WASHINGTON – Her 11-year-old students call Josefina Malibiran “Ms. M.” because they can't pronounce her name. The nine children at Bradbury Heights Elementary School in Capitol Heights,Md.,were ready to recite the days of the week and the months Monday when she called out,“It's warm up time!”
Then,the children,who are diagnosed with mental retardation or autism,energetically sang,“Hello,How Do You Do?”
Malibiran,who is 57 and holds a doctorate in educational psychology,is applying what she calls universal skills. She's no longer teaching at a university in Manila,Philippines. She is one of 30 Filipinos hired last year by the Prince George's County Public Schools to teach special education.
Malibiran is among more than 10,000 foreign teachers recruited annually to fill the gaping demand for teachers in the United States in crucial subjects such as special education,math and science.
With baby-boomer teachers retiring and low salaries by U.S. standards,the shortage – estimated at 50,000 a year by the Department of Education – has become an alarming trend.
The National Education Association,the nation's largest teachers union,said the country will need 2.4 million new teachers over the next decade.
Bill Boden,human resources director for the Baltimore County,Md.,Public Schools said the shortage is inevitable.
“How many people are coming out who are graduates in education? It's less than 2,000” annually,he said,adding that Maryland needs about 6,000 new teachers,including 400 special education teachers,by fall.
California,New York,Texas and Florida have recruited overseas for years,Boden said. The two Maryland counties began recruiting overseas last year.
Baltimore County school officials have signed contracts for fall with 120 teachers from the Philippines,where teachers speak English without a heavy accent,Boden said.
“The Philippines is attractive because the education is American-based. … We are so impressed with the quality and caliber of teachers there,” he said.
The Washington Public Schools recruited 15 Filipino special education teachers last fall and plans to hire more.
The average salary of $40,000 lured the Filipino teachers to leave home and teach in the United States. Although the cost of living is lower there,Filipino teacher salaries average about $3,600 a year.
Maria Lourdes Angala,30,a special education teacher at Jefferson Junior High School here, said she also has to look out for her family's needs. Angala,who used to operate a special education school in Manila,was able to bring her husband and daughter,6,with her.
The salary is enough reason to pay large sums to recruiting agencies that connect them to U.S. school districts. Angala said she paid almost $6,000 to cover visa-processing costs,placement fee and plane ticket. Some school districts pay part of the cost.
Esperlita Vivit,49,a Filipino teacher at Bradbury Heights,said she emptied her family savings and took out a loan to pay the recruitment agency. “I'm paying my loans now,” she said.
Critics of overseas recruiting say it should not be the sole solution to the teacher shortage.
“Recruiting foreign teachers is putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” said Melinda Anderson,spokeswoman for the National Education Association. “It is more of a retention issue than a recruitment issue.”
Anderson said there are 6 million Americans with teaching backgrounds,but only half are teaching. One-third leave in less than three years due to low wages,poor working conditions and exhaustion,which she said should be addressed.
Kevin North,assistant superintendent of human resources for the Fairfax County,Va.,Schools,said his system would “first exhaust our supply of talented licensed teachers before recruiting foreign teachers.”
“The cost of visa sponsorship is significant. … We have to hire an attorney to assist us in all parts of documentation. It costs a lot of money,” North said.
Most teachers enter the country on cultural-exchange visas because of the U.S. government's cap on work visas,known as H-1B visas,but many seek to stay as permanent residents or apply for citizenship.
Vivit's 22-year-old daughter came here two months ago,and Vivit plans to bring her husband and two other daughters,19 and 7,soon,now that her contract has been extended for another three years.
North said he is also concerned with the teachers' preparation and whether they have appropriate backgrounds to meet students' needs.
Foreign teachers are required to take the Praxis test,a standard exam used to assess teachers' basic skills and subject-matter knowledge.
Boden said school districts make sure the teachers can pass the exam,adding that most of the recruits have master's degrees and about 10 years of teaching experience.
Malibiran and Vivit said they had some communication problems at first because of their Filipino-accented English.
But Angala,who quit medical school to teach children with emotional and behavioral problems,said teaching here is a valuable experience:
“I don't look after people's physical health,but the children's mental health. I don't dissect people's brain,but their minds. I don't open people's hearts,but I am able to touch their hearts.”