Eric Stinton: It Will Take A Village To Help Hawaii's Teachers - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at ericstinton.com.


Recent news about public education in Hawaii has been sobering.

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More teachers are retiring than ever in a state that’s already burdened with a long-festering teacher shortage. Special education students have not been receiving adequate distance learning services, and assessment data from earlier this year showed a striking yet predictable drop in proficiency in reading, science and math during the pandemic.

All of this paints a familiar picture: there isn’t enough of what we have, and what we have is not enough. Like any Catch-22, it’s difficult to find the root of the problems, which makes it even more difficult to find solutions, but a good starting place is recognizing that legitimate dysfunction exists.

A friend of mine recently talked to their department head about some issues they were having, issues that struck me as self-evidently reasonable. They were told that they were the only person who complained about those kinds of things. My friend has told me on several occasions that they’ve been thinking of quitting either during or after this year.

This is anecdotal, but it’s also representative of the larger dynamic at play in society. Teachers bring legitimate issues to the public — pay so low almost no one in the profession can buy a house in the islands, more responsibilities with less time to actually take care of them — and largely teachers are told to suck it up and stop complaining. In response, they leave the profession.

If it isn’t already obvious, simply saying “stop complaining” doesn’t actually solve anything. It’s telling, however, that this response is not just found in the sympathetic shoulder shrugs of politicians or the cesspools of online comment sections, but also within the ranks of teachers.

That we’ve internalized and accepted this way of thinking should be cause for alarm, especially during a trend economists are calling “the great resignation.”

It’s not a matter of individual school management either, otherwise teachers would be changing schools instead of leaving the profession entirely. The problem is the job itself.

Honowai Elementary School 4th grade teacher Dalen Izumo with large monitor and students using laptop computers.
Test scores may make headlines, but most teachers are more concerned about students’ emotional well-being. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Test scores make the headlines, but most teachers are rightly more concerned about our students’ emotional well-being. We see the stress, anxiety and trauma that many students are carrying. While I genuinely believe in the value of the academics I teach, I also understand it’s really hard to learn algebra when your mental and emotional health aren’t in a good place.

And that’s just the students who are showing up for school regularly. Students who are chronically absent or frequently quarantining present another layer of mental, professional and emotional labor; you monitor their absences, you prepare material for them, you worry about them. It takes a toll.

Covid-19 prevention measures, while necessary, complicate and compound all the above areas of concern. These aren’t frivolous complaints from whiny teachers; they’re real problems that make the job incredibly frustrating, so much so that more people than ever are leaving it.

Part of the blame deservedly falls on the Department of Education. There is a sizable group of administrators in the department who are not at the school level and do not interact with students. What it is they actually do on a day-to-day basis is still nebulous to me, but in my mind they are the ones who should be doing the most to address these issues.

After all, it is in their interest to retain teachers and ensure quality education for students, and unlike teachers and school-level administrators who also share those interests, they aren’t busy working with students all day.

I don’t think there’s a conspiracy of wasteful DOE administrators, many of whom are well-meaning and helpful. But at some point responsibility for making even incremental improvements gets dispersed so broadly that it ultimately falls on no one, and nothing gets done.

Not everything falls on the DOE, either. Schools also are being asked to do more with less, tasked with solving social problems beyond their capacity.

At a point, these are legislative problems, and as of late the legislative response has been tepid. Schools play an important role in addressing issues like child hunger and poverty, because they can distribute services directly to the people impacted, but they can’t be repositories of all society’s problems.

It takes a village to raise a child, and schools are a vital part of that village. These are fixable problems, but in order to fix them it will take a genuine, cooperative effort from all parties. If we’re serious about solving these problems – and we should be, because they affect all of us – then we all need to be involved.


Read this next:

How To Build A Climate Workforce In Hawaii


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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at ericstinton.com.


Latest Comments (0)

We need to develop a new matrix for education.  We can no long allow an ancient system that has proven incapable of developing the basic skills needed to be successful in our emerging world.The outcry of parents at school boards since the pandemic has revealed the underground motives of activists over the function of education.  The best thing that came out of the pandemic, maybe the only thing, was it revealed the depth of activism in our public school system.

anopenmind · 4 weeks ago

How about a collaboration with business?  A business could 'Adopt a Classroom' similar to the Adopt a Highway program.  Each classroom could have a moniker and/or other items to identify the adopting business and then the business could donate items that the class/teacher needs up to whatever level the authorities decide.  I'd like to adopt a classroom on Maui.

ClaudeRains · 4 weeks ago

It is a forced situation, brought about by the pandemic, but it is time to be ahead of the curve and imagine what the world will be more like when the students being taught today are 30, 40 or 50 years old. The pandemic is forcing all to face the virtual layer of our space and help children be in a world that teachers and adults have never been before.  Teachers no longer need to be in Hawaii or United States for that matter. Employers, supervisors, and employees need not have met each other in the physical space but see themselves as part of the same village. At the same time, the future adults will be handling a world that requires them to sense nature like we have not as changing climate has localized impact. Dropping out of students (and teachers) from schools as we know it need not be seen as bad, if what they are doing is preparing themselves for the future.

Ca · 1 month ago

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