Editor’s Note: While public education issues play out at the state Board of Education and the Legislature, teachers deliver the product. Today Civil Beat debuts a column by Ethan ʻOnipaʻa Porter that will offer his perspectives on the state of teaching in Hawaii, and what’s working and what’s not in our schools.

In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

With the Hawaii State Teachers Association lobbying for an increase in teacher pay, I wanted to give skeptics of the idea a chance to walk around.

The alarm rings at 4:45 a.m., but I’ve been awake for the last 15 minutes. My mind is swirling with ideas for my lesson for the day and I have not settled on how best to teach a group of teenagers why the 1920s were a crucial time for the cultural development of the United States.

Each day's destination: My classroom at Campbell High School.

Each weekday’s destination: My classroom at Campbell High School, where I usually have an hour of preparation time before first period.

Ethan Porter

Despite my best efforts to keep my work at work, I can become distracted by lesson plans and new ways to engage students. I can’t go back to sleep anyway, my kid’s up.

The rest of the morning is very much the ideal of young family life. After getting ready to go, my wife and I leave the house at the same time. Like many families in Hawaii, both of us have to work to make ends meets, despite both having degrees above a bachelor’s.

The promise of more education to make more money has amounted to a paycheck-to-paycheck mortgage payment on our multi-generational home. But I have no place to complain — most teachers my age are renting.

Fourth period is when I can feel the heat. My room, like most of the Campbell campus, is not air conditioned. A thermometer installed back in September recorded that my room can get to 88 degrees.

Although I live on the Windward Coast, I work at James Campbell High School in the heart of Ewa Beach. As an untenured teacher, especially teaching a low-demand subject like social studies, job openings are only found on the Leeward Coast or on a neighbor island.

Again, I should not really complain. Another Campbell teacher who graduated with me drives from Hawaii Kai. The first 25 minutes is spent on the H-3 and H-1 to the home of our babysitter.

The next 20 minutes is just getting down to the school.

I usually arrive by 7, a whole hour before class starts. I take advantage of my early riser habits by coming in early to make copies, grade papers and prepare my classroom for the day.

Most secondary teachers are given one non-teaching class period a day for administrative tasks, and I have first period to prepare. Twice a week, this prep period is used for meetings about schoolwide issues like accreditation or new initiatives at the school.

It is also expected that I use my prep time to work with my teaching team; a math teacher and English teacher who share the same freshman students. We coordinate our project schedules so we do not overload them, and discuss common practices and tips for dealing with certain students.

Team teaching can be a blessing or a curse, depending on who you are teamed with. I am really lucky to have my current team; I have been on teaching teams that do not work well together. Nothing is worse than dreading to see a bad team member’s car in the parking lot as you drive in.

My first class of the day comes in at 9:35, although many of them are late making the trek halfway across campus and up three flights of stairs. Campbell’s student population is in flux; with all the new development, there is a mixture of low-income students from “South Ewa Beach” and the upper-middle class students.

Despite wearing uniform T-shirts, you can tell where students live based on the rest of their clothing choice. Some wear the latest Jordans, while the student sitting next to them might be wearing slippers from the swap meet. This mostly leads to clusters and cliques, but also to some interesting friendships.

After second period is lunch, which lasts 35 minutes. It seems pretty long, but most days I have students in my classroom asking for help with assignments or with personal issues. Despite having to shovel food in my mouth like a madman, bonding with my students makes lunch one of my favorite parts of the day. I got into education for much more than teaching content, and this is an opportunity I have to help.

My second class is usually pretty engaging, mostly because there are only 22 students in that period. My other classes have 26 and 28.

A Temperature and Humidity report on my classroom, D-302, from last September.

A temperature and humidity report on my classroom, D-302, from last September.

Fourth period is when I can feel the heat. My room, like most of the Campbell campus, is not air conditioned. A thermometer was installed by the state for data-gathering purposes back in September. It recorded that my room can get to 88 degrees.

Not only is this the hottest period of the day, but it is the last, which means students are counting the minutes until they are free. Combined with the usual exhaustion that comes at the end of any workday, I sometimes find myself rushing through content with a lot less enthusiasm. Thankfully, my fourth period has some of my more respectful students, so the chemistry works out well.

Most people assume that teachers leave with the bell. Not so. Our contract requires we stay on campus until 3, and even getting out then is a rarity. Twice a week we have department meetings and twice a month we have “extended time” meetings that last until 4. Some teachers stay until 5, when the custodians lock the door.

I wish I could say that I never bring work home with me, but I manage to limit myself to a few emails and occasionally some grading each night.

Most teachers are not so lucky; there are weekly stories of colleagues staying up until the early hours making sure that every grade is in.

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