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Teacher shortage: fewer grads opt to teach

by Shauree Garth-Kurch, staff writer

Teacher training today is so rigorous under President Bush’s No Child Left Behind that graduating high school seniors must know, as they enter college,. that they want to teach. Consequently, fewer high school graduates are deciding to become teachers, and that has created a nationwide shortage. Teachers have always faced long hours, low pay, equipment shortages, and overcrowded classrooms. Historically, women took on the roll of educating our children because there weren’t many options open to them, and men rarely chose education because they had unlimited career choices. Because women now have nearly unlimited career choices, they are choosing to enter other fields.

The cost of living in Hawai‘i has made it even more difficult to fill the more than 400 annual vacancies in public schools here. Irene Igawa, negotiation specialist at the Hawai‘i State Teacher’s Association, which represents Hawai‘i public school teachers, said that the state is not helping. By cutting automatic pay scale increases and adding language to the contract that makes salary increases subject to legislative funding, Igawa said, the state has made it difficult for teachers who are already certified to continue in that profession. She believes that removal of this language may begin to relieve the shortage.

Filling the 400 vacancies expected in 2005-2006 in the Department of Education will provide relief, but it will not reduce the size of classes. The number of vacancies is based on a ratio of 26 students to one teacher. Igawa said that if classes were reduced to a 17-1 ratio, teachers would be more effective. She said that with the current class size, teachers are spending as much as 23 percent of class time disciplining students, and they are working harder to get students to retain information.

Igawa said that Hawai‘i is ranked 18th in the nation, including Washington, D.C., for teacher’s salaries, but that when the cost of living is factored in, that ranking falls to dead last. Igawa also said that, for a lot of teachers, the job is not fun anymore because of the heightened expectations and the long work hours.

Attrition is also taking a toll on teacher numbers, said Bruce Shimomoto, personnel specialist for the Hawai‘i Department of Education. As older teachers retire, Shimomoto said, younger teachers, because many prefer to teach in their home towns, often move back to the mainland after only a few years. Because most of the teachers here in Hawai‘i are originally from Hawai‘i, Shimomoto said he would like to see more local people have access to higher education in their communities. For instance, there are no universities on Kaua‘i or Maui, and Shimomoto believes that if students could stay on those outer islands while in college, more of them might be inclined to become teachers.

Incentive programs help, Shimomoto said. Students who have earned their B.A. in one of the target areas can work as teachers with the agreement that they will become fully certified within four years. As they work, they can attend certification classes at night and report their progress to the Department of Education. The state has also created a loan forgiveness program that will erase the student loans of teachers who qualify, once they have worked as a teacher for a minimum of three years.

Shimomoto said that for many who have chosen to become teachers, the rewards are more gratifying than the monetary ones. Even if that is true, common sense suggests that those who live here are more likely to stay here and be satisfied as teachers if they had better benefits and a more competitive salary.

HPU’s new program for teacher certification (Kalamalama 29,1) and the new M.Ed program should help alleviate the shortage. HPU’s Center for Graduate Studies is accepting applications for the new education program, which will provide two options that will prepare graduates for teaching secondary education. Recruitment and curriculum development has already begun and classes will start in this summer. Undergraduate students can use the concurrent program to accelerate the two-year program and begin their teaching career sooner.

Harry Byerly, associate vice president and director of the Center for Graduate Studies, advised that students need to know that they want to teach and also what they want to teach when they start college. According to the HPU Web site through the Teacher Education program students can earn a master of education degree in secondary education and qualify to be licensed in 45 states including Hawai‘i.

Working adults who would like to become teachers, or teachers who would like to become certified in an additional area, can attend classes that are conveniently scheduled in the evenings and on weekends. Byerly said HPU’s education program has an emphasis on technology, and is using it to support learning. An electronic portfolio will be created for each student at the beginning of their graduate-level instruction to document their achievements. The portfolio will be available to students even after graduation, and it can be a valuable tool throughout their teaching career, Byerly said.

For more information on the education program at HPU, go to or contact the Center for Graduate Studies at 544-0279.



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