Teaching in the Land of Rainbows

Aram Armstrong STEM


There is a cherished 'ōlelo no'eau (Hawaiian proverb): “Ole ua,'ole anuenue" (“No rain, no rainbow”). It is through this prism, we shall view teaching in Hawai’i, using the lens of asset framing, a thinking tool that defines situations by their positive aspects and contributions, rather than their problems and deficits. There are a multitude of benefits to teaching in the Aloha State. On any given day in paradise, you are likely to enjoy sunshine and one of 200 varieties of Hawaiian rain from which rainbows are born. From verdant valleys to majestic mountains and even desolate deserts, the diversity of climates is matched only by the diversity of cultures present in Hawaiʻi. Hawaiian cultural values of aloha (love), pono (justice), kuleana (responsibility), and lokahi (unity) create a strong foundation for island living and kinship with the land; ʻāina is ʻohana (the land is home). We love our kumu (teachers) and respect our kupuna (elders).

"You Could Be Teaching Here"[Hanalei Elementary School on Kauai  (CC) Wally Gobetz

Despite Hawai’i’s abundance of natural gifts, the state education system is struggling to attract and retain teachers. More than 60,000 students in any given year are not taught by a teacher that meets the state standards. Especially for newcomers, the first years are critical for laying a strong foundation for a joyful and fulfilling vocation. Finding your niche and adjusting to the new culture is a process of discovery. Relationships are your most important asset as a teacher, and they are built over time.

We know the challenges new teachers face: the high cost of living, a competitive housing market, cultural differences, gaining the respect of and connecting to your students. But we are grateful for the rain that brings rainbows and so want to focus on the lesser-known benefits of teaching in Hawai’i:

Respect for Teachers

Hawaiians have a particularly strong admiration for educators, so much so that they hold special esteem within the community. “I’ve never seen anyone respect teachers the way students in Hawaii do once they get to know you,” says [science teacher Jim Cox]. “And it’s not just the students. Everyone in the community respects us for the work we do. They know that we’re committed to our keiki (kids), and keiki are the islands’ most valuable treasure. So I take pride in the job I’ve been entrusted with.”

School Spirit

Mainland schools have their Friday night lights, but in Hawai’i, school spirit is so strong that it bleeds out into the surrounding community. In some ways, residents identify more with the nearby high school than their town name. That leads to strong ties between teachers and the community. School culture also tends to be more supportive than that on the mainland.

Laidback Lifestyle

Being on island time means gaining a new perspective on life. And it’s more than just the opportunity to hit the beach whenever the urge strikes. Hawaiian culture reveres tranquility and nature, and that’s reflected in everyday school activities, from the soft Hawaiian melodies that signal the start and end of class periods to the ​​crowing of roosters and clucking of chickens outside the class window.

Expanded Classrooms

Hawai’i boasts 10 of the fourteen recognized climate zones, meaning STEM teachers have the whole of the islands as their science lab. Class trips to learn about tides and volcanoes are a matter of course.

Job Security

Hawai’i is one of the few states that still offers tenure to qualified teachers, meaning increased job security for those who qualify.

Job Support

The state education system offers numerous programs to support teachers, especially those in their first few years, including the Teacher Induction Program and mentorship opportunities.

Cultural Diversity

The state boasts the largest population of multiracial residents — almost a quarter of Hawaiian residents are from more than one ethnic background, more than in any other state. Hawaiians like to joke that the state is less a melting pot and more a bowl of fried rice — where all the various ingredients work together to enhance the overall flavor and enjoyment of the meal.

Waianae High School - Photo by Rachel So (CC)

We want to partner with you on this journey. Together we can support each other through the ups and the downs. This journey will require your full self — your passion, your grit, and your intelligence. And not just yours alone — all of our gifts are required.

Our future is out there, in the hearts and minds of our keiki.

Come join us in shaping the future. Teach STEM in Hawai’i.

Ready to teach STEM in Hawaii?

About the Author
Avatar photo

Aram Armstrong

Aram Armstrong is a designer, educator, and creative facilitator from Maui dedicated to bringing about positive, systemic change through his work at Generative Ventures Hawaii (http://www.generativity.us/) and Maui Mind Academy (https://www.mauimindacademy.org/).