Accent Hawaii 2nd Quarter

Ending the Teacher Shortage

More than 50% of new teachers leave the DOE within the first five years of their employment. No enterprise can survive this rate of turnover. The community must come to grips with the fact that the shortage of public school teachers is a community crisis and it is going to take the community to end it.

First, let’s stop bad mouthing public schools. Everyone. One of our banks periodically runs an ad with a young couple saving money to send their newborn to a private school. A locally published magazine devotes a significant portion of an issue on private schools each year. It is hard for teachers to stay with an enterprise that is dismissed as unimportant and often viewed as a failure.

The Department of Education should celebrate their teachers publicly just as hospitals do during National Nurses Week. If we make the community aware of the great things going on in the public schools, it will make teaching more attractive to local kids. I call on all public relations firms to donate pro bono time and talents to the DOE to publicize the good things happening in the public schools. They did that at one time and they need to do it again.

Raise teacher salaries, Former US Department of Education Secretary, Arnie Duncan says that teachers should be earning between $60,000 and $150,000 a year. In Hawaii, corrected to the loss of purchasing power and the cost of living, the figures would be $75,000 and $186,000. But, higher salaries alone will not solve the problem.

We need more local teachers. The Department is employing more than 1000 new teachers a year, but our local education institutes are producing about 700 teachers. Some of their graduates do not go into teaching and some go to our private schools or to mainland school districts. So we have to recruit more Hawaii residents as well as from other school districts, private schools or other professions. Greater efforts should be made in recruiting minority students as well as more males into teaching. DOE should attend every job fair.

The Legislature should create the Hawaii version of the National Defense Education Act to help students who want to go into teaching handle college costs. The HDEA could be either a loan or a grant program. As a loan it will have a low interest rate and 10% a year would be forgiven for each year they teach in a rural school or a school with a large number of students with free or reduced lunches.

DOE should encourage more tuition assistance programs from private business. What if every one of the 250 largest businesses in Hawaii underwrote the tuition, books and supplies each year for a student getting a teaching degree. Another idea to help off-set the high cost of living is to build teacher or work force housing. Though there still is some teacher housing on Lanai, Hana and the rural areas of the Big Island, most of it is gone. State subsidized low cost housing is critical to retain teachers—not just for Mainland recruits but for local teachers who cannot live at home or are from another island. Perhaps some developers can be convinced to put up teacher workforce housing as part of their development. Maybe Larry Ellison will put up teacher apartments on Lanai to help keep teachers there.

Businesses could develop special discount programs designed especially for teachers. All the teachers would need to do is show their school IDs. The interisland airlines could give teachers deeply discounted airline fares for the teachers visiting their homes. Hawaiian Air could develop deeply discounted airfares for visits home. I’m sure others can think of more items.

Put in place a comprehensive induction program. When I started with the Department of Education, I had a week of DOE orientation before the school year began. In addition, I had a Beginning Teacher Supervisor who worked with me for a full year. Some BTS’ worked with their teachers for their entire probationary. Combine this program with a full-fledged mentoring program. The legislature must give the Department the funds to employ more mentors. The data both locally and nationally shows that programs such as this help to retain teachers.

Isn’t this too expensive to do? Expensive? Yes. But I believe that the public is willing to pay more if they are convinced that it will help students. Instead of saying we can’t afford it, let’s do it. As the late Governor Burns said, “If I have to choose between the dollar and the child, I choose the child.”

- By Joan Husted, HEA Board of Directors

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