Sunday, October 21, 2001


Not here

Hawaii educators struggle
to find ways to boost the number
of qualified teachers

By Cynthia Oi

The events of Sept. 11 may have overtaken the discussion about the severe shortage of teachers in Hawaii and across the country, but the problem remains simmering beneath the surface of the national agenda. Left unresolved it could have effects as devastating to the future of America's children as terrorist attacks.

Education experts, school administrators, teachers and policymakers are divided about how to correct the situation. Some say higher pay. Others say it's better classrooms and equipment. Some say lowering job qualifications will lure more to the classroom, while still others say eliminating bureaucratic duties that take teachers away from students will enhance the job.

The right answer isn't just one of these, but all of them.

Underlying the debate is the poor image of the profession itself, that those who can do and those who can't teach. The perception that teaching is a lesser vocation than, say, medicine or law may be very difficult to overcome not only in general society but among teachers themselves.

Millions of veteran teachers -- up to 400 in Hawaii -- will become eligible to retire in the next few years, exacerbating the shortage. At the same time, growing school enrollment and the trend toward smaller classes add to the problem.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, schools will need 2.2 million new teachers in the next 10 years, or about 200,000 teachers per year. That's double the number of teachers graduating annually.

Waialua Elementary School teacher Paul Burnett works
with 6th-grade students Liana Nacaro, left, and Jaklyn

At the University of Hawaii, graduates with degrees in education have increased to about 120 where three years ago fewer than 40 new teachers emerged annually.

"Yet, we're still short," says Randy Hitz, dean of the College of Education.

Hawaii public schools have 320 vacant teaching positions. About 130 of those are in special education, so difficult to fill that the state Department of Education left $7 million of its salary budget unused last year. Other shortages are in elementary education and art with about 50 vacancies each. Math and sciences account for about a dozen; other openings remain in social studies, Hawaiian immersion, English and home economics.

In September, desperate for teachers, the DOE opened its classrooms to people with bachelor's degrees if they obtained a teaching certificate within four years. More than 300 applied; about 30, some with teacher training, were referred to the district offices for hiring, according to Sandra McFarlane, DOE personnel director.

The open call was disturbing to many teachers. Carol Cameron, a Waipahu High School teacher, objected to hiring "any warm body with a bachelor's degree," calling it "an insult to my 30 years of service and training."

Knowledge of a subject matter is one thing, being able to convey that information to children is another, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.

"Students of teachers with little or no preparation for teaching learn less than students who have fully prepared teachers," says executive director Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University.

Joan Husted, executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, agrees that an education in education is necessary. She tells of a man who felt that armed with a bachelor's degree in engineering he could teach in high school. "He said, 'What they forgot to tell me was that I was teaching kids, not math.' Teaching is a science, it is an art."

While her statement appears contradictory, it isn't. Teaching is science in that one must approach it as a diagnostician, dissecting subject matter and the pathways each child takes to learning, she says. It is an art in that creative methods, such as playing games and presenting information in an amusing fashion, are incorporated.

"You can't just stand in front of the kids and tell them what they're supposed to learn," says Paul Burnett, a Waialua Elementary School teacher. "You almost have to be like an entertainer. They have to be engaged and connected."

UH Education Dean Hitz believes that an effective teacher is one who knows the subject matter and who has learned a repertoire of teaching strategies.

"A good teacher is a clinician. Our (education-degree) graduates have taken classes in theory and practice. They get a good framework of how to teach. After all, a good scientist isn't necessarily a good doctor," he says.

However, recognizing that there is a shortage, the university offers several programs through which bachelor-degree holders can obtain teacher training and the certification state law requires of teachers.

One- and two-year course work, scholarships and tuition stipends in shortage fields put college graduates on a fast track to teaching.

Burnett is one who took advantage of the programs. The 6th-grade teacher had a degree in sociology and after several years of working with children in A+ and Summer Fun, decided he wanted to be a teacher.

Through the two-year program, he learned not only teaching theory, but spent a year in a classroom as an intern.

"It showed me what to expect; it was an eye-opener. I wouldn't have known how much it took to be a teacher," he says.

Working with an experienced teacher was invaluable, says Burnett who has been on the job for three years.

McFarlane says mentoring programs help new teachers through the first years on the job and can keep them from leaving. DOE will begin a pilot program in mentoring next year with plans to take it statewide after that.

She and Hitz say well-maintained classrooms, computers and teaching materials enhance the job along with providing teachers with more classroom assistants and clerks.

"This flies in the face of what people think," Hitz says, "but the reduction in administration at DOE has created additional workload, what we call 'administrivia,' for teachers."

Better pay is an influential component. With the new contract, veteran teachers can earn up to $59,330 a year. New teachers start out with $30,720 annual salaries.

While money isn't everything, it does have some reflection in American society.

"Money seems to give us a measure of people," Husted says. "We may not like it, but that's a social reality in America. Money talks, that somehow if I am paid $100,000 a year, I'm a whole lot more important than if I got paid $30,000."

In the mid-20th century, women became teachers because few other jobs were available to them and because of the expectation that they would work for only a few years before marriage and motherhood.

"What happened then was that the best and the brightest of women ended up in teaching," Hitz says. "The profession also was skewed toward women because the pay levels and status in society didn't really attract men who at the time were principle breadwinners."

As women made inroads into professions previously dominated by men, teaching was left behind, Husted says. "There came this perception that you became a teacher because you couldn't do anything else."

True or not, the perception lingers, so much so, she says, that she often hears educators describe themselves as "just a teacher. There's this deep down feeling of being something less."

But a new generation of women, who still make up the majority of teachers, are disposing of the "pink-collar" tint of the job, Husted says.

"They are much more assertive, much more willing to ask 'why.' They are challenging the old guard. At the same time, they know they can leave. If they don't get the respect the profession deserves, they will. That's why retention is more of an issue."

Hitz sees this new attitude as a need to get teachers more involved in "actual governance of the schools. What we're really talking about is professionalizing teaching so that a teacher's relationship to a school is more like a physician's to a hospital."

Continual professional development, such as sabbatical leaves, would also revitalize teachers.

"Teachers have to keep up with their field," Husted says. Like doctors, they need time to examine new methods and materials. And unlike doctors or lawyers, Hawaii public school teachers face testing and relicensing every five years.

Although politicians give lip service to education during election campaigns, educators say when it comes to money, public schools grades K-12 don't get a large enough share.

In that sense, "Education overall has never been a high priority in this country," Hitz says. "But at some point, we're going to have to commit, to decide that education is important enough."

"What is happening in the classroom today will have more of an impact on the country than all these security measures we're doing now" in the aftermath of the terrorists attack, he says.

"The only way to stop this shortage is to create teaching as a real true profession."

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