On a Tuesday morning, about 10 high school students sit in a circle at the front of a classroom, learning how to one day lead their own classes. Kat Muranaka, a teacher at Waianae High School, is guiding her students through a review of the previous day’s class, using a lesson planning guide to help them think about the activities and strategies they saw. These students are preparing to become teachers, and in high school classes like this one, they’ll learn about setting up a classroom, lesson planning and the psychology of adolescents. It’s all part of Waianae High School’s teacher academy.

Waianae High School teacher Kat Muranaka instructs her teacher academy students on the work they’ll be doing in pairs for the day. Noelle Fujii/Civil Beat

The Leeward coast, like the rest of Hawaii, is short on teachers. So schools have started their own programs to teach high school students what it’s like to be at the front of a classroom in the hopes that they’ll one day return as teachers. But, as another Waianae Coast school is finding, it’s not always easy to find students who are interested in becoming teachers.

Waianae High School Is Turning Over 25-30% Of Its Teachers Every Year

Waianae-Grown Teachers

Waianae High School’s academy began in 2015 with about 40 students, according to Lei Aken, a Career and Technical Education teacher. Disa Hauge, who has been principal for three years, said the school recognized the need when it had to deal with an annual teacher turnover rate as high as 35 percent.  “We decided, what the heck, we’re going to grow our own,” she said. Teacher academies in Hawaii are part of the state Department of Education’s strategy outlined in its Career and Technical Education program. Such pathway programs include at least two years in high school that count toward high school graduation requirements. The students can continue to postsecondary education.

About 1,800 students are enrolled at Waianae High School this year, and it’s hoped that some of them will one day become teachers. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Students in Waianae High School’s teacher academy take one education class a semester, and seniors are able to shadow a teacher or do an internship at the local elementary school. By the time they finish the program and graduate from the school, the hope is that the students will have developed skills in critical thinking and empathy, Muranaka said. The challenge, she added, is getting them to think more like teachers than students — being proactive by looking for ways to improve instead of being judgmental and reactive. An example was the lesson her students were reviewing. They had observed a teacher at the high school incorporate Google Hangouts — an online messaging service — into an entrepreneurship class. “I told the kids, ‘What I want you to do is pay attention to the lesson: Where does this lesson fall in the scope of what these students seem to be learning?’” Muranaka said.

Nanakuli Wants Its Own Academy

About 8 miles away at Nanakuli High and Intermediate School, math teacher Julie Reyes Oda has been trying to start another academy. It’s her second year teaching at Nanakuli, and she can see how the teacher shortage is affecting the school, with a number of classes taught by unlicensed long-term substitutes. She has heard that many of the school’s students will end up back home or living nearby after graduating, so they’re willing to work in the area.

Leeward Community College’s Teacher Education Program has set aside grant money for Nanakuli High and Intermediate School to start up its own teacher academy. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

“Why not get these people to work here and they don’t have to drive out of Nanakuli?” she said. Earlier this school year, she gave presentations to 10th grade English classes to recruit for her proposed two-year academy for juniors and seniors. She pointed out students didn’t have to be committed to becoming teachers to participate. Only one got back to her. Her principal had told her she needed at least 30 students to start the academy. “Students aren’t interested in being teachers,” she said. The profession, she said, doesn’t have a good enough reputation.

‘We Need To Recruit At Home’

According to Tracey Idica, an instructional coach at Aiea High School, students with an interest in teaching are often told they’re too smart or that they could get paid more doing something else. “We have to stop dissuading them,” she said. Idica is part of a national organization, Educators Rising, that aims to provide high school students with resources to help them learn about the teaching profession. Working with other members, she helped to develop a two-year teacher academy curriculum that could be used at any high school in the country. In Hawaii, she said, it’s especially important for local communities to grow their own teachers. In fact, Educators Rising found that across the nation, 60 percent of teachers find jobs within 20 miles of where they attended high school.

Teacher Kat Muranaka, center, checks in with a group of students as they work on a project. Noelle Fujii/Civil Beat

“When you think about that, we’re really messing up when you just go out recruiting on the mainland,” she said. “We need to recruit at home.” That’s not easy, said Roberta Martel, coordinator for Leeward Community College’s Teacher Education Program. She agrees it’s desirable. Teachers from outside the community, she said, may not understand the culture or family dynamics and so may have a hard time earning the trust of families. Her campus’ involvement with teacher academies began five years ago when LCC got a grant from the James & Abigail Campbell Family Foundation. The grant was meant to provide support to Leeward area high schools to start up or continue their teacher academies. The grant provides money for teacher adviser stipends, materials and professional development for academies at Waianae High School, Nanakuli High and Intermediate, Campbell High School and Kapolei High School, amounting to about $5,000 for each school. The money also covers transportation costs to LCC for a yearly event where academy students can get acquainted with the campus and see what its teacher education classes are like. “Our program was designed specifically looking at the Leeward coast and as a way to help solve the teacher turnover rate by growing homegrown teachers,” Martel said. Campbell High School is the only academy that has already used up its funding. Once the money runs out, it’s up to the schools to continue the programs, as Campbell is doing. The college partners with the academies to provide a pipeline for students to continue their education at the campus before moving on to four-year universities, Martel said. 

Finding And Retaining Teachers

Schools across Hawaii are in need of teachers. The DOE typically hires 1,100 to 1,200 teachers each year from Hawaii and the mainland. As of 2012, 37 percent of teachers are turning over within five years.  For the Leeward coast, the commute can be a big deterrent. Ann Mahi, complex area superintendent for Nanakuli-Waianae, estimated that about 90 percent of the approximately 750 teachers in her district live in other parts of the island.   What’s been especially troublesome lately, she said, is a new contraflow lane on Farrington Highway, which has added an additional hour to the afternoon commute for some teachers who live elsewhere. Teachers who start their careers at Leeward schools often decide within five years that they want to work closer to their homes in other parts of the island, said Waianae High’s Hauge. Teachers who come from the mainland through programs such as Teach For America often leave to pursue different careers, Hauge said. However, Mahi said that teacher retention in her district has improved. In the 2014-15 school year, her district kept about 83 percent of its teachers. Now, that number is around 88 percent. In part, this is because principals and her office help get new teachers acclimated to Leeward Coast schools by showing them around the area during orientation and doing simulations of how to handle various situations, like where a student may not have completed his or her homework because of issues at home.  She said these efforts have helped new teachers better understand family life and the challenges children face. “So being more prepared … there’s less frustration,” she said. There’s also been an increased effort to create a supportive environment for teachers. Mahi said her office has increased the number of mentors available in its teacher induction program, encouraged more collaboration among teachers from kindergarten to 12th grade, and provided more resources and professional development opportunities.

Giving Back To The Community

On the coast, there’s a consistent message that the schools want their students to come back and make their community a better place, Mahi said. Aken said her roots in the area have helped her relate to students. She tries to identify students who have qualities that can make them good teachers and give them opportunities to consider the vocation. “I think if we can actually get students who are thinking about teaching as a career interested now,” Aken said, “then we can help them follow that pathway or pipeline and support them and bring them back.”

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