LIHUE — Statewide programs and financial aid can help educators love what they teach and teach what they love.
The University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Education provided application sessions with useful tips for becoming licensed teachers and pursuing graduate or professional development opportunities.
The recent distance program session at Kauai Community College attracted more than 20 educators interested in teaching opportunities.
Attendees came from Koloa, Waimea and Kapaa, as well as California, Florida and New York, and even as far away as Vietnam, Russia and Germany.
Marci Whitman of Puhi attended the session in hopes of obtaining her master’s degree in education. She has been trying to open a Montessori preschool on Kauai for more than a year but has been running into barriers with permitting and paying her teachers livable wages.
“I’m hoping in this process — between the connections I make with other people furthering their education and just getting more into the upper education — that I’m going to find a way to meet the needs,” she said.
Whitman operated her own Montessori school for 13 years in Northern California but feels a need to further her teaching education.
Other participants were interested in obtaining licenses and certificates, as well as discovering opportunities as substitutes or emergency hires for schools desperately in need of teachers.
The largest amount of teacher vacancies are at the elementary level, while demand is highest for special education, plus English, math and science at the secondary level.
UH advisers were able to help attendees determine which program fits them best, including options for face-to-face or online formats and full- or part-time commitments.
Initial teacher and dual licensure programs are offered for all islands, including bachelor’s and master’s of education, post baccalaureate certificates, and non-licensed graduate programs.
“Moving to Oahu for two years isn’t an option for a lot of people, so I think it’s great that people can stay in their community without leaving their family and friends and still complete our programs,” said Waynele Yu of the UH Teaching Program. “The best teachers connect community to the classroom, and this is what the MEdT (Master of Education in Teaching) program and all of our programs at the COE (College of Education) are all about.”
Lihue resident Jason Matsumoto said educators run deep in his family. His auntie retired as an elementary teacher at Kekaha, his sister teaches at King Kaumualii Elementary, his other aunt received a degree in education, his mom’s brother’s wife retired from teaching in California, and the list goes on.
“I’m looking into helping out the future,” Matsumoto said. “I enjoy working with the kids, and children are our future.”
He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and has worked as a commercial fisherman as well as in the hospitality industry. Now, he is exploring options in the teaching field.
“We’re trying to prepare the kids for after school and take some of that responsibility,” Matsumoto said. “As a parent, as a teacher, as a friend, we can only guide them.”
Fortunately, there are several avenues for teachers to receive financial aid to earn teaching certificates and degrees. Recipients of TEACH Grants can get up to $4,000 per year for schooling, while the Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness repays up to $17,500 for college loans after five years teaching with stipends for teaching special education. National and local scholarships, such as STAR for high school senior women, are also available.
“The best teachers are the ones grounded in their community. They know the students, the culture, the challenges, the rewards and the success stories that motivate learners,” said UH academic adviser Karen Wilson.
“Kauai has a very active nonprofit called Grow Our Own Teachers, and the DOE adopted the expression Grow Our Own for a recent initiative to support DOE employees who want to become licensed teachers,” she added. “When people (teachers) are allowed and encouraged to bloom where they’re planted, it produces a rich harvest for the children in those places.”