December 28, 2005

Local Schools Hiring Teachers From Philippines

By T.S. Mills-Faraudo, STAFF WRITER

School districts faced with a dearth of candidates for special education, math and science teaching positions have found a temporary fix in an unlikely place -- the Philippines.

Several school districts in San Mateo County and across the Bay Area are turning there to fill these spots, often left open as long as a year if districts depend strictly on recruiting in the United States.

When Assistant Superintendent Mary Willis of the San Mateo- Foster City School District went to the Philippines this month in search for candidates, a long line of applicants showed up for interviews.

Willis, who leads the district's human resources department, interviewed about 100 candidates for open teaching positions when she was there last week.

By the end of her trip, she hired one science, two math, and five special education teachers. When there last May she hired one health instructor, one math teacher, four special education teachers and three speech therapists.

That was after the school district exhausted all recruiting efforts for these positions in the United States, including job fairs all over the country and employment ads in newspapers and magazines.

Over the past few years, Jefferson Union hired about 10 teachers from the Philippines, Jefferson four, and Ravenswood City about 15, according to Avenida International, an organization that helps districts hire from the Philippines.

When school districts want to hire from the Philippines, they often turn to companies like Avenida.

The consulting firm arranges interviews with candidates, checks their teaching credentials and finds them housing.

Furthermore, they work with the nonprofit Amity of San Diego, which sponsors the teachers and obtains three-year visas for them. Once the three years are up, the teachers have to go back to the Philippines and share what they learned in the United States at schools in the country.

Avenida will even pay for school districts' travel expenses to the Philippines to interview candidates if they hire 10 or more of the applicants. Otherwise, it will arrange for school district officials to interview applicants by phone or through a video conference.

Low salaries

The lack of special education teachers, education experts said, can be attributed to the higher level of expertise needed in this field. As a result, qualified special education teachers in the United States typically go to higher-paying school districts.

Meanwhile, U.S. citizens qualified in math and science face similar problems. Why should they become teachers when they can make thousands more in the private sector?

"Of course our preference is to hire teachers within the system, but it's also good to have teachers from difference cultures," Willis said.

The shortage of these types of teachers may just be a Bay Area problem, said Matteo Rizzo, Jefferson's director of certificated personnel.

"I think part of it may be the high cost of living here," he said. "A lot of people are leaving the Bay Area."

Carole Delgado, president of the San Mateo Elementary Teachers Association, said it's sad that districts have to hire teachers from another country.

The state and school districts, she said, need to prioritize funding better so higher teacher salaries can be offered.

"It's scary," Delgado said. "It's a sorry statement about the state and districts' ability to recruit teachers."

In the Philippines there is a surplus of teachers and a shortage of teaching jobs, said Ligaya Avenida, founder of Avenida International.

"The Philippines is a very education-conscious country," she said. "Education is a very respected profession in the Philippines."

Teachers there typically make about $5,000 per year, Willis said. So when San Mateo-Foster City offers them $50,000, which is the typical pay for a special ed teacher in the district, they jump at the offer, Willis said.

Teachers broaden skills

Jeremiah Goco, 29, left his wife and three children in the Philippines for the opportunity to teach special education at Bayside Middle School in San Mateo.

For the last 21/2months since arriving here, he's been teaching sixth- and seventh-graders with cerebral palsy and multiple disabilities, as well as coaching boys basketball at the school.

"I wanted to expand my skills and knowledge as an educator, and I wanted to see how the special education program here works and learn some different techniques," Goco said.

While he has a master's degree in sociology, he plans to work toward a master's in education while in the United States.

"I think I've found my purpose, and it's to be an educator," Goco said. "You empower and you make people more productive."

He said it didn't take long for him to adjust to the cultural differences here.

"I think the community is really involved. Parents are really involved. And so far I'm very impressed with the school district's support," Goco said.

But Willis said it takes some teachers from the Philippines a lot longer to adjust to the culture here.

"One of the teachers said they were shocked when a student called them a dirty word because it's unheard of in the Philippines," she said. "We teach our kids to question, to be skeptical. But with that, we also get disobedience."

At Jefferson Union High School District, teachers from the Philippines add a much-needed diversity to the teaching staff, since 28 members of the student body are Filipino, said Superintendent Mike Crilly.

"For us it was a blessing in disguise to be able to hire these teachers," Crilly said. "We need to find some teachers that can model to the student body we have."

Staff writer T.S. Mills-Faraudo covers education. She can be reached at (650)348-4338 or [email protected]