Wednesday, December 07, 2022

International teachers, flooding NC, prepare state students for global marketplace ::

— One of the fastest growing teacher populations in North Carolina is from out of state, way out of state.

In fact, North Carolina leads the nation in employing foreign teachers in K-12 schools, an analysis of data by WRAL News shows.

International teachers have more than quadrupled in the state in the last decade to more than 2,100 teachers. North Carolina spent $121.4 million this year on foreign teachers, six times more than a decade ago. During that time, international teachers have gone from 1 in 200 North Carolina teachers to 1 in 50.

The influx of international teachers is due in part to large investments in global education by schools in the Tar Heel state, an effort to help prepare students to work in the global companies that keep moving to the state. Its growth has also come as many school systems struggle to retain teachers and fill vacant positions.

Vance County schools employ about 60 international teachers, Superintendent Cindy Bennett said. It does not have global immersion or dual language programs, but the school system emphasizes preparing students to be “productive global citizens.” Bilingual programs teach content in both English and another language, and schools sometimes add a global study emphasis in all content areas in addition to those programs.

“We don’t see international teachers just as a way to fill our classrooms,” Bennett said. “We’re really looking at the added value they bring to the district. We found that they are very strong in pedagogy. We found that they are very committed to their community, and our community becomes their community.”

In the past decade, the state has increased its emphasis on global programs, particularly dual language programs. Bilingual programs have grown from about 49 during the 2011-12 school year to 229 today.

International professors are often bilingual and not as many professors come from North Carolina universities. But their roles are bigger than that. Not everyone is here teaching another language or speaking a language other than English.

‘Different culture’

Racquel Graham is from Spanish Dome, Jamaica, and teaches fourth grade at Cumberland Road Elementary School in Fayetteville.

Graham has a J-1 visa, which allows her to participate in exchange visitor programs in the US She just finished her fourth year at Cumberland County School. “He wanted to experience a different culture and know how things were done differently,” Graham said.

She heard about a Chapel Hill-based company, Participate Learning, that was looking for international teachers, and she applied.

It comes with many advantages. Graham makes more money than he ever could in Jamaica. She has more technology in her classroom and her colleagues have helped her learn to use it.

For the school district, teachers like Graham bring new perspectives to their classrooms.

“Our number one interest is tied to our strategic goals and also our vision of wanting to prepare children to be competitive in a global society,” said Tonya Page, director of human resources for the school system.

The strategic vision of the school system states: “All students will have equitable access to engaging learning that prepares them to be collaborative, competitive, and successful in our global world.”

Cumberland County Schools has 340 teachers on J-1 visas this school year. That’s about one in nine teachers.

Schools promote the benefits of intentional teachers by providing cultural experiences for students. In many cases, students are able to chat with other children from around the world as part of their teachers’ cultural exchange program.

The J-1 visa requires teachers to conduct cultural exchange activities with their students related to their home countries.

That could be writing letters to students abroad or solving problems raised in other countries.

Graham did a scavenger hunt with her students one year, where they searched for facts about her. He told the students about her favorite things and asked them to tell him about theirs. She has taught them about Jamaica and the history of it.

‘global competition’

North Carolina’s international teacher population is growing as the state works to recruit and retain young teachers in the state.

Some education leaders in more rural areas told WRAL News that they also hire international teachers because they have a hard time recruiting someone else.

Thousands fewer people are graduating from educational programs at North Carolina universities. Interest in the profession has waned, at least nationally. Only 4,228 students completed a North Carolina teaching program in 2020, according to federal data, down 36% from 2012.

Graham Principal Michele Cain said she sees Cumberland Road Elementary as a place for global learning, just without a language program. She frequently hires international teachers and employed seven this year.

“It is very beneficial for our students to have international teachers on board because they have a variety of backgrounds that they can bring to our school,” said Cain.

A 2013 report from the State Board of Education’s Task Force on Global Education urged the state to adopt an action plan to increase global education in the state’s classrooms. The task force recommended incorporating global themes into the curriculum, teaching about international affairs and, most of all, expanding dual language immersion programs.

The report also called on the state’s universities to ensure that future teachers learn to teach global issues and perspectives and foreign languages.

“From teacher preparation to development, teachers need access to high-quality curricular content and training that enables them to develop their awareness of the global context in which we operate, embed an international perspective throughout the curriculum, and reinforce their understanding of how to build the overall competence of their students,” the task force wrote. “Only then will teachers be equipped to fully meet the second standard of North Carolina’s new teacher evaluation system: that they establish a respectful environment for a diverse population of students by, among other things, embracing diversity in the community and the world”.

Dual language programs are intended to ensure that students are proficient in a foreign language. Research shows that learning a language is easier at younger ages; fluency is more difficult to achieve when beginning after age 10. In the United States, many students take foreign language classes in high school but are unable to use the language as adults.

The work of groups like Participate Learning, where Graham applied to come to North Carolina, has taken off in recent years.

Federal government data shows that 2,662 new J-1 visas for teachers were issued across the country in 2016. In 2021, the US government issued 4,271 new visas.

No one added more than North Carolina last year, with 830 new teacher visas. Every year, North Carolina receives about one in five or six of the new visas granted.

The $121.4 million the state spent on teachers from abroad goes toward their salaries, which are on the same scale as US teachers, and any other costs associated with hiring teachers.

In the 1990s, international professors were in short supply. North Carolina spent just $4.8 million on international teachers 25 years ago.

“I see Vance County as a cultural melting pot that is changing the world and leading what education should look like in a globalized world,” said Bennett.

‘A class family’

Kadecia Stewart-Faines, now Vance County Schools international teacher liaison, says coming to Vance County Schools from Jamaica is the “best experience” of her life.

She taught for eight years in Jamaica before coming to Vance County, where she felt immediately intimidated. “My first year here was challenging,” she said. “It was an epic failure, because I didn’t feel comfortable with my content.”

Graham described a similar struggle when he first arrived. The students were different, the culture was different, the teaching approaches were more personalized to the students.

Stewart-Faines was a math teacher but ended up working at an art exhibit, fueled by her passion for the performing arts.

“At that moment, I knew that children not only needed Ms. Stewart as a math teacher,” she said, “but they need teachers who are dedicated to developing every possible skill and talent.”

Just a few years later, she became the North Central Region Teacher of the Year.

Today, Graham loves his job. She extended her visa.

His classroom math lesson on a recent morning was full of energy. The students played a vocabulary game.

They danced to help them remember what they had learned about shapes and angles. They helped and supported each other while solving problems.

“I’m trying to build a family of sorts that every time they show that love, that’s memorable to me,” Graham said.

The experience has also helped her.

“I’ve been learning a lot,” Graham said. “Many things I can take with me.”

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