Help wanted: Substitute teacher shortage stretches Hawaii public schools thin

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Teachers put in a request for a substitute teacher almost a week in advance and days later, no one has picked up the job. This is just one scenario that is occurring due to an apparent shortage of substitute teachers, according to the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA).

Meanwhile, the Department of Education (DOE) said, “In, general we do not have a shortage of substitute teachers.” However, the HSTA has seen otherwise.

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“Another teacher shared that the vice principal at their school had three classes of students in the auditorium for supervision because there weren’t substitutes on campus,” said Logan Okita, HSTA vice-president.

“I don’t know what happens during the day when I’m not there or these other teachers who, if it’s personal, if it’s sick, if it’s COVID, they’re out for the 10 days, who is actually teaching the students are they getting the instructions that they need,” said Marcia Howard, a teacher at Pearlridge Elementary School.

The DOE added that for the 2021-2022 school year, there is a pool of nearly 3,200 substitute teachers available with an average of 1,200 substitutes being requested a day, statewide. But, the teacher’s union said many substitutes are not taking jobs due to COVID concerns. Plus, there is a DOE policy that restricts substitutes from working in various districts.

“However, they didn’t report that those substitutes are only able to substitute in the specific area where they’re registered,” Okita said.

“I think it’s a good policy because then that way they get used to the community; the kids get used to having them in different classes,” said Vickie Kam, a teacher at Ilima Intermediate School. “So that’s actually a real strength if we’re able to do it, but again, not having enough people that spreading them thin.”

The DOE said they are aware that in some rural areas, where there are general staffing shortages, it is challenging to secure substitutes. Some schools are taking it upon themselves to recruit educators.

“Our admin has started recruiting some of the teachers in training, the ones that are finishing up their teaching license to go through the subprogram. I’m going to be honest and say I think that that’s something I’d like to see the DOE do,” said Kam.

The DOE told KHON, the department is working hard to recruit in rural areas.

The HSTA wants to see action immediately for the student’s sake.

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“It’s hurting our students. They’re not able to learn. Those three classes of students who were in an auditorium together, they probably weren’t given instruction that was appropriate to what they should have been learning at that time. Most likely they were told to read a book or do classwork,” Okita said.

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