The ‘heartbreaking’ reality of long-term substitute teachers in Hawaii

Every year, the state brings in hundreds of emergency hires to teach in our public schools.

But they’re not the only ones in the classroom who aren’t licensed to teach.

Hawaii has been facing a teacher shortage for years, and substitute teachers are part of the solution.

But the Hawaii State Teachers Association says some end up teaching long-term.

“There was a Spanish teacher that had never taken Spanish. In Honolulu, there was a calculus teacher that had never taken calculus. I see this countless times. It hurts me that we deny these kids an education,” said HSTA president Corey Rosenlee.

Amelia Jenkins, professor and chair of special education at University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Education, calls it “heartbreaking.”

“Who do you put in the classroom if there isn’t someone that speaks Spanish?” Jenkins asked.

In the 2016-2017 school year, there were 4,264 registered substitute teachers, though the Department of Education points out not all actually work during the school year. That’s compared to 12,268 licensed teachers and 531 vacancies.

A substitute teacher in Hawaii is paid a daily rate based on the class they belong to. It varies from at $143.99, $156.67, and $169.34.

To qualify, you need a bachelor’s degree, and/or a state-approved teacher education program certification.

“There’s not a large population of people out there clamoring to get into the teaching profession,” said Jenkins. “I would like to see the teaching profession as a whole more valued, that people respect the job teachers are doing. There wouldn’t be doctors or lawyers or anyone else if there weren’t teachers preparing them for their jobs.”

Jenkins was a teacher in North Carolina, Florida, and Texas. She says those states also suffer from teacher shortages.

But Hawaii is unique in that it’s the only state with one school district. Jenkins believes that may be contributing to the local teacher shortage.

Jenkins suggests splitting the DOE into several districts, which she says has been discussed in the past.

“If they’re in the area and they find it very difficult to find teachers, they can pay the teachers higher than the district adjoining,” Jenkins said.

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