Mentors, incentives can ease shortage
Students may dread the new early start of the school year on July 27. But the state's public schools may fear opening day even more.
Once again, there aren't enough teachers to go around, and unless the Department of Education has a flurry of hires, the public schools will be short-staffed by several hundred at the start.
The chronic problem is worsened this year by a greater number of retirees and promotions into the managerial ranks. And now even the state teachers' union, long reluctant to consider such things as incentives, says it's willing to talk with the DOE about programs like the ones offered in New York City.
New York provides a teacher with nearly $15,000 a year for housing, plus additional subsidy payments for attaining an advanced degree. New York's incentives draw some 14,000 job seekers.
Hawai'i would love that kind of applicant pool, but such means may be too costly in a state that spends more than half its budget on education. Still, incentives that are smart, fair and targeted to boost specific shortage areas like special ed or Neighbor Island teachers should be considered.
Incentives with an eye to the bottom line can be effective. One relatively low-cost incentive is subsidizing teacher certification exams.
In the meantime, other prudent, practical and low-cost solutions should be explored.
One idea is mentoring local high school students interested in teaching careers. Matching a young person with a master teacher can be inspiring for both. Such a program values and reveres the veteran, and develops the shared values of education among young people who have their roots in Hawai'i.
Not only do they understand the public schools' needs from a "consumer perspective," but they also are familiar with Hawai'i's high cost of living, the school district's biggest recruiting drawback.
The teacher cadet program of the Hawai'i Alliance for Future Teachers could be a model worth following. For the past four years it has existed in a handful of high schools and has placed a number of students in pre-education college tracks.
This year, state legislators budgeted $150,000 to develop the program further. It should be monitored for possible expansion statewide.
That won't be enough to solve the chronic shortages, but a good mix of cost-effective solutions is better than the scramble for new recruits we see each year.