Recently, my social media feeds have been flooded with various news reports of the Hawaii Department of Education looking to bring in teachers from the continent to fill the reported 1,600 vacancies for next school year. Most headlines are some variation of: “Hawaii wants to pay you to come teach in paradise!”

I think bringing in teachers from the continent is a great idea.

Part of my teaching philosophy is that exposing students to different types of teachers is extremely beneficial to their learning and development. This ideal may put me at odds with our current model of education, which calls for the standardization of everything, but I think there are many benefits to promoting multiplicity in our schools.

Mentors watch as a teacher leads a class.

Mentors watch as a teacher leads a class in Hawaii.

Hawaii Department of Education

First, students have different learning styles, so experimenting with different teachers’ styles helps them self-identify which way they learn best.

Second, getting content delivered in different ways helps the learner understand the depth and creativity each subject offers.

Finally, and most importantly, a diverse teacher pool allows our students to become open to ideas and experiences that vastly differ from their own. Engaging with people from other backgrounds is a key to growing empathy and a better understanding of how to deal with people who may disagree with you and challenge your viewpoints.

This is a last-ditch solution to haphazardly plug warm bodies into holes in our system.

If our DOE was bringing in talented educators to augment our corps of amazing, home-grown teachers to diversify learning, I would be all for this plan. But that is not the case. This is a last-ditch solution to haphazardly plug warm bodies into holes in our system.

The pay being offered, $50,000,  is a meager salary compared to the high cost of living in Hawaii. It is well below the median household income of $69,000. Without additional income, these new teachers are going to have a hard time making ends meet. How long will it be until these imports are another “Priced Out of Paradise” story?

These high-need positions are very difficult. Besides needing secondary math and science teachers, what we really need are special education teachers.

If you thought just being a teacher is endearing, special ed teachers are superheroes. Besides assisting regular teachers in the classroom (and all the outside work that requires), or teaching a self-contained class, these teachers have a mountain of outside work to evaluate students’ needs and work with administrators, counselors, teachers, parents and the student to develop individualized education plans.

The plans are mandated by federal law; messing one up could leave a teacher legally liable. Do we really think that a majority of the people who take this offer are going to be ready to handle this workload?

This process will create more problems if these new hires find themselves overwhelmed by the stresses of the job and the low pay. Filling a teaching vacancy halfway through the year is not just an administrative headache, it is terrible for the students’ learning. They often feel neglected and become hostile to the replacement teacher, wondering how long before this teacher leaves too.

If we created a small stipend for student teachers, we could create greater incentive to get more people into the teaching field.

Without delving into all the big problems that need to be fixed to truly solve the teacher shortage; I can put forth a temporary solution: When faced with a vacancy, give priority to student teachers.

To become a licensed teacher in the State of Hawaii, a candidate has to complete a state-approved teacher preparation course, and one of the requirements to complete these courses is to spend at least one semester student teaching.

During this time, candidates are paired with a mentor teacher and teach at least half of the classes under observation by the mentor. They do all the work for those classes, and some do more.

Candidates are not paid. In fact, they are paying for the college credits they are earning. That means a teacher candidate at UH Manoa will pay $2,586, plus fees, to work in our public schools.

If we created a small stipend for student teachers, we could create greater incentive to get more people into the teaching field. Forcing candidates to go without income for a semester limits who can become a teacher to those in stable financial situations or relying on family support.

This would also fix a major problem in teacher education; most candidates do not work with students until their final semester and are almost totally unprepared for the experience. I had marvelous professors at the College of Education, but all the theory and rhetoric flies out the window when you find yourself in front of 30 students.

We could even expand student teaching into a longer apprenticeship period; perhaps three or four semesters instead of just one. Candidates could take on more duties from semester to semester and ease into the rigor of full-time teaching, all while getting hands-on training and filling those open teaching lines.

This would also be a relief for our DOE Induction and Mentoring Programs that work to take fresh-out-of-the classroom teachers and magically transform them into fully realized teachers.

There would be concern that we would be allowing unqualified people in the classroom but, sadly, we already do. These positions are often filled with teachers who may not be licensed in that subject or with emergency hires that have no teaching degree at all; most are working toward one.

Some posts are filled by rotating substitute teachers. At least by hiring developing teachers, there would be an investment in the future.

Finally, this proposal does something that shipping in recruits could never do: It cultivates teachers from within Hawaii. As much as we need teacher diversification, we need a solid core of local teachers first. Besides being familiar with the system and our home culture, local teachers allow students real-life role models of becoming a working professional.

Many students have told me that they did not think that public school graduates could ever amount to anything until they had me, a proud Kapolei High School alumni, as their teacher.

We cannot look to the continent to bail us out of this mess as a real solution. We have the capability and talent here. It just needs to be developed.

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