Student Spotlight: Meet Cindy Lee

August 5, 2021 | Michelle Dzisiak

Are you or is someone you know an experienced teacher without a teaching license?

Perhaps you’re wondering what requirements are needed to become a teacher, what and where can you teach with an alternate teaching license, what programs are best for experienced teachers, how long does it take to get licensed, what does the process look like, or maybe even should you pursue an alternative program for teacher certification?

If those questions are at the top of your mind, we have just the story for you! 

Cindy Lee was an unlicensed but experienced educator.

After teaching at a private middle school for over a decade, Cindy decided it was time to pursue her teacher licensure so that she could teach for the Hawai’i Department of Education.

Of course, the path to licensure can be overwhelming and confusing.

Luckily Cindy was able to attend a presentation by Teach Away where she learned about the process of becoming a licensed teacher, earned a Hawai’i Teacher Certification Program scholarship award, and the rest is history! 

Cindy leads with a love of learning and a passion for helping her students develop a deep understanding of mathematics.

She is eager for the new school year to begin so she can continue teaching secondary mathematics for a Hawai’i charter school.

DO IT! 100%. I already told my daughter who just graduated from art school that if she comes home to Hawai’i and she wants to teach, Teach Away is so worth it! Just do it! I have another friend who was trying for a job in Arizona and I told him, you have to do TCP!

Let’s dive in to hear about Cindy’s experience with Klassroom’s Teacher Certification Program and her journey to becoming a licensed secondary mathematics teacher in Hawai’i.

What drew you to pursue a career in teaching? Was this a lifelong dream or a new interest?

Long story: I always wanted to be a teacher!

In the mid-1980s, the University of Hawai’i Manoa elementary candidate spots were full and I did not want to teach secondary.

I went for a Bachelor of Business Admin degree instead.

Ten years later, I homeschooled my children for ten years and then was hired to teach fine arts at a private middle school where I stayed for fourteen years.

My desire was to pivot my career to become a middle school math teacher.

I pursued my Education Specialist degree but needed my licensure to have the opportunity to teach for HIDOE and to certify myself in secondary mathematics.

Why did you decide to take an alternative route to become a licensed teacher instead of the traditional education path?

Completing my Education Specialist degree through Liberty University Online was a fabulous experience.

I did not take the licensure part because LU is in Virginia.

I was very confused about the process to become licensed in the state of Hawai’i.

I completed the reading, writing, and mathematics Praxis Core testing, but was confused about the SATEP [State Approved Teacher Education Program].

I attended a webinar It’s Great To Be A Teacher (IGTBAT) event by [University of Hawai’i].

The Teach Away presentation regarding SATEP finally answered my questions about what I needed to do to become a licensed teacher.

When I visited the website and saw that this alternative route was for unlicensed teachers, who had teaching experience, I was sold.

Has your alternate route to certification been manageable while juggling your other responsibilities?

Truthfully it has been a challenge to get all the work done while I started a new position as an emergency hire. It takes time management and staying ahead of the deadlines. 

As a TCP scholarship award recipient, what did the scholarship mean to you and would you recommend applying for one? 

I was blessed by the scholarship.

Having a daughter in college, just completing my Education Specialist degree and realizing I would have to pay for another program to move towards my license was frustrating and cash was tight!

I applied for the scholarship hoping but knew I would need to do this program regardless!

Amazingly, I received notice of the scholarship and received a refund from my daughter’s school due to her change in dorms because of COVID-19 – it was $4,000, the exact amount I needed after the decrease by the $1,000 scholarship.

I was so thankful that I could pursue my dream of becoming a licensed teacher!

I would totally recommend trying for the scholarship!

If teaching is a dream, Teach Away is awesome and $1,000 off is a great bonus!

What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far?


To be specific in the pedagogy, unpacking the standards to create purposeful lesson plans.

There are so many activities you can do to teach students, but what do they walk away with at the end of the period?

Did they learn or just have fun?

Did they master a skill or concept, or just do an activity?

I want my students to walk away from my math class with a mastery of the standards and hopefully, it was mastered engaged in enjoyment!

Was there a teacher in your life who inspired you? If so, who was it and what impact did they have on you?

My friend, my mentor, my first principal, Beverly Little.

She taught math, was a middle school principal, and my church choir director that I worked with for 10 years choreographing hulas and coordinating kids’ choir presentations at our church.

She was my first teacher mentor when I took the middle school fine arts position.

To reflect on my time in school, I moved around as a military child, and I had so many inspiring teachers – from football coaches as typing teachers, to a strict expository writing teacher who critiqued me to tears but I enjoyed his class so much!

Mr. Shigeru Hotoke, my high school choir director, mentored this girl from the mainland to sing madrigals, dance hula, and travel around the world three consecutive summers as part of the Ambassadors of Aloha, Kailua High School Madrigal Singers.

As high school students, we performed a Hawai’ian show every Sunday evening at the Halekulani Hotel and traveled around the world from June to August, spending the last month in Japan, sharing Aloha through our Hawai’ian show.

Mr. Hotoke inspired us, taught us to be our best with high expectations to achieve excellence.

What area of teaching are you specializing in? Why did you choose it?

Secondary math is my specialty!

I chose it because I love it. It’s fun and challenging. There is so much to mathematics as it builds from basic to complex.

Math is truly involved in the world and our daily life.

Without math, the universe could not exist.

It’s spiritual and conceptual.

I love the ‘aha’ moments of the students, when they “see” it, not for a formula, but how the mathematics concepts are birthed, grow, transform, and progress.

The why of mathematics is as amazing as the how.

Are you currently working in a teaching capacity? If so, could you tell us a little bit about your experience teaching so far?

I am so thankful for the opportunity to be the secondary mathematics teacher at Kapolei Charter School by Goodwill of Hawai’i.

I had 2 months of experience as an emergency hire at the end of the 2020-2021 school year, from April-May.

I was able to teach geometry and math workshops.

I can’t wait for this next year to begin, I will be teaching Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2.

I am so excited to start back this fall! This is my dream coming true!

What is your favorite thing about working with students and/or what is the thing that you’re most looking forward to when you are in a classroom?

Kids are cool, they inspire me, make me laugh, and drive me crazy.

I enjoy a classroom with student participation and a growth mindset.

I love to see the students work it out and finally get it.

As a fine arts teacher, I had students tell me they were shy, didn’t like to speak, and by the end of the quarter, they were the main character in Beowulf or Shakespeare.

In math, to have the students tell me that “I understand it better when you explain it” is a motivator for me.

I enjoy it when students realize they are able to do it and understand – they believe in themselves.

From the pit of “I can’t do math” to “wow I get it and it was kind of fun,” is the best.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about getting certified to teach?

Do it! 100%.

I already told my daughter who just graduated from art school that if she comes home to Hawai’i and she wants to teach, Teach Away is so worth it!

Just do it!

I have another friend who was trying for a job in Arizona and I told him, you have to do TCP!

I would tell them that it is important to stay on top of your assignments, it will be worth it when licensure is the reward! I won’t say it is easy, but you learn so much.

The information, assignments vary, discussions are relevant, informational, enlightening, fun, and inspiring.

Are there any final notes, thoughts, or comments you’d like to add?

I am so thankful to Irma Berardi and Autumn Talebi for answering my many questions during the Teach Away Teacher Certification Program webinar.

They followed up quickly with answers through emails.

Autumn alerted me to the emergency hire position, and I was so excited to have the opportunity to say “yes.”

Thank you to Dr. Nikki Wishard, Ms. Alana Haitsuka-Fernandez, for their guidance, and my cohort partners who make the You Say sections interesting and enjoyable.

Shout out to one Robert Weismantel in my cohort.

He and I were colleagues at Hawai’i Baptist Academy and chaperoned an East Coast trip.

Small world, right? 

I have enjoyed the way the program has been presented through the module system.

The variety of information, inspiration, activities, assessments.

I have built a toolkit of PDFs and websites shared through the modules that I can refer to later – that is a fabulous benefit!

Dr. Wishard was on it with evaluation and commentary.

The rubric system is very helpful to complete the assignments and understand the scoring.

Thank you to everyone behind the scenes for building and updating Teach Away’s Hawai’i Teacher Certification Program.

Thanks for being a partner in my goal to Hawai’i teacher licensure. I am so glad I found this program!

Are you thinking about becoming a teacher or making a career change?

Start your teaching career and find US teaching jobs with Klassroom. Learn more about our Hawai’i Teacher Certification Program and become a teacher today!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.