Some Arizona schools looking abroad to fill teacher vacancies

Nov 4, 2022, 4:45 AM | Updated: 6:33 am

PHOENIX — Schools across Arizona are doing everything they can to fill teacher vacancies. But after coming up short, some are looking outside the country.

Donald Babiano is one of the hundreds of international teachers hired to work in Arizona schools. Mr. B, as he’s known to his students, teaches second grade at Canyon Breeze Elementary School in Avondale.

“I’ve been teaching for 10 years now, and I was a teacher for eight years in the Philippines,” Babiano said.

“I just love doing it, and I find myself going to school every day with excitement and a happy face.”

A recent survey by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (ASPAA) of 130 school districts and charter schools found 457 teacher vacancies were filled by individuals hired from outside the United States in September. That’s up from 399 a year ago and 296 two years ago.

Many of them are in the country with J-1 visas through a culture exchange program that allows them to teach in the U.S. for up to five years. They’re required to have a college degree and at least two years of teaching or similar professional experience.

Some international teachers are also here with H-1B visas, which provides them the possibility of applying for permanent residency.

Patti Tussey, chief human resource officer for the Pendergast Elementary School District, told KTAR News 92.3 FM the J-1 visa program is “one recruiting option that we have” as the state continues to see a severe teacher shortage.

The district, which is where Babiano teaches, began hiring international teachers in 2015. Currently, it employs more than 40.

“Many of them are qualified in science, math and special education,” Tussey said. “Those are specific areas where it’s even more difficult to fill.”

ASPAA has been tracking the state’s teacher shortage since 2016. Its twice-yearly surveys have found that about a quarter of teacher positions remain vacant a month into each semester.

Tussey stressed if it weren’t for the J-1 visa program and others like it, she doesn’t know where else they’d look for teachers.

“We do recruit across the country as well as the local universities, and again we’re not able to fill these positions,” Tussey said.

Meanwhile, Babiano said despite being thousands of miles from home and being away from all his friends and family, he feels like he’s the fortunate one.

“When I got in here, everybody was very helpful, welcoming, very respectful to the culture that I have,” Babiano said. “And so, I never struggled. That’s the reason why I enjoy going to school every day.”

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Some Arizona schools looking abroad to fill teacher vacancies