Each year I have taught, I have begun to dread the end of the school year more.

The light at the end of the tunnel often induces an aura of carefree optimism among students and teachers. This is quickly ruined by the towers of papers to be graded and rushes to improve failing grades at the last minute.

But what really makes it the worst is the news of teachers leaving.

Why will Brandon Komatsu be teaching in Las Vegas instead of Honolulu next year? Courtesy of Brandon Komatsu

Now that I have finished my fifth year in the classroom, it marks an important milestone. By the most extreme reports, half of the teachers who began teaching at the same time as me have left the profession. Although this case study has been disproven, the “50 percent in five years” statistic is often repeated.

I can think back to classmates in my teacher preparation program as enrollment dropped from semester to semester, but most of my co-graduates are still in the classroom.

James Campbell High School is not immune to the problem of losing teachers, and this year is the departure rate was especially high.

The school is going through a redesign. We are expecting at least 16 teachers to leave the school before next fall. There are a number that are moving to other Department of Education schools, but some are totally leaving teaching in Hawaii.

Many news stories cover teacher turnover, but I wanted to get the stories from those who were leaving. Is this job that horrible that I have nothing to look forward to?

The conversations I had with these teachers reminded me a lot of how my students talk about their relationships.

The Mutual Parting

Austin Wang was a licensed 10th grade math teacher. He started at Campbell two years ago through the Teach for America Program. He is now going back home to San Diego to pursue another career dream: medicine.

He told me that teaching was something he really wanted to do, but he also wanted to be a doctor. “Out of high school and into college, I was juggling whether to pursue each dream,” he said

Austin Wang is headed for a new career in San Diego Courtesy of Austin Wang

Wang sees the two fields connected.

“I want to help people. Some communities don’t have access to education and don’t have access to health care.“

Teach for America places fresh college graduates in high needs classrooms for a two-year period. Candidates also have to get additional training and attain teaching credentials in their field. Wang wants to use the experience in his new career.

He came to the realization that a lot of young teachers in Teach for America do: “I loved teaching, but it’s just not for me.”

The Breakup

Brandon Komatsu was a 9th grade English Language Arts teacher. He has a Masters of Arts in Education and had been teaching at Campbell for six years. He was also a figurehead on campus as a football coach, academy lead and class advisor for the now graduated class of 2017.

Next year, he will be teaching in Las Vegas. Why?

His answer was one word: “housing.” With a growing family, it just is not possible to afford a house.

“Prices doubled since I was in high school,” Komatsu said.

His wife is also a teacher, and he is tired not being able to make ends meet.

“I did it all,” he said. “I taught summer school, worked restaurants, I even cut hair to make extra cash. We have to go to Vegas just to be comfortable.”

The One That Worked Out

Bryan Yamashita taught 9th grade U.S. History, and is now retired after 30 years in the classroom.

“I love it too much, but I need to take a break,” he said.

His three-decade run started at Farrington, then Campbell, Kapolei, Nanakuli, and then returned back to Ewa Beach.

Through it all, “I had passion every year,” Yamashita said.

His parents were both teachers who tried to talk him out of entering their profession, but he knew what he wanted to do, and “I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

What could we do to keep more teachers on for 30 years?

“We have to have more respect for teachers; treat us as professionals,” Yamashita said.

He was happy to be leaving at a time when he sees that respect improving. Citing the recent campaign of public actions that resulted in a new union contract, Yamashita wants to see more advocacy from teachers.

His personal philosophy on teaching was touching:

“In my teacher education they taught us a Latin phrase, ‘in loco parentis,’ which means ‘in place of parent.’ While they are in my class, they’re mine in every way.”

These teachers were all great contributors to Campbell and they will be missed. They all have had a positive impact on my teaching, and reached thousand of children in our communities.

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