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As vacancies explode, international teachers may be a solution

From Bangkok, Thailand to Margaret Pollard Middle School, Francis Salmazan has seen a lot as an international teacher.

He is entering his fifth year as an 8th grade science teacher at Pollard and he says teaching there has been almost like a dream come true.

“Before I left college, I knew working in the United States was something I had always wanted to do,” he said.

Salmazan grew up in Tarlac, Philippines, before spending 10 years as a teacher in Bangkok. He says he enjoys seeing the world through the eyes of young people, exploring culture and teaching students about his own home.

At Chatham County Schools, Salmazan is one of 53 international teachers. This is a number that is only growing year after year. In fact, North Carolina leads the nation in international teachers and the number has quadrupled over the past decade. The international teacher boom may be a solution to the labor shortages that have plagued the county and the state.

According to an analysis by WRAL-TV, North Carolina allocated $121.4 million in this year’s budget to pay international teachers, six times what it did a decade ago. This funding is why international teachers now make up more than 2% of the total number of teachers in the state and 8.5% in CCS.

Salmazan is able to teach at CCS on a J-1 visa, which allows for visitor exchange programs between countries. The visa lasts for three years but is often extended for another two years if teachers meet performance targets.

At the end of this school year, Salmazan will have to return to the Philippines because his visa will expire.

He eventually found Pollard through a North Carolina-based international teacher company called Educational Partners International (EPI). The company helps teachers complete visa formalities, find housing and other basic needs at their new schools, and identify jobs for which they are qualified.

The EPI is one of many programs used by the CCS. Others include Chapel Hill-based Participate Learning, which is how Siler City Elementary 2nd grade teacher Sandra Rincon ended up at CCS.

“We came here to teach students, but it’s more rewarding than I could have imagined,” Rincon said.

Rincon is from Colombia and teaches in a bilingual school, which means half of the teaching is in Spanish. She said bringing her culture into the classroom has helped students grow.

“I have a student who entered 2nd grade without knowing Spanish, even though his family is Hispanic,” she said. “At the end of the year, her mother called me and said she was finally able to talk to her grandmother – it’s more important than any lesson I could teach, because it will last forever.”

Rincon said, especially at her school, which has a large Hispanic population, she can be an asset because she connects students to their cultural roots in Latin America. She said international teachers have the freedom to incorporate their home cultures into lesson plans through dances, presentations and vacations.

“We offer a unique mindset,” Rincon said. “We can teach the culture as part of the curriculum or teach the curriculum as part of the culture.”

This kind of impact and cultural awareness is something that CCS sees as a major benefit for its students and is why the district continues to bring in international teachers. JoAnna Massoth is an international teacher coach with CCS. She has seen firsthand the benefits of increasing the number of international teachers in the district.

“I started doing this work in 2018 and had 10 bilingual teachers,” Massoth said. “Last year I had 46 international and bilingual teachers and there are even more in the county.”

Massoth helps supplement the role of corporations by assisting with housing and helping international teachers acclimate to CCS-specific cultural challenges.

Although the growth in the number of international teachers has been successful overall, it is not without challenges. These challenges have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and the county’s rapid growth. Both Massoth and the teachers said helping teachers find accommodation and transportation has become much more difficult this year due to rising costs in both markets.

“Last year it was a nightmare to find a car or make the necessary appointments that we needed,” Rincon said. “It hasn’t been easy for us.”

Massoth said these challenges are likely short-term and caused by the immediate fallout from COVID-19. Overall, she thinks the district will be able to continue to grow its international teacher program, and the state is supporting them in this endeavor.

CCS recently announced that it is adding three more international teachers from Colombia ahead of the new school year to help with Jordan-Matthews High School. The district is able to support international teachers through Massoth and an additional coach, which most districts do not have.

North Carolina had the most new J-1 visas last year, with 830 new teacher visas. Each year, North Carolina receives approximately one in five to six of the new visas granted.

With fewer graduating from North Carolina college education programs, the state is looking for international teachers to meet the need. According to federal data, 4,228 students completed an education program in North Carolina in 2020, down 36% from 2012.

“As an international teacher, you are already different from others,” Massoth said. “We want to support the creation of a community here so they can thrive. When we do this, we really help the district, these teachers and especially the students to be better prepared to be global citizens. »

Journalist Ben Rappaport can be reached at brappaport@chathamnr.com or on Twitter @b_rappaport.

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