The pay is so low that it is difficult to keep good preschool teachers. That is what makes Rose Honda exceptional. She's been teaching preschoolers at the John Adams Middle School campus in Santa Monica for 42 years.
Honda began her career at the Santa Monica Children's Center as a student aide in 1945. She was a freshman at Santa Monica City College and had just returned with her family from three years at Manzanar relocation camp, near Lone Pine, Calif.
The 60-year-old teacher remembers the fear. "All we knew was that we were going far away," Honda said. "My parents were so strong and courageous."
She remembers the soldiers with bayoneted rifles searching their luggage as the family arrived at the camp, the crowded barracks with wooden floors and tar-papered roofs and Army cots with mattresses stuffed with hay.
When the family returned home, she said, "There were still people who were angry. We had to overcome the discrimination and fear for our safety."
In 1945, Mary Alice Mallum, founder of the Children's Center, hired Honda sight unseen. "I hadn't even met her," Honda said. "She hired me on faith."
What started as a $1-an-hour student job, has turned into a lifetime commitment for Honda.
"Working with the children and their families is an important part of me. It's my extended family," she said of the center's staff and the hundreds of children she has taught.
'I Didn't Know Much'
"As a new teacher that first year, I thought I knew everything," Honda said. "By the end of the year, I knew I didn't know much."
Honda has studied child development at UCLA, Vassar College Family Institute and the Yale Child Study Center. And now she says, "There is something to learn every day."
Honda believes that quality care for children is important. In 1970, the center, was recognized by the National Conference on Youth as one of the outstanding child-care centers in the nation.
One of her students, an anthropology teacher at an eastern university, came back recently, she said. Looking around the familiar play yard, he told his former teacher, "We sure worked hard at playing here."
"To learn through play has been our philosophy," Honda said. "Children can learn to share, work, be creative and express ideas through play. It is so important," she said.
Faced with the possible closing of the day care center next year, Honda said she might travel.
"But each year, there are new families. It's so exciting. It's like starting all over again," she said. "I have a feeling I want to go on and on."