Monday | July 24, 2017
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‘Great Teachers’ unite for seminar

In 1967, a 30-something David Gottshall landed a full-time teaching gig at the College of DuPage in Illinois.

The only problem — he didn’t know how to teach.

“In those days, it was assumed if you were an expert at something you could also teach,” Gottshall, now 83, told the Tribune-Herald on Wednesday. “But teaching is an art. It’s a craft, and you don’t just learn it on the job. So I was looking around for help. I wanted to teach better because I don’t want to do something unless I do it well.”

Gottshall manged through those first few shaky semesters and went on to boast a three-decade career in teaching. But the experience led him to start in 1969 the first-ever Great Teachers Seminar.

The seminar is a multi-day summer retreat for teachers to help each other learn how to better teach. Participants spend the week convening mostly small-group style. Through regular “exchanges of ideas,” they glean tips and tricks to improve their craft, he said.

Gottshall’s model has since taken off. Teachers spanning the globe now attend Great Teachers seminars all over the country each year. And for the past 28 years, the Big Island has been home to the Hawaii National Great Teachers Seminar, a nationwide event that attracts participants from around the world. The event is organized by Leeward Community College and takes place at the Kilauea Military Camp at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

This year’s event, which ended Friday, drew 58 teachers, including several from out of state and other countries. But many are from Hawaii — more than 1,400 instructors in the UH system have completed the seminar since its conception.

“I call it a seminar because anybody in that group is both teaching and learning at the same time,” Gottshall said. “Everyone comes prepared to share an innovation they’ve had and also share something they haven’t quite solved yet in their teaching. They work on that together — and that’s where all the teaching and learning happens.”

On Wednesday, Gottshall’s model was well underway. Clusters of teachers met in the Ohia Room at KMC, brainstorming solutions to various problems they had identified. One group mulled how to better engage students.

An autobody instructor pitched a solution he’d used in the past: guest lecturers. The instructor said he invited into his classroom one day an industry professional from Lamborghini. The industry professional gave students a “fresh face” and an “expert voice,” he said, over the “regular teacher.”

“They can see a Lamborghini all day in photos, but in person is different,” he said.

The seminar is capped around 60 teachers. It fills up almost every year.

Out-of-state participant Angie Ruppard said she was hand-selected by her college in North Carolina to attend. Participant Taylor Elidok from Micronesia said he’d tried unsuccessfully for a spot for years. This year, he finally succeeded.

Seven participants this year hailed from Hawaii Community College. Among them was autobody and repair instructor Garrett Fujioka.

“Everyone has different styles, but here we can kind of pick (new strategies) we want (to incorporate),” Fujioka said.

“Some things work with our kids and some don’t, but you can customize your notes, go back to the class and try to set it up. You really learn a lot.”

Gottshall said he chooses which seminars to attend each year, but he’s attended the Hawaii event every year since it started. He thinks the movement’s popularity boils down to one thing.

“There’s an understanding here that everything has to be positive,” he said.

“We’re here to learn stuff and share things that work. And when you live in that environment for a while, it’s really kind of magical.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at


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