My Turn: Hawaii’s teacher shortage explained by a teacher who left

Hawaii is beautiful, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. From black lava rock to white sand to blue sky — the natural beauty of Hawaii is what makes it famous around the planet. Hawaii also has good students, kids who want to learn despite challenges and whose optimism and curiosity inspire teachers to do better at their jobs every day.

On the Big Island, at least the cost of living is not prohibitive on a teacher’s salary and the Hawaii State Teachers Association has negotiated a good contract that is fair to all parties concerned. So, everything is set for Hawaii to be an educational powerhouse and a leader in American education except for one thing.

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Hawaii has terrible administrators and school leaders.

My own experience as someone who was recruited from Oregon to move to teach in Pahoa echoes this reality. I came with high expectation and achieved great successes in the classroom, instituting National History Day and other inquiry-based programs schoolwide at the charter where I worked. My students and parents liked me and I built relationships full of aloha.

However, my unaccountable administrator was quick to scold and slow to praise. He was suspicious of outsiders, despite needing teachers from off-island to fill the ranks of educators at his school. So, after a little more than two years I left, not because the kids were in any way deficient, or because of pay or facilities issues. I left, as so many idealistic mainland based teachers do, because I could not work where I was not respected and trusted to do the job I had been given.

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If Hawaii Island and the whole state are serious about improving outcomes for our keiki, we need to seriously consider the role of administrators in schools and hold them accountable for the high rates of turnover, which they don’t just experience but directly cause. This way all of us can be held accountable for the children who are truly Hawaii’s future.

Henry Kellogg was a resident of Keaau. He now resides in Chicago.