US schools are hiring teachers from overseas
When Joevie Alvarado became a teacher, she never expected to teach American students 7,600 miles away.
But a dire shortage of US teachers means some schools are taking drastic measures — like hiring teachers from half a world away.”
For the first year, it's a little bit of a struggle because I'm the kind of person who misses family that easily,” said Alvarado, who taught for a decade in the Philippines before moving to Arizona.
But “in terms of pay, let's just say my previous pay was multiplied by eight or 10 when I got here,” she said. “So having that kind of pay, it enticed me to be here.”
While foreign teachers and US-born teachers in her school district are on the same pay scale, Joevie Alvarado said her salary in Arizona is at least eight times higher than what she made in the Philippines.
Some parents may be surprised to learn their children are now being taught by international teachers.Tom Trigalet, who was principal at Casa Grand Union High School when Alvarado was hired, said there's not much choice.
“When you really don't have any other applicants, how are you going to fill those spots?” Trigalet said.But hiring teachers from overseas is only a temporary fix to a widespread problem.
A nationwide crisis
Across the US, schools are hemorrhaging teachers while fewer college graduates enter the profession.In 2018, the US had an estimated shortage of 112,000 teachers, according to the Learning Policy Institute.
Arizona alone had 7,000 teacher vacancies going into this year, said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association.
Some of those vacancies are filled by people who don't have a standard teaching certificate, he said. Others are being plugged by long-term substitutes, contracted agencies or teachers who must add an additional course to their day.
So schools like Casa Grande Union High have hired several Filipino teachers using J-1 visas. Those visas allow teachers to stay in the US for up to five years.
Alvarado is one of several Filipino teachers in their fourth year at Casa Grande teaching science — a notoriously hard subject to fill with US teachers.
“People that have math and science degrees can make so much more money in research and in analytics and in other areas that their degree opens doors to,” Thomas said.
“The average starting pay (for teachers) in Arizona is about $36,300.”While that salary may seem paltry for many Americans, Filipino teachers like Noel Que say their jobs in the US are much more lucrative, allowing them to live better.
Noel Que taught for almost 30 years before coming to Arizona to teach high school biology and biotechnology.
“You can buy anything here — not like back home,” said Que, who teaches high school biology and biotechnology at Casa Grande”We can eat whatever we want. We can buy whatever we want of the salary that we're getting. … We just need to budget that salary that we're getting.
“The Casa Grande Union High School District says its international teachers are on the same pay scale as its American-born teachers.
Que, like other Filipino teachers at his school, lives with roommates to cut down on expenses.
While teaching in America has brought financial rewards, there are also emotional costs.