[ TEACHER STRIKE ] Low pay, isolationA generation ago, Randy Hitz says, attracting people to the field of teaching did not seem so daunting.
Hawaii's cost of living makesBy B.J. Reyes
retention hard without good
salaries, top educators contend
As dean of the University of Hawaii's College of Education, Hitz sees firsthand the challenges facing the education profession today, particularly in the area of recruitment.
"It is a challenge," he said. "There's a lot more opportunities for folks today."
For example, he added, "40 or 50 years ago, women didn't have many opportunities aside from teaching or nursing. Now we're competing with all the other professions for the best students."
Indeed, the demand for teachers is far outpacing the number of educators -- not only in Hawaii, but across the country, education officials say.
"The average age for teachers right now is 42," said Melinda Anderson, a spokeswoman for the National Education Association in Washington, D.C. "The current teaching force is getting older and nearing retirement. Contrast that with growing student enrollment and growing class sizes, and you have a situation where more and more teachers are needed and the demand is outreaching the supply."
Such demand for teachers is simply another reason why higher pay and better benefits are issues at the heart of the strikes by teachers and university professors in Hawaii, union members say. On strike since April 5, the educators are demanding pay raises that meet Hawaii's cost of living, estimated at 30 percent higher than most mainland communities.
"If we want to keep a high-quality faculty -- one that really serves the community here well -- we need to be competitive," said Ross Christensen, a University of Hawaii Professional Assembly member and picket captain. "That doesn't mean we need to be at the top of the list, but we need to be in the middle, and we're not."
Low pay is just one factor that traditionally has hampered teacher recruitment efforts in Hawaii, Hitz said. Another factor is the state's location.
"It's hard for a state that is isolated, like Hawaii, to recruit, especially when we don't pay very well," Hitz said. "We can recruit them for a year, but they tend not to stay. It's just too far from home."
For that reason, Hitz says, it is important for UH-Manoa to attract students locally.
The College of Education has various incentives to entice prospective students, including tuition waivers for those preparing for a career in subjects where there is a dearth of teachers, such as math, science and special education.
"We've had a shortage of teachers for a very long time, and we've recruited for a very long time," said Claudia Chun, a personnel specialist with the state Department of Education who works in the area of teacher recruitment. "This isn't anything new except that there is a bubble coming on because of the retirement of the baby-boomer group.
"There are a lot more opportunities for various jobs for people, and for whatever reason, many people are not going into education."
Incentives do not work all the time, either. Chun cited as one example a school district in San Jose, Calif., that had trouble recruiting teachers despite $42,000 a year in salary and a sizable relocation bonus. Potential recruits turned down the job fearing that the cost of living would be too high.
"Even with a very large incentive, the recruiters are saying they are not having much success," Chun said.
One solution has been for schools to train noneducation majors as teachers.
For example, if someone with a biology degree wanted to teach elementary school science, that person has three years to complete a teacher education program, Chun said. If the program is not completed satisfactorily, the person cannot teach in the school district.
The education program is needed because there is more to teaching than just knowing the facts, Chun said.
"What is important," she said, "is how to teach content to children in a way so that children will learn it."
The College of Education offers one-year master's degree programs for people from other professions who want to become teachers, Hitz said.
"The majority of our secondary education people already have a degree," he said. "That person who is an accountant and wants to teach math, we've got a program for them."
But luring students to the College of Education is only part of the battle. Once you get the students, you have to find professors who will prepare them as teachers, Hitz said.
"Across the nation," Hitz said, "people in my position are finding it difficult to find and recruit faculty."
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