How DoDEA Student-Turned-Teacher Rachel Guilfoyle Understands and Inspires Military-Connected Students

Rachel Guilfoyle, a 5th grade teacher at Daegu Elementary School in South Korea, was recently named the 2022 DoDEA Teacher of the Year. Guilfoyle, who was a student in the DoDEA system herself, was recognized for her ability to create a welcoming and growth-focused learning environment, as well her work with the 2020 Daegu Elementary School Living Museum Project.

She is also a FEA member and spoke with FEA staff about how a DoDEA teacher inspired her to become an educator, how her colleagues came together during the pandemic, advice for new educators, and more. 

FEA Interview with Rachel Guilfoyle

FEA Staff: In your Stars and Stripes profile, you spoke about how, as a former DoDEA student, you understand the challenges military-connected students face, such as moving frequently and parents being away. Can you speak about how that informs your teaching style today, if at all?

Guilfoyle: Understanding the challenges military-connected students face, such as moving and parents being away definitely informs and impacts my teaching style.  The understanding shows up in my empathetic, humor-infused and culturally responsive style of teaching. I try to connect with each student’s experiences and use those experiences as classroom anchors to build a strong peer community, high expectations, including academic and social confidence to provide a sense of acceptance and continuity for the diverse high-mobility students we teach. 

FEA Staff: You mentioned other outstanding educators you work with. Can you comment on the work you see these educators do, and maybe examples of them overcoming challenges?

Guilfoyle: DoDEA Educators have been outstanding and consummate professionals in the midst of a global pandemic.  We’ve faced health, social and educational challenges over the past two years and counting.   There are many examples that demonstrate the dedication and professionalism of DoDEA educators. One that comes to mind is our educators here in South Korea who were at the epicenter of the of the initial COVID outbreak in 2020, and the city of Daegu was particularly hard hit in the early days of the pandemic. DoDEA schools in South Korea, in particular Daegu, were the first DoDEA schools in the world to close and shift to remote learning with 72-hour notice. I experienced and witnessed educators come together, collaborate, reimagine and adapt instructional delivery in real-time to meet the needs of our students during a dynamic once-in-a-lifetime event. DoDEA educators all around the world faced unique challenges based on their host country location, to include military and host nation health protocols because all of these components impacted military communities, which in turn impacted the military-connected students we teach.

FEA Staff: You mentioned that as a DoDEA student, you had an educator that she inspired you. Can you expand upon her influence and how she was part of the inspiration for you to become an educator?

Guilfoyle: My fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Furasho, at Kadena Elementary School in Okinawa, Japan was influential and inspirational.  As a new student to her class and to the island, she made me feel so welcome by asking about where I moved from, my West Indian heritage and she infused what she learned about me into our daily classroom routines. For example, during Trinidad carnival season, she mentioned to the class what carnival was and she read some information about it to the class, and allowed me to share too! Mrs. Furasho did that for all the students! I can recall students sharing about their lives in Greece, England, the US and the Philippines—even all these years later!  I also recall she infused her Japanese-Hawaiian culture into our classroom—it’s décor, what we learned, and a sense of Ohana (family). She read stories aloud to us, such as “The Hobbit”. I recall thinking how cool she was and how she really made our classroom feel so global and welcoming. When I became a teacher, I decided pay it forward, and give to my students what she gave to me—a sense of self and the knowledge she saw and respected me as a unique learner.

FEA Staff: Has FEA/TEAK been a benefit to either yourself or a colleague, maybe for a specific situation? How would you describe your experience with FEA/TEAK?

Guilfoyle: My experience with FEA has been positive. I know FEA has helped many teachers with debt letter resolutions, transfer program assistance and advocating for transparent teacher contracts and labor practices that value and respect teachers as professionals.

FEA Staff: Do you have any advice/suggestions for other educators, especially new ones just coming into the system?

Guilfoyle: To educators, especially those new to the system, I would suggest teaming up with other educators to build collaboration and social networks. Additionally, I suggest taking advantage of the travel opportunities at or near your duty location to learn more about the host nation’s history and culture to infuse into your teaching practice. I also suggest learning about the local military community because the military in general, and each branch in particular, has its own language, acronyms, history, culture and way of doing things. Understanding those things may help new educators adjust to military-connected life as DoDEA educators.

FEA Staff: What do you enjoy doing in your free time? How do you like living in Daegu, South Korea?

Guilfoyle: In my free time, I travel with my family, read/watch about history and enjoy my  husband’s culinary skills. He makes a fantastic curry!  I like living in Daegu. It’s a lovely city with miles of trails, riverside walks, temples, access to beaches and hiking. Daegu is also a great jumping off point for travel to other parts of Asia. Singapore, Vietnam, China, Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong and other fascinating destinations can be reached within a 6-hour flight from Daegu.