On Campus: A Teacher’s Journey

Hawaii teacher salaries are the lowest in the nation when adjusted for cost of living, according to a recent analysis by National Public Radio and the education nonprofit EdBuild.

State lawmakers introduced a slew of bills this year aimed at increasing funding for public charter schools. Two of the bills currently moving forward, SB2383 and HB2162, address teacher bonuses for charter schools.

Any additional funding would be great news for Kamalani Academy, which has struggled with teacher retention. At least eight teachers have departed the school since it opened in August.

But there’s a lot more to teacher satisfaction than pay. In Episode 6 of On Campus — a special audio reporting project from Civil Beat following Kamalani Academy’s first year — two teachers talk about what led them to the classroom and what it takes to stay there.

Kamalani science teacher Cliff Lim greets students at the door of his classroom. April Estrellon

Clifford Lim is a middle school science teacher tackling a new teaching subject this year, on top of introducing an arts integration approach to lessons. Teaching in a science classroom without test tubes and sinks, he’s found other ways to introduce concepts like atoms and electrons through drama, movement and art.

“Getting creative where you think outside the box and how people can use themselves instead of objects to teach science, that’s been one of the most challenging things,” he says.

A veteran public school teacher, Lim says he knew that starting a school from the ground up was going to be rocky at the beginning.

“But the students are great, the teachers are great and it’s smoothed out,” he says, “and right now I’m having fun with my science classes.”

Katie Jackson was Kamalani’s first middle school math teacher. She left Kamalani shortly before winter break, after deciding that the Kamalani’s focus on drama and movement created challenges for the culture and curriculum she’d envisioned in her classroom. Transitioning from teaching at a private school to a public charter school was also harder than she thought.

Jackson says she’s still a big believer in arts integration as a teaching tool that could make a difference in struggling schools. But she also says there’s a bigger question here about whether broad systemic challenges in public education can be fixed simply with innovative curriculum.

Can we slap on an arts integration or Hawaiian focused or classical focus to the system, and say, ‘This works now?'” Jackson says. “Actually, we need to look much deeper.”

On Campus is an ongoing project chronicling Kamalani Academy’s first year. Listen to Episode 6 of On Campus below, or download it on iTunes.

On Campus is supported by a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems. 

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