After picking up Harlee, my granddaughter, she recounted what she had learned that day in kindergarten. She told Lisa and me about “respect.”

There is a book and poster entitled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum. It lists the different principles that can guide you through life and how to relate to other people and the world around you.

As it turns out “respect” is not literally on the list but what it means is. So, Harlee has started kindergarten this year and Lisa and I and Yaya, Harlee’s other grandma, like so many other grandparents, pick her up after school (we alternate days).

Harlee has taken to kindergarten like a duckling to water but she has shown some reticence at times. Negotiating the new environment, the new rules, the expectations, how to make sure she sits with friends during lunch, meeting and making new friends and, of course, her new teacher can be daunting.

I don’t remember my first days of kindergarten but I’m getting to experience it again through Harlee. From this new vantage point I harken back to my son’s kindergarten days and elementary school experience. With all that goes on during this time when you relinquish your most important human asset, your children, to the stewardship of a stranger, what sticks out most to me is the kindergarten teacher.

I believe there is a special place in the afterworld of good karma and in whatever heaven you may believe in for ALL kindergarten teachers. I also think there may be a special section for Japanese American kindergarten teachers who are a part of a generation-upon-generation tradition of JA kinder teachers.

According to my daughter-in-law, Traci, at Arlington Elementary School’s kindergarten “round-up (orientation),” Harlee’s teacher was super prepared with materials, instructions and most importantly, a demeanor that filled you with confidence and put you at ease. After wondering throughout the summer who would be Harlee’s teacher, all questions and insecurities were put to rest. I won’t divulge Harlee’s teacher’s name because I’ve heard (from other parents while waiting to pick up their children) that all the kinder teachers are good.

Such was the case at Denker Elementary, where our sons went to kindergarten. All the teachers were good and our oldest had a JA teacher and youngest had one that wasn’t. Both were extraordinary.

This observation was also recently reinforced when we had the teachers’ strike. I supported the teachers at our neighborhood elementary school, 186th Street School, and witnessed the worry that the kinder teachers had while they walked the line. “How are my students doing?” they’d wonder out loud.

Think about what we as parents are expecting our kindergarten and elementary school teachers to do with our children during their most formative years. The responsibility that they take on and embrace for the benefit and future of our society. “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten” may not be completely true, but it definitely gets our children started on the right foot and going in the right direction.

Hats off to ALL kindergarten and elementary school teachers for what they do and the critical role they play in our lives and society. And I hope the tradition of Japanese American kinder teaches continues to thrive and grow.

Last note: we lost a good one much too early. RIP Dean Matsubayashi!


Warren Furutani is a former member of the State Assembly and served on the Los Angeles Unified School District and Los Angeles Community College District boards. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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