaining and cascading lava. They even flew to the island to closely witness this magnificence.

Sometimes life is all about focusing on a silver lining. In education, students have to learn to view negative things positively. For example, viewing mistakes and failure as great opportunities to learn and grow; considering vulnerability as a strength; coming to school as a daily preparation for success in the real world, not a daily torture of the mind; and recognizing teachers as an ally, not a foe. Similarly, teachers have to see the potential of every student and be better at capitalizing on the student’s strengths to complement their weaknesses. When we can teach how the students use what they have to improve, we develop internal motivation, autonomy, and ownership in their learning. Just then can we produce great people. Remember Albert Einstein, who learned to speak at age 4 and became a school dropout but is now recognized as the greatest scientist; Benjamin Franklin, who dropped out of school at age 10, but because of persisting in learning in his ways, became one of America’s Founding Fathers. Bill Gates’ failed many times in his business career before becoming the brain behind Microsoft and is now tagged as the richest person in the world. We may not be able to produce another Einstein, Franklin, or  Gates, but we might produce more successful people in their fields of endeavors.

Finally, the US Geological Survey scientists declared on December 13, 2022, that Mauna Loa had stopped erupting. In life, we sometimes think that our adversities keep increasing and never ceasing, and the easiest route to take is to give up.

Teachers are deemed valuable to society for molding students to be at their optimum potential to be the best people they can become. However, because of the job’s difficulty, we are looking for a less stressful job.  If we only view the stressful situation as temporary, resilient, and solution-oriented, we can surmount more difficulties. And just like yet another history that the Mauna Loa has etched in the world’s history, I hope all teachers view teaching as making history since we are molding future builders of the world.

Indeed, life is full of mystery, and there is more about natural occurrences. And life’s course changes when we start refocusing our lenses and viewing things differently.

Pinky Grace Francisco, NBCT

Pinky Grace C. Francisco is the 2024 Kau-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Teacher of the Year, an NBCT candidate, a Hawaii State Teacher Fellow, NEA/HSTA Early Leadership Fellow, HSTA CARES(Culture, Advocacy, Respect, Equity and Support) pilot cadre, HSTA EL Contract Committee member, a mentor, a PDE3 instructor, EL Coordinator and Academic Coach at Kau High and Pahala Elementary School on the Big Island of Hawaii. She is an advocate for equity, inclusivity, empowerment and social justice and is fascinated by the power of diversity, unique individual capacity and with celebrating small victories.