Hawaiʻi Public School Teachers Sign Wave Statewide
Thousands of public school teachers across Hawaiʻi waved signs to motorists before school this morning, Tuesday, March 7, and then walked into schools together before classes began.
Frustrated over contract negotiations with the state, teachers lined the streets to wave signs outside of Maui public schools, including Kīhei Elementary and Kamalii Elementary.
The teachers are calling attention to key members of the state’s negotiating team that have not been present at current contract talks.
Melody Zeitler, 3rd grade teacher and head faculty representative at Kīhei Elementary said, “There have been several negotiation meetings that have taken place where the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association is present and ready to negotiate and the states committee only had two out of six of their negotiators present.”
“They seem unwilling to participate in the negotiation process and we feel that it’s unfair,” Zeitler added. “We hope to bring attention to the matter and gain public support so that when HSTA meets with them again on March 28, they will not only be present, but will take us seriously and treat us like the professionals that we are,” she said.
The public teachers’ contract with the state expires on June 30.
Tuesday’s demonstrations follow a rally that was held at the State Capitol in February. The union says that after adjusting for Hawaiʻi’s high cost of living, public school teachers are one of the lowest paid in the country and, therefore, the state faces a teacher shortage crisis.
“Many teachers work second jobs because they can’t survive and take care of their families on their teaching salaries,” Zeitler said. “Teaching is strenuous, but when you have to take on a second job after school to make ends meet, it is no wonder teachers get burned out and leave after only a few years. If we cannot retain teachers then the students suffer,” she added.
Zeitler also noted that many teachers leave within the first five years of teaching in Hawaiʻi and that vacant positions never get filled or emergency hires get hired without teaching licenses. “It is the students who suffer from these conditions more than anyone else,” she stated.
Currently, there are about 1,400 public school teachers on Maui, another 110 on Molokaʻi and just under 50 on Lānaʻi.
“Our students deserve teachers who are invested in their profession and will stick around. Our students miss out on learning from experienced seasoned teachers when so many leave so early on. We can’t put our children first if we are putting our teachers last,” Zeitler concluded.