Hawaii Teacher: If Students and Teachers Feel Heat, Others Should Too
Despite progress, our columnist writes that Hawaii education has a very long way to go.
Reading time: 5 minutes.
There are definitely some things brewing in education all around Hawaii.
At the beginning of the summer, I heard that the Department of Education was looking to hire teachers to develop some of the new Race to the Top initiatives.
Around the same time, a friend told me that the DOE and Board of Education are working to iron out some of the kinks in how things work at the top.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association seems to be shifting focus, too. At a training session for faculty representatives, I heard some optimistic talk about transforming education — talk that gave me the impression that they might be starting to develop their own specific vision for what education should look like.
I talked to a couple of people who told me that there has been school-leader level training about developing a more cohesive culture among staff in the schools. Maybe that’s why I noticed a shift for the better in messaging and substance during our administrative meetings this past week.
And the new contract is, in effect, lengthening the teacher work day and implementing the new Educator Evaluation System.
While I worry that the additional time might be mismanaged, I’m cautiously optimistic that it will be a step in the right direction. More time for collaboration and planning is definitely necessary, and the appearance that teachers only work a seven-hour day for nine months each year is destructive to our image as professionals.
I’ve even upgraded my opinion of the new evaluation system. I still don’t think that we can add the additional workload required by the new system onto our administrators and get any meaningful analysis of teaching practices, rather than a rubber stamp. But I do hope that just creating time for administrators and educators to sit down with some regularity and have a conversation about good teaching practices will keep the principles of quality teaching in the forefront of everyone’s mind.
That said, I just walked into my new classroom for the first time this year. It is a 27 foot-by-27 foot room, with no air-conditioning and no computers. I will have 38 seniors in British Literature, 38 juniors in one Expository Writing class, and 37 in another.
In addition to that, we have 853 freshmen coming into our school this year — so many that our school has to put them into upper grade level elective classes because we don’t have anywhere else to fit them within their grade level.
And we are three math teachers short for the year. Our school can’t even find qualified teachers to instruct the nearly 300 kids who will go through those three classes. The best we can hope for is a responsible adult who can manage classroom behavior.
It’s enough to make me viscerally angry.
I’m not angry about having to work in a non-air conditioned room. In the Army, I lived for weeks in the freezing cold and burning heat. I’ve been through basic training, Airborne jump school, and Special Forces selection. I even lived in my truck for a year so that I could pay off some bills. You can put me in nearly any physical environment and I’ll be just fine.
But who in their right mind thinks that placing kids in a hot, tiny room, crammed elbow to elbow and asking them to hand-write essays is preparing them for college? And who thinks that having schools so overcrowded (and teachers so underpaid) that we can’t even fit kids into their grade level or provide them with a qualified teacher is providing them with an education?
No one can really believe that students from working class families in Hawaii are getting an education that is preparing them for anything other than a job as a laborer or in customer service — which is exactly why only 13 percent of high school graduates in Hawaii will have a degree six years after graduation.
Our schools aren’t “drop-out factories” like those in some other states, but many here are “high-school-is-your limit” factories. And the claim by state leadership that they “value education” — even though they are not frantically searching for solutions to these problems — is laughable.
For election purposes, legislators, like many of our graduates, act as if graduating from high school is the pinnacle of education. Elected officials tout high school graduation rates as if they were all that mattered. And sure, under conditions like those in my classroom and at our school, we can still improve graduation rates. That said, we can only expect kids to perform to the level of the resources and opportunities we provide them. And until we address the evident problems, we will not be preparing our kids for college or for the future.
I can’t believe parents haven’t already started boycotting schools over these conditions.
So, while there are some positive developments that bureaucrats may point to and crow about, anyone who believes that we are on our way to making our students more prepared for college, without fixing our school infrastructure, is deluded. The overall situation for our kids is still entirely unacceptable, and it will remain that way until we fix our schools.
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