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  • Emmanuel Bartolome

The Hawaii teacher shortage

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

The State of Hawaiʻi is currently facing a shortage of licensed teachers and substitute teachers with the issue unlikely to be resolved for the foreseeable future.

Ever since the pandemic, the nation has been placed into a state of great turmoil with many pressing issues such as inflation, violent crime, the increasing unaffordability of healthcare, gun violence and the ongoing economic recession. These concerns are expressed with a PEW research poll from last year, depicting the largest concerns of American families. One of the largest concerns is economic recession. This can be seen in various symptoms such as inflation, unemployment, the collapse of domestic manufacturing and the labor shortage. On the issue of the labor shortage, its effects are most felt in the education sector where there has been a drought in teachers and other school personnel.

According to a KITV article written by Cynthia Yip in Aug. 2022, the State of Hawaii is experiencing a shortage of nearly a thousand full-time teachers. In the article, HSTA President Osa Tui Jr, the President of Hawaii State Teacher Association expresses his concern over the situation. Tui Jr. comments, “Anecdotally I think we are still going to be in a crisis in terms of our teachers not being able to fill all the positions in our school.” The teacher shortage has been worsened by the fact that many private schools are buying out public school teachers with notably larger salaries.

"It’s always important to have licensed teachers in the classroom because when we have licensed teachers, we know that they have experience in teaching the courses that they are teaching." Norman Sales, Farrington High School Strategic Planner

Norman Sales, Farrington High School’s School Strategic Planner and a former teacher stated in an interview that there is a concerning downwards trend in the number of teachers in the school being licensed. In the academic year of 2021 to 2022, this licensure rate was 92.1% with this rate being around 96% in previous years.

This licensure rate refers to the number of professional long-term teachers with teaching licenses. The licensure rate figure does not include substitutes and emergency hires. The importance of licensure is emphasized when Sales says, “It’s always important to have licensed teachers in the classroom because when we have licensed teachers, we know that they have experience in teaching the courses that they are teaching. And it also helps in what we call retention, that means the teacher is most likely to be here longer versus long-time substitute teachers or emergency hires who will not likely come back on a year-to-year basis.”

In a KHON2 article written last year by Kristy Tamashiro, the Ige administration hired nearly 2000 teachers during the 2021/2022 school year, reformed the way that the state hires teachers and discussed with the DOE the possibility of providing housing for teachers. These reforms were the result of David Y. Ige, the former Governor of Hawaii investing 40 million dollars to address the issue. Most of these teacher shortages are present in West Oahu.

While these reforms have worked to improve the state of the teacher shortage, the issue still remains. According to the previously mentioned KHON2 article, many students across the state are being held in cafeterias for study hall sessions as there exists both a shortage of professional teachers and substitutes.

A Farrington High School student who wished to remain anonymous, revealed that she was housed in the school's auditorium three times over this school year. When asked about how the shortage will affect her education, she said, “Some of the substitutes don’t know what to do. So it kind of affects other students when they try to learn.”

A study from the EPI or the Economic Policy Institute discovered that teachers in 2021 have been paid $29 more every week than their counterparts in 1996. Over the same period, other college graduates have celebrated a weekly pay raise of $455. As a national trend, teachers across the nation get paid 25% less than their college colleagues but in the State of Hawaii, teachers get paid 15.5% less than their counterparts.

The shortage of teachers in the State of Hawaii can in large part be attributed to its poor conditions and pay which has caused many local teachers to leave the state. A Wallethub article notes that Hawaii is the worst state for educators. This is because of the lack of career opportunities and the poor workplace conditions. While teachers in the State of Hawaii, receive a starting salary of $33,000 with the average salary of teachers being $47,000, on the national scene the average salary of a teacher is $55,000.

According to a Marketwatch article written by Jacob Passy, the low pay of teachers and their low salary growth are major reasons why many college students refuse to major in education. The factors of low pay and low salary growth are coupled with issues of poor workplace conditions. Some of these poor workplace conditions include issues with stress management, students falling behind in class and issues with motivation. Some more obscure issues faced by teachers include a faulty work-life balance, the inability to provide for students' emotional needs and whether or not to grade students on their effort or by their test scores.

Jashua Lasronia, a Farrington High School student from the class of 2026 stated in an interview that the teacher shortage will be detrimental to his school experience and will likely be something that will exist into the future.

When asked about what teachers should do when they are absent from the classroom, Sales noted that it’s best for teachers to create strong and consistent routines for their students so in their absence, students would be able to take initiative in their studies and know what is expected of them. Sales added “Preparing thorough and detailed lesson plans and information in our substitute binder will also help our substitute teachers be successful.”

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