The University of Hawaii is tackling Hawaii’s chronic teacher shortage with a public campaign to attract more people to the profession, dubbed “Be a hero. Be a teacher.”
And as the multimedia effort works to burnish the image of teaching, the university is offering practical help to folks who already know what it’s like inside a classroom.
A “Grow Our Own” pilot program will allow some substitute teachers and educational aides to earn full teaching credentials at UH at no cost while keeping their jobs. The partnership with the Department of Education was funded with $400,000 from the Legislature.
Teacher vacancies at the start of the school year:
Source: State Department of Education
Hawaii’s public schools come up short of qualified teachers every year, and the problem is growing. The number of teacher vacancies ticked up steadily from 367 at the start of the 2013-14 school year to 531 last year. The current figure has not yet been released.
Donald Straney, UH vice president for academic planning and policy, said the “Be a hero” campaign is designed to help people see teaching in a more positive light and encourage them to pursue it.
“The campaign speaks to the very important role that teachers play for students and our society, and aims to inspire those who may not have considered a career in teaching to take another look,” he said.
“Everyone has heard what the problems of being a teacher are, but actually it’s one of the most rewarding professions you can get into,” he added. “I taught for many years at the college level, and the thing I miss most about being a professor is being in a classroom and watching people suddenly understanding what I was explaining.”
Hawaii’s teacher preparation programs, both public and private, graduate fewer than 500 teachers a year, while the state’s public schools typically need to hire 1,200 annually to keep up with turnover.
The “Be a hero” initiative includes a website, videos and posters designed to tempt more students and working professionals into teaching. Posters are going up in high schools and on UH campuses. Social media will help drive people to the website, www.beaherobeateacher.com, where they can learn more.
Clint Anderson, a UH-Hilo School of Education graduate, narrates the 30-second spot and a fast-paced two-minute “slam poetry” video that features his ode to teaching. Everyone appearing in the videos donated their time. Altogether, the campaign cost $47,700, including development, videos, website creation, posters, banners and promotional materials.
Thinking out of the box
The driving force behind “Be a hero” did not live to see its launch. Niki Libarios, director of the Office of Student Academic Affairs at UH Manoa’s College of Education and a champion of teaching, died suddenly of natural causes Aug. 19 at age 47.
“Almost all of this is the work of Niki Libarios,” said Donald B. Young, dean of the UH College of Education. “He took the leadership in our college and throughout the UH system in designing the content and working with Kai Media to create the content and video. He was a tremendous leader. This is a tribute to Niki.”
While the “Be a hero” campaign is aimed at the broader community, the “Grow Our Own” effort is targeted to substitutes, educational aides and emergency hires who already have their bachelor’s degrees. It aims to build the ranks of secondary teachers in English, mathematics, science, Hawaiian and world languages, which are shortage areas.
The program, starting in January, offers stipends equal to the cost of tuition. In exchange, candidates agree to spend three years teaching in Hawaii’s public schools. The deadline to apply is Oct. 1; more information is online at coe.hawaii.edu/node/4507.
“It is the first time state scholarships have been available to support teacher preparation,” Young said.
Barbara Krieg, assistant superintendent for human resources at the Department of Education, said the idea originated with a meeting in November.
“Sen. Michelle Kidani called us together, the Department of Education and UH, and facilitated a brainstorming session on what we could do that would help grow our own teachers,” Krieg said. “Her concept was, ‘Let’s look within the DOE.’”
Last year there were 2,400 registered substitute teachers who had bachelor’s degrees but had not yet completed teacher certification programs, Krieg said. Educational aides and emergency hires are another promising pool of talent.
“The beauty of it is they can use their DOE employment, for the most part, to meet the field training requirements,” Krieg said. “They can continue to work. The courses are done almost exclusively online and evening hours. It only takes three semesters. We’re hoping that it’s an affordable program not just moneywise, but timewise.”
Jonathan Gillentine, who in June became the first teacher from Hawaii to be inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame, said he believes that people in the islands do value teachers and the work that they do. But more effort is needed to “grow our own.”
“I like the idea that we’re thinking outside the box and we’re looking in other directions and not just doing the traditional teacher education kinds of things that we have in the past,” he said.
Educational assistants often have a good rapport with students, are grounded in the culture of the community and might just need “a nudge” to believe they have what it takes to be a teacher, Gillentine said.