Growing Our Own Teachers on Kauai is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization incorporated in the State of Hawai`i.

We support K-12 teacher candidates on the island of Kaua`i who participate in the University of Hawai`i’s teacher credentialing degree program for neighbor islands and other accredited licensure programs. The UH degree program and iTeach Hawaii allow students to complete coursework online helping them maintain family and cultural ties to the Kaua`i community they serve.

The Challenge

The teacher shortage on Kauai is the reason we originally started Growing Our Own Teachers on Kauai (GOOTOK). Kauai has struggled for many years to fill teacher vacancies. It’s expensive to live here, so many teachers who move to Kauai to teach do not stay long. This is evident in the 2020/21 school year (SY) employment report, which indicates that the percentage of teachers with no prior experience has ranged from 57.7% to 64.5% overall over the last 5 years reported. The statistics are more compelling when you realize that 37% of the teachers resigning are leaving Hawaii.

We discussed these issues with the Kauai DOE Superintendents, Bill Arakaki in 2018 and Paul Zina in 2021. The DOE just doesn’t have the candidates on Kauai to fill these vacancies. To help fill the teaching positions, the DOE recruits mainland teachers, uses long-term substitute teachers, or hires teacher candidates who have yet to complete a college teacher training program on an emergency-hire basis. Of the total state new hires, Kauai had 57 new teacher hires in the 2020/21 SY. Of those, 4 had completed a teacher training program but had not received their license and 6 had not completed a college teacher training program.

Studies show that high teacher turnover rates inflict high costs on the school and lowers the overall quality of the teachers available for hire. These issues cause a negative impact on the entire student population of the schools affected (see “Why Addressing Teacher Turnover Matters“).

Our Solution

As stated earlier, Kauai’s largest issue in teacher retention lies in the recruitment of teachers from the mainland. While living and teaching in the Hawaiian Islands may sound like a teacher’s dream job, the reality of living here soon becomes unattractive. The high cost of living, lack of available goods and resources, and cultural differences all contribute to a high number of mainland teachers leaving the islands.  While GOOTOK does not have the resources to address the issues for new arrivals, we can help lessen the need for mainland recruits by helping our local residents in their desire to gain a teaching credential.

Teacher candidate students in their final semester are required to work in a school as a teacher on an intern basis. Because of the workload, they cannot hold a second job to supplement their income, so they may experience undue financial hardship.

Most of the students we assist are either just starting out or changing careers, but they have expenses and/or families to help support. If they don’t receive funding from various sources, they may have to drop out of the program.

GOOTOK provides a stipend to student applicants who show a financial need so they can complete their student teaching semester. We are in the process of expanding our mission to include other activities to assist teacher candidates. 

Over the years, GOOTOK has helped close to 100 teacher candidates with an average award between $2,000 and $4,000 to each student. That funding, combined with other scholarship and student loan resources, help these candidates maintain their living expenses while student teaching full time for little or no pay.  We ask these teacher candidates to teach on Kauai for at least three years. Since our beginnings in 2006, we have averaged an 85% retention rate — many have continued to teach on Kauai well beyond their three year commitment.  Most of our recipients say they could not have completed their final semester without the funding we provided.

Some of our recent graduates.

Our impact on the community has been well-received by the Kauai Department of Education, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, and other organizations. We have been successful in lessening the teacher shortage a little. We plan to do more and we have expanded our program to include students studying to become secondary school teachers.

You can help! Please consider donating your time as a volunteer or making a monetary contribution.

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Our Origins

Our Board of Directors