Four hours after arriving at her Los Angeles hotel from the Philippines, a jet-lagged Lolita Magno was thrown into a non-stop schedule of orientations, training sessions, paperwork and getting documents both for her new life in the US 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 experience and knowledge she’ll take back to her students in the Philippines.
“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 said. “And we make students academically, globally and socially focused. It makes sense, doesn’t it?”
Magno is one of 115 teachers recruited by LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) 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 more than 20 years, this year’s is the largest group ever from abroad, fuelled by a national shortage in qualified teachers in the three subject areas.
“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,” saidDeborah Ignagni, who oversees the recruitment, selection, placement and credentialling of teachers at LAUSD.
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. It also hired some from Spain and Canada.
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.”
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 programme.
Now, there is a surplus of elementary schoolteachers 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 programmes 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 (Rs2.9 lakh) to teach math, science and special education at low-performing schools—a sum offered to all credentialled 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 programme 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 licence 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 credentialling 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.”
However, 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 US.
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 credentialled 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.