Broward recruits teachers from Philippines to address staff shortage

South Florida Sun-Sentinel | By Shira Moolten | August 17, 2022

Broward school district has found one more way to fill many vacant positions going into the school year: hiring from the Philippines. About 102 Filipino teachers have either already arrived in schools, or are on their way to schools, in the coming weeks.

“It’s overwhelming,” Artie Marfori, a new science teacher from the Philippines at Westpine Middle School, said to Superintendent Vickie Cartwright when she visited his classroom on Tuesday for the first day of school.

His door was next to Onofre Bejoni’s, another new teacher from the Philippines who also will be teaching science. “I am adjusting to my environment. Hopefully in a matter of days or weeks I get acclimated.”

“You get acclimated,” Cartwright said. “Every new teacher has to go through that so you’ll get used to it.”

Around eight months ago, the district contracted a company called Foreign Cultural Exchange Consultants that provides teachers from the Philippines to schools. The teachers come over on J-1, or exchange, visas, which allow them to work in the United States for up to three years with the possibility to renew for two more years.

They also had to receive Florida educators’ certificates to be eligible. The company helps with the paperwork.

“They’re coming over here so our kids can experience some culture they would probably never have the opportunity to experience, and at the same time those teachers are learning about our culture and taking that back to their country when they’re done being teachers with us,” said Susan Rockelman, Broward school district’s director of talent acquisitions and operations.

The teachers are part of the collective bargaining agreement and receive the same wages as a teacher from Fort Lauderdale would receive, Rockelman said. Six hundred teachers applied. The school district conducted virtual interviews to select the final 102.

“Most of them, if not all of them, are experienced teachers. They are trained educators,” said Rockelman. “Their English is perfect, and they do extremely well transitioning to our culture.”

Broward has not provided housing or transportation, though they are helping to match the teachers with one another as roommates and teach them the bus schedule.

“Some of them sharing housing together will maybe share an Uber together, and then maybe eventually they’ll end up buying a car,” said Rockelman.

Why the Philippines? The concept of hiring teachers from overseas isn’t new. Several companies offer the service, which has been used by districts in places such as Las Vegas and Glendale, Arizona.

Rockelman said she looked at other programs, but picked FCEC because of its reputation, and because the program is free: the district doesn’t have to spend anything beyond what it would spend on hiring any new teacher from the county, Rockelman said. The teachers themselves have to cover the expenses of obtaining the visas.

“We would be more than happy to hire U.S citizens if they can qualify for a teaching certificate and have the skill set to be teachers,” Rockelman said when asked what she would say if someone criticized the district’s decision to hire overseas. “We just had a huge job fair and invited tons of people to come and after the job fair still had 400 openings.”

Rockelman anticipates continuing the program and hiring more teachers next year if necessary. The teacher shortage may present an ongoing challenge for Broward and other counties across Florida, as colleges see drops in enrollment among those seeking teaching degrees.

Statewide, Gov. Ron DeSantis has offered a special path for military veterans to become teachers, and said that he wants to expand it to include retired police officers, firefighters and EMTs.

As Marfori stood in the entrance of his new classroom Tuesday morning, surrounded by administrators, School Board members, and cameras, he seemed to be in disbelief.

“I can’t explain the feeling,” he said. “I feel like I’m on cloud nine. I’m struggling for words, actually.”

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