The Plight of Filipino Teachers

Jon MelegritoBy Jon Melegrito

The news about public service workers  notably teachers, nurses, cops and firefighters  have not been very complimentary lately. From Wisconsin to Washington State, hundreds of thousands are being laid off. Along with other public employees, they are being blamed for the financial crisis that’s forcing local governments to take these draconian measures.

Closer to home, Prince George’s County recently laid off more than 1,500 teachers, including 150 from the Philippines. Recruited since 2004 to meet growing demands in overcrowded classrooms county-wide, these teachers face a very immediate dilemma: their H-1B visas will expire in four to five months. Without employment, or sponsorship, they are in dire straits.

Because they were last to be hired, they are first to be fired.  What is sad is that many of these Filipino teachers brought their families here. They have also bought homes. In the meantime, they are unemployed with no means of income to support their families. They are relying on the Filipino American community for legal and humanitarian assistance.

The personal impact of these layoffs will also be felt by every single teacher and student in the county. Class sizes, which were already reaching around 30 or more students, will increase at most grade levels.  Teachers will be the first to tell you that overcrowding adversely affects classroom management and their ability to teach.

Five years ago, more than 100 Filipino teachers were welcomed warmly by the county because they filled shortages in critical specialties like special education, early childhood development, mathematics and science. Many of them have five to 20 years of experience.  “You are helping us lower our class sizes and improve the quality of instruction,” said the school system’s chief executive officer, John Deasy. School Board Chair Beatrice Tignor assured the newly-arrived teachers that the school system “would do all it can to help make the teachers’ stay as satisfying as possible. We are committed to supporting and ensuring your success.”

To meet its education and teacher employment goals, Prince Georges County helped Filipino teachers obtain work visas (renewable every three years). It took them at least a year to go through the application process to work in the U.S.

At one point there were about 217 Filipinos teaching in the county. It was relatively easy for them to make it here because the Philippines and the US have very similar accreditation requirements.

Dr. Carlo Parapara, a Filipino teacher in Upper Marlboro and president of the Maryland-based Pilipino Educators Network (PEN), was very pleased when Maryland schools  in order to stay competitive  started to “attract world-class faculty to enhance and distinguish their academic offerings and reputation. This has led to a growing number of foreign nationals serving as professors, researches and other academic staff, especially in the hard sciences, mathematics and engineering.”  In a blog posted two months ago, he notes that Montgomery College, and community colleges throughout the state, have had to turn to foreign national teachers in these specialized fields.

In the same blog, he says further that foreign teachers at the K to 12 level have helped Prince George’s and Baltimore City’s public school systems to meet the challenge created by the “No Child Left Behind” program  an initiative credited to former President. George W. Bush. Because of shortages of highly-qualified teachers, particularly in the inner city and hard-to-serve areas, both school systems turned to US-certified teachers from foreign countries, primarily the Philippines.

Many of the teachers who were laid off recently were recruited to fill critical positions, especially in math, science and special education. “Had these systems not brought in hundreds of certified teachers, they would never have been able to place highly-qualified faculty in every classroom in Baltimore and Prince George’s,” says Parapara. “Indeed, as I learned from conversations with education experts, in some cases they were the first certified instructors these children ever had. Without these Filipino teachers, Maryland’s most precious resource  our children  would have been denied access to a quality public education.”

Community leaders are doing their best to respond to what one laid-off teacher describes as a “Tsunami.” Their sudden job loss is forcing them to tighten their belts, limit their expenses and brace for the difficult months ahead, even while they look for jobs to sustain themselves and their families.

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