Coming Up Short on Teachers
Schools struggle to find the right equation for recruiting and retaining personnel
News about teacher shortages continue to make headlines nationwide. In Hawaiʻi, education officials scramble to fill 400–500 vacancies at the beginning of each school year, depending on emergency hires and substitutes to fill the gap, a move that makes some educators nervous.
"Nobody likes hiring on an emergency basis," says Randy Hitz, dean of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s College of Education. "The state Department of Education is in a difficult position because someone has to teach a classroom full of kids."
Reasons often cited for the dearth in qualified teachers include an aging teaching corps moving into retirement, low salaries, competing professions, lack of professional support and poor facilities.
Bruce Shimomoto, a veteran DOE recruiter, adds other factors: new federal and state mandates such as No Child Left Behind and the Felix Consent Decree. "We’ve had teacher shortages before in some areas, but as time goes on there are more and more areas that require certification, and the number of graduates from UH has not kept pace."
Moreover, DOE has to grapple with geographic shortages, Shimomoto says. "UH is producing more students in elementary ed, but if you ask these students if they want to teach in Waiʻanae or Molokaʻi, the answer is ʻno.’"
The most acute shortages are in math and science at the secondary level and special education at all levels. But teachers are also needed in vocational trades, computer science, library science, Hawaiian studies and English, he says.
The Mānoa College of Education is doubling recruitment efforts, increasing capacity, adding and expanding programs and making teaching programs more accessible to mid-career professionals and to the neighbor islands. With the DOE, it has also established tuition waivers and loan forgiveness programs.
"People think of a teaching education as a four-year program," says Hitz. "That’s only one of our models. We have a post-baccalaureate and a master’s degree. And we do lots of variations of all three by distance delivery." The college’s Office of Technology and Distance Programs was created in 2002.
"Our objective is to ensure that teaching programs are available to people who are working fulltime and to students on the neighbor islands and Oʻahu’s Leeward Coast," said Paul McKimmy, who runs the programs. "Now we have programs for people who want to become teachers and teach in those areas." The program offers four distance delivery methods:
- Face to face instruction–faculty and students go to the island with the largest enrollment, typically Maui. Flights and overnight accommodations are covered by tuition.
- The Hawaiʻi Interactive Television System (HITS)–the system has new receiving sites on Kauaʻi and in West Hawaiʻi and expanded operations for Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi and Hāna. Still, some students have to drive long distances, sometimes up to two hours, for their video classes.
- WebCT (Web Course Tools)–instructors post class materials online and hold discussions through email.
- Web-conferencing–computer-based courses use audio and Internet capabilities, PowerPoint presentations and video clips.
More than 200 neighbor island students are enrolled in online licensing programs for elementary, secondary and special education. This fall, 125 more are expected to enroll.
Four years ago the college implemented Transition to Teaching, a fast-track, three-semester federal program aimed at graduates in other fields who want to teach math and science.
This fall, UH West Oʻahu will launch a baccalaureate degree in early childhood education in hopes of training more Head Start professionals. The program is a response to recent congressional action that requires 50 percent of Head Start teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree by 2010. Graduates will receive a BA with a concentration in early childhood education.
"Because the concentration will be embedded in the social sciences degree, students will have a range of career opportunities beyond teaching," says Melinda Wood, program developer at West Oʻahu.
The new program will partner with community colleges on Maui, Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi and in Honolulu. Students will be able to take early childhood courses at the community colleges and complete their bachelor’s degree course work at West Oʻahu.
In addition, West Oʻahu plans to launch an elementary education program in fall 2007 to address shortages in the Leeward area, where teacher turnover is a serious problem. "We are hoping to ʻgrow teachers in their own backyards,’ in hopes that teachers who already live and work in the Leeward side will stay in the area," says Wood. Leeward Community College recently established an associate of arts in teaching to create a pipeline into West Oʻahu for students wanting to become teachers.
UH Hilo offers a teacher education program as well as a master’s in education. However, those programs only graduate about 20 teachers a year, notes Shimomoto.
"I think we have dealt with the capacity issue pretty effectively," says Hitz, adding that next fall COE will admit 175 students. "Increasing our capacity to meet critical workforce needs in the state is a top priority for the university," adds UH Interim Vice President for Academic Planning and Policy Linda Johnsrud. "That includes such areas as nursing, teaching and construction."
The UH administration recently increased the College of Education’s budget by $756,000 to start programs on the neighbor islands. Last year COE received $500,000 from the Legislature for eight faculty positions, including an administrative one, and the governor has requested funds for two more.
"The administration has been very supportive," says Beth Pateman, elementary co-director in COE’s Institute for Teacher Education. "Two years ago we had to refuse students in the elementary program because we didn’t have enough faculty."
Mānoa graduates 300 to 400 teachers a year with specialties in different fields. Of that number, about half enter the public school system, says Hitz.
Special education program Chair Amelia Jenkins knows too well the difficulties involved in recruiting special ed candidates. The program has failed to attract enough students, despite strong recruitment efforts and financial incentives, including a tuition waiver. Students going for a baccalaureate or a post baccalaureate degree get their tuition paid with the condition that they teach (three years for the bachelor’s and five for the master’s).
"Being a special ed teacher is a tough job, and not only because of the students you have to deal with," Jenkins says. "There are a lot of federal and state guidelines to adhere to regarding students with disabilities and a lot of paperwork."
Schools are also having a hard time recruiting candidates in math and science, where competing fields that did not exist 30 years ago lure students away. The university was hoping that TTT (Transition to Teaching) would attract mid-career professionals who want to teach math or science. But the program has been struggling to find individuals with the necessary credentials. As of February, TTT had recruited 70 participants for 100 openings. Students receive $1,500 per semester and $500 for supplies, plus fee reimbursement for students who pass the PRAXIS tests required to teach in public schools. In return, students must teach for three years in a Hawaiʻi public school.
"The conditions of the schools, the low salaries, the bureaucracy, all contribute to poor recruitment," says Virgie Chattergy, who heads the program. The bad press DOE frequently receives doesn’t help, she adds.
Eclipsing teacher recruitment is the problem of retaining good teachers. "We can prepare, prepare and prepare, but they leave," says Pateman. Every year close to 1,600 teachers leave the islands, according to the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association.
Chattergy attributes retention problems to what she calls the three Cs: conditions, compensation and culture. School culture particularly affects mainland teachers, whose temperaments may be incompatible with that of the school and whose expectations are often unrealistic, she explains.
"A large portion of teachers’ time is spent dealing with administrative matters rather than teaching," she says. "This requires maturity, experience and other skills that cannot be taught. The only thing you can do is provide more incentives, including a more attractive environment."
Last year state lawmakers introduced legislation that provides mainland recruits with housing assistance, increases funds for teacher development, provides bonuses to those willing to teach in remote areas and establishes a mentoring program. The initiative would benefit emergency hires, says Pateman. "They are thrown into the classroom with very little or no field experience."
Shimomoto believes mentoring programs are one of the most effective ways of keeping teachers here. "It’s a very important component but also a very expensive one when budget cuts come and fiscal realignment is required."
The reasons teachers leave are as diverse as the teachers themselves, says Shimomoto. Some don’t fit into Hawaiʻi’s culture and are lonely, some flee the high cost of living, and some leave because of lack of professional support. "Compensation is part of the mix but not the number one driver," he says.
While teacher salaries have gone up in the last few years, the Hawaiʻi teachers union contends wages have not kept pace with the high cost of living. The average teacher’s salary is $46,000; the union would like to see that reach $60,000 when a new contract is negotiated in 2007.
No one enters the teaching profession to become wealthy, but teachers should feel financially secure and supported in their profession, educators say. Toward this end, the university and DOE have been collaborating to improve teaching conditions. "We all struggle in Hawaiʻi and throughout the nation in our efforts to recruit teachers in math, science and special education," says Hitz. "And we struggle to recruit people willing to serve in inner cities and remote rural areas."
Ultimately, says Shimomoto, "everyone is trying to figure out how we can best meet teachers’ needs while providing children with quality education."