Jun 6, 2017
CARRIE MORITA spent 36 years teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Although she had several opportunities to work closer to home, Mrs. Morita endured a daily 75-mile, bumper-to-bumper roundtrip commute to teach at Eagle Rock Elementary School because of the cultural and socioeconomic diversity of its large student body. (45:58)
EPISODE NOTES - Posted June 10, 2017:
I cannot bring myself to call CARRIE MORITA by her first name. She was both my daughters Taite and Quinn’s kindergarten teacher at Eagle Rock Elementary School and has always been – and always will be – MRS. MORITA to me.
PHOTO: Carrie Morita at her retirement party in June 2011. Hundreds of friends, colleagues, former students and their families came to wish her well.
It does, as they say, “seem like only yesterday” that Jillian and I took our little 5-year-old Taite Rose Pierson to Mrs. Morita’s kindergarten classroom for her first day of school. Taite’s now 18 and, indeed, it was only yesterday that she graduated as one of Eagle Rock High School’s two valedictorians. And, true to faithful form, Mrs. Morita was there to hear Taite deliver her valedictory speech.
Mrs. Morita has shown up to support Taite many times throughout her K-12 journey. Taite recently made her penultimate appearance with the Pasadena Civic Ballet as the flying-carpet-riding genie in “Aladdin” and, like so many of her past performances, Mrs. Morita was there with flowers in hand.PHOTOS: Carrie Morita with my daughter, Taite Pierson, on her last day of kindergarten in June 2005; and Mrs. Morita with Taite in February 2017 after her performance in "Aladdin."
Mrs. Morita even helped Taite learn how to drive a car, which came about shortly after my second and last time in the passenger seat ended with me yelling: “When I say stop, I mean STOP!” Mrs. Morita’s Zen-like patience and affection for one of her long-ago kindergarten kiddos definitely contributed to Taite becoming the competent and confident driver she is today.
Taite is not alone in receiving this kind of special treatment. After teaching for 36 years, Mrs. Morita is involved in the lives of many of her former students, and cheerfully attends their birthday parties, weddings and baby showers on a regular basis.
PHOTO: Mrs. Morita's 2004/2005 kindergarten class at Eagle Rock Elementary School celebrating the 100th day of school and wearing Room 29's signature tie-dye T-shirts.
But looking back at the beginning of her career teaching kindergarten, Mrs. Morita couldn’t possibly have imagined that she would develop lasting friendships with so many of the little people who would pass through her classroom. In fact, she tells me that teaching 5-year-olds was the last thing she ever thought she wanted to do:
“I have to admit, I almost went kicking and screaming down to kindergarten. I have taught all the grades and I did say the one grade that I would never teach would be kindergarten, because I didn’t feel that I was capable of teaching it; that it would be a bigger challenge than I wanted to put myself through. But it did become a grade that I really did love.”
PHOTO: Mrs. Morita's 2004/2005 kindergarten class presenting Room 29's Winter Performance.
Mrs. Morita proved that she loved teaching kindergarten – and teaching it at Eagle Rock Elementary School, specifically – by enduring a daily 75-mile, bumper-to-bumper roundtrip commute to do so. And while she had several opportunities over the years to work at schools closer to home, ERES always held a special attraction for her:
“Eagle Rock is really a very diverse community. And sometimes that word ‘diverse’ can be an over-played term, but Eagle Rock truly is a diverse community. I liked having families of different nationalities; families of different socioeconomic levels; and families that had many different experiences. One of the things that I did like to do was do a Student of the Week so the kids could show that there were many similarities, even though there were many differences between them.”
PHOTO: Mrs. Morita's 2004/2005 kindergarten class celebrating Cinco de Mayo.
The appeal of a diverse student body is deep-rooted in Mrs. Morita’s own personal history. Growing up in San Diego, she was the only Asian American in a high school graduating class of 1,000. Cal State Long Beach, however, provided her with a more heterogeneous academic experience. And it was there, as a college freshman, that she took an Asian American Studies class that changed her worldview in a profound and unexpected way.
“I learned how, during World War II, Japanese and Japanese Americans were incarcerated in this country. This was the first time I heard about this injustice. I called home to tell my mother what had happened to so many people. And she hesitated. And then she said, ‘Dad and I were both in camps in Arizona.’ And it was like: ‘You never mentioned this to us?!?’ I feel it was, for many, a shameful, humiliating incident.”
PHOTO: Mrs. Morita's mother, Takaye Tokimura (in foreground), and her sister, Ruth, at the Gila River War Relocation Center.
Many years later, Mrs. Morita learned of her father being drafted into a segregated Army unit made up of Japanese American men, and the heroic efforts that he and his fellow soldiers quietly made in the latter part of WWII. George Furuya was awarded 2 Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star – but his daughter never heard a word about it from him.
PHOTO: Mrs. Morita's father, George Furuya, was held at the Poston War Relocation Center in Yuma County for a year before being drafted into a US Army regimental combat team. Ironically, Mr. Furuya had tried to enlist right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor but, despite being born and raised in California, was rejected because he was considered an enemy alien.
Mrs. Morita is, herself, not prone to such silence. As a matter of fact, she was quite vocal a few months ago about the attempted ban on immigration and marched in protest at LAX on 3 separate occasions:
“I feel like it is my responsibility, and the responsibility of all Japanese Americans to stand up and speak out against what we see going on in our country right now. The fact that a Muslim registry was even brought up by our government; that there was an executive order on immigration; it is my responsibility to stand up and say: No! Never again!”
PHOTO: Mrs. Morita at one of three protests at LAX she attended. She's standing with Hussar Ayloush, the executive director of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Although Mrs. Morita retired from teaching in 2011, she’s still every bit a teacher today.
Many thanks to the composers of the music featured in this episode royalty free through Creative Commons licensing:
1. "Easy Lemon" by Kevin MacLeod - incompetech.com
2. "Wait for Me" by Aaron Mist - aaronomist.bandcamp.com/releases
3. "Micro" by the Blue Dot Sessions - sessions.blue/sessions/
4. "Tranceless" by the Blue Dot Sessions - sessions.blue/sessions/
5. "Isn't the Rain Nice Today" by Scott Currie/BBATV - bbatv.bancamp.com
6. "Pomp and Circumstance" loop by Miguel Flores -youtube.com/watch?v=Kw-_Ew5bVxs