The unsung heroes helping DOE through staffing issues: Substitute teachers

Staffing issues have challenged Hawaii schools and principals in recent weeks. The unsung heroes helping students and schools through it? Substitutes teachers.
Published: Feb. 13, 2022 at 3:22 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 13, 2022 at 8:47 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Staffing issues have challenged Hawaii schools and principals in recent weeks. The unsung heroes helping students and schools through it? Substitutes teachers.

Every day Ilima intermediate has teacher gaps to fill, and when a sub steps-in, it’s a huge weight off everyone’s shoulders.

Shawna, better known as “Kumu” Nishimoto, has been a sub for five years. And these past few weeks may have been the busiest for fill-in teachers like herself.

Right now she’s a long-term biology substitute. It’s almost ironic she’s in this role.

“I absolutely treated the subs, like they were horrible. I was a horrible student. And I wanted to be the one to change that. And I realized the impact now as a substitute teacher, the impacts that subs can have in classrooms,” Nishimoto said.

Now more than ever, others are taking notice.

“Before it was just ‘Oh you’re a sub?’ Now it’s ‘Oh, sub? How’s it going? Can I get your number in case I need you for something,” she said.

Like other administrators, Principal Chris Bonilla has struggled to fill vacancies. He’s pulled in vice principals and other staff at times. Luckily, he says more people are asking about becoming a sub.

“They’re all able to help pitch in and fill in, as well as our substitute teachers that we’ve had really grateful that we have the knowledge to help fill in about three to four vacancies that we average per day,” he said.

But when they come in, it’s harder than ever

“Different job, different school, different lesson plans, they’re not sure what’s going on. They’re not sure who’s sick was on a quarantine list who’s, who’s not.”

It’s tough work, but for many it’s also incredibly rewarding.

“It’s about giving back to my community,” Nishimoto said.

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