I have been a teacher at Ma’ili Elementary in Waianae for the past four years and I have never felt so passionately about my work.

I teach because I believe there is no better use of my time than teaching keiki in this community. Days in the classroom can be hectic, and, like many teachers, I find that from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. I have my most productive time for planning, organizing, grading, and tutoring.

But this year that has changed. I will always love teaching; I will always love the students, but I don’t love sitting in over an hour of traffic and moving less than a mile. In fact, for the first time since I began teaching, I am contemplating other uses of my time.

This isn’t the only obstacle for teachers in Hawaii. Already, the pay is terrible. Moreover, one of the state’s highest need areas, the Leeward Coast, is geographically isolated.

Compound that with the unbearable traffic caused by the contra-flow lane, and the incentives for teachers in Waianae are diminishing. Waianae has only two lanes coming in and two lanes going out. The contra-flow lane means that “town bound” traffic starting at Nanakuli is cut down to one lane. This one lane is shared with public buses.

Waianae Farrington traffic1. 18 nov 2016

Commuting into Waianae in the morning and out in the afternoon used to be a breeze. But a contra-flow lane is clogging up the Farrington Highway.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

I want to stress that I am not trying to whine about traffic because I know many have done it for years going in the opposite direction. But I do want to express concern that this contra-flow lane will directly impact student learning in one of the highest need areas of our state.

Teachers on the Coast are no longer able to do after school programs, not because there isn’t funding but because it isn’t a feasible commute any longer. For example, at Ma’ili Elementary, the principal is having a hard time finding teachers to do paid after-school programs because of the contra-flow.

Since it started, teachers comment daily on the need to literally run around to ensure they finish in time to beat traffic. On the Coast, teachers are no longer able to work and plan in their classrooms after school because of the time it would take from their own lives, not to mention the lives of their families and children.

Teachers on the Coast may never come back to the profession because, on top of low salaries, bureaucracy, and a mentally demanding profession, they now have to contend with hours of traffic. Teachers on the Coast deserve better.

According to this Civil Beat article, Hawaii has had a teacher shortage for more than two decades. In particular, the Leeward Coast is one of the hardest-to-staff-areas and the state still had a shortage of 1,600 teachers more than a month into the school year, with 25 percent of those vacancies coming from the Waianae coast. The DOE does not publish the exact number of current vacancies on their website, but there are open positions at both Waianae High School and Ma’ili Elementary to name a few.

As a teacher, I know that the hiring challenges range from low teacher pay, lack of local teacher pipeline, and challenges teaching in rural and low-income neighborhoods. The best parts of teaching on the Coast are the students, of course, and the fact that the commute from virtually anywhere else on the island was against traffic — until now.

Lisa Perez, a teacher at Ma’ili Elementary, says: “Every day I race to get through my work so I can leave by 3 p.m.” to avoid getting stuck for an hour behind three traffic signals. She goes on to say, “I truly reflect on the fact of whether or not I want to go through this another year.”

Another teacher, Angelia Gumm, who commutes from Mililani, spent about the same amount of time waiting in her car. She said: “Now instead of being late to any appointments (after school), I will need to take sick leave … This will of course take me out of the classroom.”

These are dedicated teachers who teach on the Coast because teaching those children is their passion. Sadly, the decision to create a contra-flow lane was never vetted by schools, of which there are 15 public and private located to the north of the start of the contra-flow.

Since the start of the traffic turmoil, two separate surveys have been sent to teachers, but I have received no response on the outcome of the survey results nor has any action resulted from them. A town hall meeting to discuss concerns was held in September at Ka Waihona Public Charter School. My principal was notified of the town hall on the morning of the meeting, and I didn’t get to see the forwarded email till lunch when I stopped teaching for long enough to check my inbox.

I do not know of anyone who was able to attend because of the short notice and have not received the information on how to follow-up on the meeting outcome and offer input as of Sept. 14. The only thing I have been able to do is fill out surveys and email representatives with concerns, and so far, I continue to wait.

Don’t make the keiki of the Leeward Coast wait any more for the quality education they deserve. Traffic is a big issue but it should not be remedied at the cost of our children’s futures.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.com.

About the Author

  • Anne Weber
    Anne Weber is a third grade teacher and Grade Level Chair at Ma’ili Elementary on the Leeward Coast. As a Hawaii State Teacher Fellow for Hope Street Group, TFA alumna, and Native American educator, she is actively involved in advocating for native youth through involvement with the National Indigenous Educator’s Association, and TFA’s Native Alliance Initiative Advisory Board. She is also a member of the HSTA Speaker’s Bureau and a representative for the state of Hawaii at the National Educator’s Association.
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