Schools in need find teachers from overseas
Oct. 22, 2008
A growing number of school districts are hiring teachers from foreign countries to fill shortages in math, science and special education.
The trend is most evident in poor urban and rural districts, according to educators. Segun Eubanks, director of teacher quality at the National Education Association, the United States' largest teachers union, says many of those districts have trouble keeping teachers for reasons including low pay, disruptive students, and a lack of books and materials.
"American workers are not willing to do the work for the conditions and pay we offer," he says. "So we're recruiting them for the same reasons we recruit farmworkers and day laborers." The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a think tank, says a new teacher is generally paid $30,000 to $45,000.
The Department of Education does not track foreign teachers. The American Federation of Teachers union estimates at least 18,000 of the nation's 3.7 million teachers were hired elsewhere.
Kate Walsh, NCTQ president and a member of the Maryland State Board of Education, says it has become more common to hire overseas. "All poor districts have a harder time recruiting," she says. "Anytime you're teaching poor kids in the inner city, it's very hard to get teachers to stay."
Walsh says foreign teachers can enrich students' education by exposing them to other cultures. Eubanks agrees but says the U.S. must address the underlying shortage by training more teachers and improving schools.
Foreign teachers must pass state tests and meet federal requirements. Around the country:
- Prince George's County public schools in Maryland, with a teaching staff of 10,000, have 556 Filipino teachers and uncounted others from other countries.
- Los Angeles has 326 foreign teachers out of 33,529.
- Wichita, Kan., public schools have 43 foreign teachers, all Filipino, out of 4,000.
- Baltimore public schools have 593 foreign teachers from Jamaica, India, the Philippines and elsewhere out of 7,000, says George Duque, staffing director. "Retention has been excellent. We've only had 20, max, who have not been renewed or who have chosen to leave."
Duque says Filipino teachers are a good fit because English is one of the country's official languages and its academic system is similar to the U.S. system.
He acknowledges that there can be clashes over teachers' accents and cultural differences. Filipino teachers, for example, come from a culture where teachers are revered, he says. "When they come here, they have to learn about our culture and the urban culture and the culture of poverty and the challenges our children have," he says.
Danilo Danga, 33, is in his fourth year teaching special education at Baltimore's Calverton Elementary/Middle School. He taught English and social studies in the Philippines for eight years.
At first, he says, students disrupted class and cursed at him, yelling "Shut up, Jackie Chan!" and other taunts.
Colleagues advised him to assert himself and offer rewards for good behavior. He did. Among the rewards was Filipino chicken adobo he cooked himself.
"Each year is becoming better and better," he says. "I'm excited to come to school every day despite all the challenges."