A Passion to Teach: Luseane Tafisi

Through the wisdom and teachings of her mother and father, Luseane “Luse” Tafisi aspired to become an elementary school teacher because of her passion to help children and serve others. She was taught sacrifice, resiliency, cultural identity, hard work, passion, service, and strength to move forward in her education and career.

In high school she participated in sports, and the inspiration of her coaches reinforced her desire to become an educator. Her confidence also grew through giving drugfree awareness presentations to elementary students.

Luse’s cultural identity and family support were an integral foundation in shaping who she is today. Luse is Tongan, born and raised in Salt Lake City with a close-knit family. Her grandfather taught her to remember her roots and where she came from.

After receiving her college degree and completing her student teaching, she jumped into her first job as a kindergarten teacher after Thanksgiving break. Her first day of teaching would leave a lasting impression — primarily because it ended with a kid nearly losing his tooth — a memory she still recalls vividly.

Excited for that first day, she spent the holiday weekend preparing lessons and decorating the bare walls left over from the substitute teacher. After a successful morning class, she welcomed the afternoon session — including an eager boy that she encouraged to sit down and write his name on a nametag. When she turned away for a brief moment, the little boy fell off his chair and nearly bit through his tongue. Luse ended up having to call his dad to pick him up.

While that was not the type of first day of teaching she anticipated, the incident did not discourage her from being a teacher. Currently, she teaches first grade at Pacific Heritage Academy (PHA) in Salt Lake City. She begins each day with a technique used by PHA teachers, where she calls out to her students using the Swahili word, “Ago (AH-goh)!” The students answer back with “Ame (AH-may)!” An observer can see the passion she has for helping her students succeed through differentiated and specialized instruction. She balances family time and work, and Luse and her husband are involved parents to their five children. As passed on from her parents, she teaches her children the importance of education, cultural identity, and perseverance.

Her two sons were recently awarded scholarships to travel with an elite lacrosse team. Her two daughters dance with Tehamata, a Tahitian dance group which also teaches Samoan and Hawaiian dances. Luse spends every evening reading to her youngest son to develop his early literacy skills. Luse draws her motivation from her continuous desire to learn and strong family support. Because of her dedication to teaching, she was named a Fund for Teachers Fellow and will travel to New Zealand with a colleague to research sources of support for Pacific Islander students and their families. Scratching only the surface of her profession, she looks forward to a future full of opportunities. Her next goal in furthering her education is to obtain graduate degrees in Special Education and Educational Leadership. For now, she enjoys inspiring her first grade class to become strong readers and excel academically.

– By Rozanna Benally-Sagg