Melodie Tafao lives the saying “busy as a bee.”
She just earned her Master in Education (MEd) in Instructional Leadership from Chaminade University and also received the university’s prestigious “Outstanding Graduate” award. Her newly earned degree strengthens her role as a third grade teacher at St. Anthony School on Maui, where she’s been teaching for the past 11 years.
Educating her students while receiving her own education isn’t the only feat Tafao’s been tackling the past several years. She’s a wife to her husband, Mosi Tafao, and mother to Melia, 8, and Mosiah, 6. She also has a second career as a major in the U.S. Army Reserve, currently serving as commander for the 305th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment in Honolulu.
“It was definitely a challenge juggling all of my obligations and commitments,” she says. “It took me five years to complete this degree, and I am very blessed to have a supportive husband, family and friends that were willing to help when I needed time to study or have sessions with my instructors on Maui.”
Chaminade made undertaking a graduate degree while continuing her careers and family commitments a reality for Tafao. Her education was made possible through the Gift of Marianist Education. She says that although she was initially reluctant to enroll in the program because her son was only one at the time, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“Chaminade University’s teaching program has helped me grow as a teacher,” she says. “The program and courses have taught me techniques, strategies and methods that help me to be an effective teacher. I’ve also learned some personal lessons throughout the program, like how to be more organized and prioritize and manage my time efficiently.”
Being based on Maui could have been a potential barrier to some seeking to further their education. But the program grouped other teachers from St. Anthony School into the same cohort. Together, the teachers learned big concepts in a small setting.
“One thing that stood out about the program was working with a small cohort of members from the same school community,” Tafao says. “Because of this closeness, I feel it made the program memorable and allowed me to gain a tremendous amount of insight while learning from instructors and fellow colleagues.”
Tafao says she really appreciated that the program allowed students to concurrently teach in their own classrooms, which made the assignments, discussions and research projects more practical.
“It wasn’t just another classroom environment where I read from education books and journals, had discussions and took exams,” she says. “It allowed me to apply what I learned, what was discussed and what I researched immediately with my students, my classroom and my school community.”
Tafao says she recommends this program to any teacher looking to strengthen their pedagogy.
“This type of cohort had a reasonable amount of online work and on-ground, face-to-face time with our instructors on Maui,” she says. “The courses were applicable in the classroom and taught me skills and techniques to be an effective teacher.”
Reflecting back on the entire experience, it was mostly positive. But as with life, there were obstacles and the hardest one was when her father passed away in May 2017 after battling cancer for three years. Tafao was taking her second to last course at the time and although it was difficult for her to stay focused while grieving his loss, she knew it’s what he would have wanted.
“I miss him dearly and wish he had been there to physically watch me receive this honor,” she says. “But I know he would have been proud.”
As Tafao continues teaching her students and serving in the military, she may not be done with her career goals yet.
“My most recent instructor, Dr. Hans Chun, mentioned a doctoral program,” Tafao said. “While I would like some time off, furthering my education and teaching skills through a state certification program and possibly a doctoral program may be in the future for me.”
The Master of Education program offers concentrations in Educational Leadership, which prepares candidates for administrative positions with an emphasis on K-12 schools; Instructional Leadership,which provides advanced knowledge of classroom practices for teachers and other educators not currently aspiring to become administrators; and Child Development, which offers advanced study of developmental theory, research and application.