- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Local school officials say they are looking abroad for educators to deal with a short supply of U.S. teachers and to engage in cultural exchanges with other countries.

Public school officials in Loudoun County — the fastest-growing county in Virginia — have hired 55 teachers from 14 different countries, including Costa Rica and Mexico. In Washington County, Md., school officials plan to employ as many as 10 foreign teachers next fall.

Meanwhile, Fairfax County is using educators primarily from Japan as foreign-language and culture-immersion teachers. Prince George’s County and the District are hiring teachers from the Philippines, Spain, Nigeria, Turkey and countries in South America to fill shortages in various curriculums, officials said.

The foreign-teaching hires meet a critical need while providing a “cultural-exchange opportunity,” said Wayde Byard, spokesman for Loudoun County public schools.

“This is not [foreign workers] taking U.S. teachers’ jobs,” Mr. Byard said. “Between us and Fairfax [County], we’ll take every graduate the 38 accredited education colleges in Virginia produce — so we recruit worldwide.”

Loudoun County currently employs 3,578 teachers and will hire 800 new ones over the summer. Mr. Byard said the hires will cover the teacher-attrition rate and fill 225 positions created for the district’s five new schools, which will open in the fall.

Patricia Abernethy, deputy schools superintendent in Washington County, said school officials turned to overseas educators only after failing to recruit enough homegrown teachers.

“We have advertised in newspapers and online, and we are not able to find sufficient teachers for our needs,” said Miss Abernethy, whose school system employs about 1,500 teachers a year and has about 100 vacancies. “If we could find teachers in our country, we would do it.”

School officials have attributed the teacher shortage to such factors as an aging and retiring teacher population, an inability to retain teachers who are dissatisfied with pay and classroom discipline, and an increasing student enrollment.

In addition, colleges and universities are not producing enough teachers to meet state needs. For example, Maryland public schools needed to hire 5,900 teachers in 2003, when state colleges graduated about 2,300, officials said.

Stepping into the breach is the Visiting International Faculty Program. Based in Chapel Hill, N.C., VIF has provided foreign teachers for 33 school districts in Virginia, including Arlington, Loudoun, Prince William and Spotsylvania counties.

Nationally, VIF has provided U.S. schools with 1,800 teachers from 52 different countries, with Colombia producing the most teachers (237) and Jamaica offering the second most (128).

VIF applicants must be fluent in English, hold a degree equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree, be a certified teacher in their home country, have at least three years of teaching experience, pass a background check and have at least two years of driving experience, program spokesman Ned Glasock said.

The foreign teachers are paid on the same salary schedule as their American counterparts. In addition, VIF teachers are given visas that allow them to stay in the country no more than three years. They do not apply for or receive green cards.

Officials in Washington County have reluctantly turned to VIF to fill its teaching vacancies.

“That was the sole purpose — filling positions that were vacant that we couldn’t fill with U.S. teachers. We just didn’t have any other choice,” said Paul Bailey, president of the Washington County Board of Education.

Importing teachers saves school systems in Social Security payments and benefits, which the VIF provides.

Wayne Ridenour, a member of the Washington County school board and a former teacher, had reservations about hiring VIF teachers.

“I’m afraid that because it is a little cheaper and easier, we’re going to have it as a crutch later. I want to bring our own teachers — bring them, keep them,” he said. “I’m very concerned that this will become a crutch.”

Founded in 1989, VIF does not currently send U.S. teachers overseas, but has done so in the past.

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