Foreign teachers fill a need at LAUSD
Article Last Updated: 08/19/2007 11:57:01 PM PDT
Four hours after arriving at her Los Angeles hotel from the Philippines, a jet-lagged Lolita Magno was thrown into a nonstop schedule of orientations, training sessions, paperwork and getting documents both for her new life in America and her new job teaching science at a Los Angeles Unified school.
Despite pangs of homesickness and the uncertainties of a foreign environment, Magno knows she's begun a three-year journey that will offer her invaluable experience and knowledge she'll take back to her students in the Philippines.
She thought it an ideal match: She'd bring her degree in science where it's needed and gather experience working with a diverse student population to help achieve her goal of advocating for multicultural education at home.
"It's mutually beneficial. It's a symbiotic relationship. We share our knowledge, a little of our positive culture, and they share a little bit of their culture," Magno, 36, said. "And we make students academically, globally and socially focused. It makes sense, doesn't it."
Magno is one of 115 teachers recruited by the LAUSD from abroad for hard-to-fill positions of math, science and special education - comprising about one-seventh of the new hires for the 2007-08 school year.
While LAUSD has recruited from other countries for well over 20 years, this year's is the largest group ever from abroad, fueled by a national shortage in qualified teachers in the three subject areas.
Aggressive national recruiting, efforts to lure professionals from business and industry to enter the teaching force and working with local colleges and universities to attempt to produce more teachers, have not been enough to fill the district's vacancies.
And with districtwide initiatives to reduce class sizes and offer more rigorous, college-preparatory classes, LAUSD is looking anywhere it can to find qualified math and science teachers.
"We are like Baltimore, New York City, Atlanta, Chicago and other large districts who recruit out-of-country because there are not enough qualified American teachers who have gone to school to become math, science and special education teachers," said Deborah Ignagni, who oversees the recruitment, selection, placement and credentialing of teachers at LAUSD.
Ignagni doesn't see the district's reliance on foreign teachers subsiding anytime soon, but she hopes efforts to recruit highly qualified teachers will translate into lower turnover, reducing the need to recruit from abroad.
But in addition to the 100 teachers from the Philippines - about the same number hired from the country last year - LAUSD had to turn to India this year to fill the need, hiring 15 teachers.
Another 10 teachers came from Spain as well as a handful from Canada, she said.
The trend of looking abroad for teachers is not likely to ease anytime soon, said B.J. Bryant, executive director of the American Association for Employment in Education.
As baby boomers continue to retire, high turnover compared to years when teaching was a lifelong career, and the 25-year shortage of math, science and special education teachers persisting, the problem will not go away soon, Bryant said.
"We see nothing on the horizon that says it will not continue," she said.
The district turned to international recruitment for the first time in the 1980s from Mexico and Spain, at a time when their elementary schools were growing, the need for teachers was rising and it was the height of the bilingual program.
Now, there is a surplus of elementary school teachers and the focus has shifted to math, science and special education.
The Philippines, India, Spain and Canada are popular targets for LAUSD because experience has shown that based on the comparable nature of programs offered in those countries, the teachers will have no trouble qualifying for California credentials, Ignagni said.
Also, America's relationships with those governments allows them to bring in teachers on exchange visas, she said.
But in addition to a rigorous application and hiring process, the district does not offer perks to foreign teachers.
The only recruitment incentive and reimbursement is up to $7,000 to teach math, science and special education at low-performing schools - a sum offered to all credentialed teachers.
Foreign teachers also make the same as American teachers make under the bargaining unit scale.
Imelda Fruto, foreign recruitment specialist for LAUSD, has already gone to the Philippines twice to interview prospective teachers in the past two years and is getting ready for her third trip in October.
"I think the program is very effective because we're able to fill the vacancies that would otherwise be unfilled," Fruto said. "We would prefer to hire Americans, but it's not generating enough interest to fill those positions here.
"The international teachers are highly qualified, and it's a long process for them."
The process includes being assessed by an independent agency to see if they're qualified to be interviewed for a job; there's a rigorous review of their transcripts as well as oral interviews; they must have three years of teaching experience; they must be fluent in English; they must have a degree and teaching license in their country; and they must pass the mini-CBEST with the requirement of passing the CBEST here within one year of employment.
The California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) was developed to meet requirements of laws relating to credentialing and employment.
Only then could they get jobs and only in math, science and special education. Other applicants are turned away.
"Most of these people are graduates from UP or the University of the Philippines, which is the Harvard of the Philippines, and Ateneo, which is considered the Stanford. They're from the Ivy League of the Philippines," Fruto said. "It's not like we're taking any person off the street. These people are very well educated and they have to meet our requirements."
But foreign recruitment has raised the ire of some American teachers applying for the high-demand positions, saying the slots are being taken by their overseas counterparts.
But district officials insist that they are resorting to overseas hiring because they simply do not get enough qualified applicants from the U.S.
Barbara Burnett, LAUSD's assistant director of special education certificated employment operations, insists Americans with general teaching credentials are generally not pursuing those options that will allow them to teach in math, science and special education.
"People get a little indignant, saying why do you hire teachers from other countries?
"Unfortunately, it's true, there are many qualified Americans having trouble finding a teaching job," Burnett said, but they are credentialed as general subject teachers, which is a saturated field.
The key is that those teachers need to go back to school and get certificated in the shortage-filled areas, "and they'll easily find a job," she said.
"So there are options, but obviously Americans are not availing themselves of those opportunities because there are still vacancies," Burnett said.
Special education teacher Maria Nunag, 33, is about to begin the second year of the exchange program and shared her experiences with the newcomers at their orientation at LAUSD headquarters Thursday.
She is hoping to use what she learns at her job at 20th Street Elementary in South Los Angeles to open her own learning center in the Philippines.
"I would like to gain more knowledge of my craft since special education is limited in the Philippines," she said.
It is that future payoff in her career that pushed her through the challenges of adjusting to a new place and a different culture the first year.
In a culture where family is very important, some of the newcomers found themselves crying at the orientation. Most foreign teachers live together to help ease the adjustment to a new country, a different culture, different people and the pressures of a new job.
As Magno prepared her green "Pilipinas" passport to show officials from U.S. Social Security Administration Thursday, she said she is focusing on the big picture - what she'll learn and how she'll be able to take her new knowledge to benefit her students and her country to make them prepared for a global economy.
"We're global. We have to go out of our comfort zone, we have to reach out. It doesn't matter what race you are - once a teacher, always a teacher. Anywhere," Magno said. "They move lives, they inspire, they create change."