Foreign teachers are helping with Arizona's shortage

Posted: Updated:
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Despite a promised raise, Arizona's public schools are still facing a severe teacher shortage.

A few school districts are turning to foreign teachers to help fill the void.

"I call it being creative and innovative," Patti Davis-Tussey, the Chief Human Resource Officer with the Pendergast School District, said

Pendergast, which covers parts of Phoenix, Avondale, and Glendale, was in a bind in 2015, with substitutes in 50 classrooms.

"We work so closely with the universities, but they can't produce enough teachers to fill all the classrooms in the state," Davis-Tussey said.

The Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association reported 1,968 vacant teacher positions in December.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona schools in crisis]

Davis-Tussey read about the US State Department's J-1 Visa Program, which allows foreign teachers to work in American schools.   Soon, she found herself alone, on a recruiting trip in Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

"It was quite an experience. I interviewed 85 candidates in three days, and hired 12," she said.

To qualify for the program, foreign teachers must speak English, have a degree, and have three years teaching experience.

Other administrators have returned to Manila, and the district has hired a total of 48 foreign teachers to fill empty classrooms.

The State Department reports nearly 350 teachers hired abroad in the last two years, are currently working in Arizona schools.

Honey Kate Araza, a 27-year-old, was one of the first teachers hired by Pendergast.

She has a second-grade classroom at Amberlea Elementary School in Phoenix.

Arizona teacher pay is relatively low, compared to other states, but Araza is making 10 times the amount she earned in Manila.

"In dollars, it was $375 or $400 per month," she said.

Starting teachers in the Pendergast district make between $36,000 and $38,000.

It's enough of a difference for Araza to leave her husband and three young children behind in the Philippines.

"We were able to get by [financially], but my husband and I are thinking about building a better future for our kids," she said.

Araza has not seen them in person since she moved to Arizona.

"Through technology, it's not that difficult. I can still help them with their homework through video calls, so it's like I'm still there," she said.

The cost of an intercontinental move was another challenge.   

The district, strapped for cash, could not help with moving costs.

A program sponsor helps the foreign teachers pay for their flights and an apartment, but the money must be repaid.

Teachers and staff in the Pendergast district donated their own time and money, to buy groceries and furniture for their new colleagues.

Driving is always a challenge, but other teachers offer carpools, and many times the incoming teachers try to move to apartment complexes within walking distance to their schools.

"We were welcomed so warmly.  It was an amazing experience for me on my first day in America," Araza said.

"We offer opportunities for them to learn our culture. They have access to our coaches and mentors, and they get professional development opportunities,"  Amberlea Elementary School Principal Marisol Silva said.

Araza is still getting used to the summer heat, but quickly developed a love for Dr. Pepper, blueberries, and yogurt.

The J-1 Visa allows teachers to stay in the US for three years. They have the option of applying to extend their time teaching here by another two years.

"It's a win-win. It helped me professionally grow, and helped me help my husband support my kids' future," she said.

Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.

Copyright 2018 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Jared DillinghamJared anchors the weekend newscasts at 5, 6, 9 and 10pm on both 3TV and CBS5. He also reports during the week for both stations.

Click to learn more about Jared.

Jared Dillingham

Over his decade in Phoenix, Jared has worked all shifts at 3TV, including a yearlong stint anchoring the weekend morning show.

Since 2007, Jared has covered everything from Senator John McCain's campaign for president, to the Jodi Arias trial, to the largest wildfire in Arizona history.

Jared grew up in New York, and graduated from Syracuse University with degrees in broadcast journalism and political science.

After internships at News12 Long Island and NBC in Washington, DC, Jared moved to beautiful "Big Sky Country." He spent a year at KRTV in Great Falls, Montana, before moving to KREM in Spokane, Washington.

The Valley has truly become "home" for Jared. He lives in Phoenix, and spends his mornings listening to as many news/political podcasts as possible, while walking his (now elderly) rescue dogs, Gabby and Bree.

On his days off, Jared can be found at any of the local restaurants which have popped up in the city since he first moved here, or hiking Piestewa Peak or Camelback Mountain.

He also travels as much as possible and runs a blog with advice on visiting cities around the world.

Hide bio