Hawai’i Teachers Protest in the Streets for Fair Pay

How can we expect great things from teachers when they are held in so little esteem?
Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mark Adato (Hawai’i ‘09) is currently in his 4th year teaching high school science at James Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, Hawai’i on the island of O’ahu.

There’s a movement growing in Hawai’i, and as a teacher, I am proud to be part of it along with hundreds of other teachers from more than 80 schools across the islands of our state.  Teachers in Hawai’i have been operating under the same contract since 2009 when a 5% pay cut was imposed after negotiations between the governor and our union failed.  

Since then, the governor has been imposing this “last, best, and final offer” on teachers and stretching the legal battle we’ve been fighting with him to an indefinite end, setting a poor precedent for education in Hawai’i.  It’s not an issue of making enough money; it’s an issue of teacher retention and how education is prioritized in our state.  We finally decided to do something about it.


A group of middle-school aged students at the side of a road holding signs saying "Honk if you love teachers."


Photo courtesy of Mark Adato

It started out at my school, James Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, O’ahu, with a “Work to the Rules” protest six weeks ago.  We decided to work the hours our contracts pay us for (even though everybody knows no teacher actually does that) for one day, just to make the point that teachers go above and beyond and should be treated with respect.  The response from our community was overwhelming.  Between our teachers, parents, and students who support us, we had a turnout of over 600 people waving signs on the street and we made the news!  Since then, every day more schools have joined in our weekly sign-waving and work-to-the rules protest.

Where this will ultimately lead us is yet to be seen.  We’ve been successful in starting important conversations, which is great, but the negativity we’ve received from the governor and some of the people in charge (several of whom used to be teachers) is really disheartening.

Even if our union gets what it’s asking for, we’ll still be getting paid 40-70% less than teachers in U.S. cities with comparable costs of living. I know this problem is not unique to Hawai’i. We need a sea-change in how teachers are regarded in this country. How can we expect great things from teachers when they are held in so little esteem

Mark graduated from UCLA with a double major in mechanical engineering and business economics and received his masters in education from the University of Hawai’i while teaching full-time.  Mark is the course lead for Physical Science at his school and coordinates the school science fair.  He is part of the committee organizing the Work to the Rule protests at Campbell High School and helped develop the framework for other schools to become involved in the protest.  He is an active member of the Hawai’i State Teachers Association (HSTA), and he stays involved with Teach For America by working as an instructional mentor for first-year science teachers in his region.


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