An Interview with the 2023 Recipient of the High School Educator Appreciation Award: Ms. Rickards
Updated: Sep 27
In the middle of Waimea, Hawaii, Ms. Rickards’ classroom (what is also known as “The Annex”) is isolated from the main buildings of Parker School, but remains an exemplar, where the realms of science, education, and fun converge to make learning a blast. At the end of the 2022-23 school year, Ms. Rickards took home the High School Educator Appreciation Award, won by the teacher with the most votes from the student body. As a committed teacher at Parker School for more than a decade, it has become evident that Ms. Rickards has left a luminous effect on all of her students. Through various extracurricular activities such as the Hawai’i Marine Mammal Consortium, her very own nonprofit organization, Ms. Rickards takes teaching further than the classroom, giving students various opportunities such as early morning shark observation excursions. In this interview, we will see Ms. Rickard’s views on her career as well as some foresight about her future at Parker School.
The teacher award is determined through student votes. What do you think sets you apart from teachers and contributes to your popularity among students?
Ms. Rickards: In the courses I teach, I meet so many students in 6th and 9th grade at the beginning stages of middle and highschool. I have exposure to so many students and there’s power in numbers.
Building connections with students is crucial. How do you go about cultivating an engaging classroom atmosphere?
Ms. Rickards: I try to treat every student with respect, more like colleagues. And, just like with my colleagues, I like to laugh a lot. I think that mutual respect and excitement about a topic make investigating any topic more engaging.
Could you share an experience from your time as a teacher at Parker School that has influenced your teaching philosophy?
Ms. Rickards: There are so many. Every time a student gets excited it’s inspiring. I remember a new student once shared with me that they were happy at Parker; that at their old school their teacher had made them cry and feel stupid. That broke my heart, and at the same time motivated me.
You are a member of the Hawai’i Marine Mammal Consortium. Have there been any lessons from your experiences there that you incorporate into your teaching?
Ms. Rickards: Everything. It’s why and where I started teaching others—interns, volunteers. Also, having patience in doing science definitely translates to teaching, as well as the excitement and fulfillment.
Winning the High School Educator Appreciation Award means you're doing something right! How would you define success in a teacher?
Ms. Rickards: I try to teach students to be learners and scientists, not just teach them about a topic. I also think it’s important to make ideas relevant, meaningful and hands-on, if possible.
As a teacher, challenges are inevitable. Can you give an example of a challenging situation you encountered and how you navigated it for the benefit of both yourself and your students?
Ms. Rickards: COVID-19 was a challenge. It changed the ways we could interact. But, at the same time, it opened a lot of doors to new technologies and new ways to learn and interact.
Parker School emphasizes the importance of community. What do you think are effective ways for teachers to cultivate a sense of community within the classroom?
Ms. Rickards: Mutual respect, teamwork, and utilizing the students’ individual skills, talents, and passions. I also think it’s so important to realize how different we all are and to value that diversity.
You have been teaching at Parker School for 12 years. What motivated you to pursue a career in teaching and has your drive changed over the course of your tenure at Parker School?
Ms. Rickards: I never planned to be a teacher, but I love it. Teaching lets me share what I'm excited about. I don’t need to have Facebook or Instagram. My drive to teach and continue learning has remained strong. Learning with the students is what I look forward to every day.
Has your love for teaching grown since the start of your teaching career and if so, why?
Ms. Rickards: Yes, because each day I learn new things. The students constantly send me home with more questions to investigate, just like my children always did.
As you continue your journey at Parker School, can you share any ambitions or aspirations you have for the rest of your time here at Parker?
Ms. Rickards: Among other things, I’d like to continue to increase the students' community involvement and access to cutting edge technology.