Retired KS kumu to join National Teachers Hall of Fame

Apr. 8, 2024

A chemistry teacher who taught at Kamehameha Schools, both at the Kapālama and Hawaiʻi campuses for 34 years, was selected to go into the National Teachers Hall of Fame in a surprise ceremony in Keaʻau on April 5, 2024. Joel Truesdell taught at Kamehameha Schools from 1987 to 2021 and he is only the second teacher from Hawaiʻi to be given this honor. 

As a research chemist with two degrees from the University of Miami — a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in organic chemistry — Truesdell came to Hawaiʻi to study for a Ph.D. in synthetic organic chemistry at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. He was working on his dissertation in 1987 when he took a job as a substitute teacher to make ends meet.

“Before long, I realized that I absolutely loved being a high school teacher much more than being a research scientist," Truesdell said.

Both Truesdell and those who know him attribute much of his success to his passion and implementation of native culture in his classroom and curriculum.

"As a recent arrival from the continent, Joel was one who embraced assimilation — however, this time into the host culture of these isolated islands in the Pacific. His interest in and commitment to the Hawaiian culture have been genuine and authentic.” said former Kapālama poʻo kula Michael J. Chun, Ph.D.

Founded in 1989 on the campus of Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas, the National Teachers Hall of Fame has inducted five U.S. teachers each year since 1992. The qualifications for induction are:

  • At least 20 years of full-time pre-K-12 teaching experience.
  • May be retired or no longer teaching. 
  • Must hold/have held a valid teaching certificate/license from the state in which they are teaching or taught.
  • Bachelor’s Degree or higher.
  • Be living and able to attend the induction ceremonies in Washington D.C. in May and in Emporia, Kansas, in June.

"The selection process is inherently challenging," shared Maddie Fennell, Acting Executive Director of NTHF. "Every year, we are astounded by the caliber of nominees we receive."

Fennell continued, "Joel's teaching philosophy embodies immersion, delving deep into the unique world of every student. Through a culture-based approach, he dismantles barriers to learning, fostering an inclusive environment. With a curriculum steeped in Hawaiian culture, Joel's numerous awards underscore his teaching excellence. His impact extends beyond the classroom as he generously shares his successful strategies with colleagues locally and internationally, enriching educational practices worldwide."

The NTHF Class of 2024 will travel to Washington D.C. in early May for ceremonies. They will also go to Emporia, Kansas in June for four days of events before the formal induction ceremony on June 21 at Emporia State University.

See coverage from Mr. Truesdell's induction announcement as highlighted on Hawaii News Now

Watch Mr. Truesdell's nomination video for this award, featuring a number of former colleagues and students


Dr. Lehua Veincent, Joel Truesdell and Maddie Fennell pose for a photo following the induction announement.