If you’ve ever sat in Mrs. Dynah Ustare’s classes, you’ll find it hard to imagine her as a young inexperienced teacher.
While many students have come to know the no-nonsense AP English 11 and English 12 teacher, few know about the Ustare who nervously dropped off her job application at HBA 29 years ago.
Ustare’s mother, an elementary teacher, saw an ad in the paper for a teaching position at HBA and encouraged her to apply. Ustare had just come from a game of tennis when she arrived at HBA to drop off her application. She recalls, “I’ll just drop off [my application] in their dropbox…and run.” However, there was no dropbox and Ustare had to walk her application to the administrative office. Ustare said, “I just kind of bounded up the stairs, you know with my ponytail and everything. I was just going to disappear because I was so out of place; I was not dressed well.” The receptionist surprised Ustare by offering her a meeting with HBA’s President at the time, Dan Kong. Feeling obligated, Ustare accepted the offer despite being feeling underdressed. After a short meeting, Ustare said Kong left her with this advice: “If you ever do work here, we’re going to have to dress you a little differently so you don’t look like one of the kids.”
One of Ustare’s not-so-fond memories as a new teacher was the first assignment she gave to her students. As a fresh college graduate, Ustare had very little experience teaching high school students. “I didn’t know how to grade essays yet. At this time I had no clue. The plan was for them to write it and that was it. I remember taking this big stack of papers home, I remember putting it on my desk, and I thought, ‘what have I gotten myself into, is it too late to leave?’”
Since then Ustare has become one of HBA’s most respected teachers. Ustare’s dedication to her job has a lot to do with her belief in the power of stories. She said, “To me every story carries some kind of wisdom…[and] that’s what I love about English: getting to take these stories and have the kids chew on them. And in the end, what you get out of it is so worth it, like you get something out of the labor.”
“She’s very motherly and loving, she cares about both our grades and how we’re doing as people.”
AP English 11 student, junior Jennah Laxamana, said, “She’s very motherly and loving, she cares about both our grades and how we’re doing as people.” Laxamana added that, despite finding the class stressful at times, “Mrs. Ustare’s lessons are deep and she helps us get to the meaning of advanced literary pieces.”
Junior Michelle Fukumitsu remembers hearing this from current seniors: “All of them told me that she really prepares you for the [AP] exam well. The class may be hard and she may be a tough teacher, but she really improves your writing, and is overall a fantastic teacher.” After having had Ustare for three quarters, Fukumitsu said, “I think Ustare is hands down one of the best teachers.” Junior Michelle Hong added, “She’s intense, but I like that because she demands her students’ best efforts.”
Junior Jordan Namba added, “She is very insightful, and points out specific things in writing to change or improve upon. She keeps homework to a minimum for the most part, and we mostly just have bigger assignments which we have awhile to complete, so I don’t feel overburdened.”
Ustare’s years of experience has taught her a lot. “Don’t quit,” she said as a tip to those thinking of going into Education. “There are going to be times when you want to cry. There are going to be times when you feel like an idiot. There are going to be times that you think, ‘What am I doing here?’ But don’t quit.” Ustare says that it took her 10 years to realize and accept that being an HBA teacher was something to be proud of. She adds, “I think that the job sometimes benefits me more than it benefits the kids.”