After working in Prince Rupert schools for more than 30 years, Rod Hikida said the most rewarding thing about his career has been teaching multiple generations of families.
The retired elementary and middle school teacher will still substitute in School District 52 (SD52) on occasion and recognizes some of the younger faces he sees.
“I’ll ask how many of the student’s parents had me as a teacher, and half the class will put their hands up,” Hikida said with a laugh.
While he has lived the life of an educator, he began his journey in a fishing family along the Fraser River. The son of a commercial fisherman, Hikida spent his early years helping his father on the boat.
“I probably would have become a fisherman if it wasn’t for the economics of it,” Hikida said. “You could see the writing on the wall that it was slowly disappearing so there was no feasible way of becoming a fisherman.”
He enjoyed his experiences on the boat, some of which were more exciting than others. On one trip he was returning home from a fishing trip with his father and a killer whale jumped out of the water only a few feet away from the boat.
“It was midnight and dark so it scared the crap out of me,” Hikida said with a laugh. “And all my dad did was laugh at me.”
He eventually attended university, going to Douglas College for a year before transferring to the University of British Columbia. Initially, he wanted to study recreation management, but a friend suggested that he go into education.
“He said that I would get to do the same sort of thing if I was teaching, but I’d be paid better,” Hikida said.
After graduating from the program, Hikida’s moved to Prince Rupert in 1980 where he began his teaching career. He said he had never visited Prince Rupert before, but after taking a brief trip to scout the place he would soon call home, Hikida said the coastal city reminded him of the fishing community he grew up in.
“It was relatively easy for me to become acclimatized to life here,” he said.
Hikida moved to Prince Rupert when the city was booming. He was one of dozens of new teachers all coming to Prince Rupert at the same time.
“There were a lot of us in the same situation so we all bonded together,” he said.
Hikida’s first assignment was at Kanata Elementary School, where he taught Grade 7 physical education and coached the schools sports teams. While there weren’t any standout moments from that first year, he said remembers that first year fondly.
“They were very social, very friendly, they just needed a little bit of guidance and they were a great class,” he said.
One of his signature teaching moments was his implementation of fake currency called “Hikida Bucks” as an incentive and reward system in his classes. Students earned the dollars which Hikida printed with fake artistic caricatures of himself — by doing good work in class and were able to spend it on daily privileges like bathroom or water breaks.
“Money is something that the kids knew about anyway, but I wanted to make it more real in terms of understanding the value of money,” Hikida said.
At the end of each year, Hikida said he would have an auction with donated items the students could bid for using the bucks they had earned and saved throughout the year. The incentive structure really helped to enforced the value of money in the minds of his students, who would often forgo a premature bathroom break in favour of being able to bid on an iPod at the end of the year.
“I still have some kids who talk to me about Hikida Bucks,” Hikida said. “Some of them still hoard them and ask me if they can buy something from me.”
After spending 27 years at Kanata School, Hikida transitioned working as a Special Education Technology consultant for SD52 before spending a year at Conrad School and teaching at Prince Rupert Middle School for six years. By then, he said he was beginning to work with some of the students he had taught when he first arrived in Prince Rupert.
“Even though they’re grown up, they’re still your student so you see them as that sometimes,” he said. “And then you see them become this teacher and a responsible adult in the school and it just amazes you.”
Now retired, Hikida fishes and travels between return stints to Prince Rupert schools as a substitute teacher. He said in his heart he will always be a teacher and Prince Rupert will always be home.
“I hope I did a good job and that the kids enjoyed being in my classes,” he said. “It just feels good to see that a lot of the kids are quite successful now.”