'No choice' but to join search for foreign staff

15th September 2000 at 01:00

IT'S a long way from Wimbledon to Oxford. At least it is if you're talking about Oxford, North Carolina, the new home of south London teacher Katherine Flaherty.

Ms Flaherty moved from Wimbledon more than a year ago to teach science at Webb high school. Aged 27, she says she was drawn to teach in the United States after holidaying there.

"All the teenagers have fancier cars than I drive," she says. "They're not in uniform, they're in their own clothes, and you can really see the individualism."

US officials will be glad to hear it. They are hoping to import thousands more foreign teachers into their classrooms to help fill the large and growing gap between supply and demand of staff. Because of an expected increase in retirements, growing enrolments, and reductions in class size, American schools will need an estimated 2.5 million new teachers over the next 10 years.

"The teacher education programmes are simply not producing enough teachers," says Howard "Buddy" Coleman, superintendent of Iredell county in North Carolina, which caters for 17,000 students and has hired 60 teachers from abroad this year.

"We really don't have any other choice but to import teachers," he says. "I expect this to expand exponentially over the next 10 years."

The tend is already picking up speed. In and around Atlanta, for example, more than 250 foreign teachers from more than a dozen countries begin work this autumn, up from 45 last year.

Many teachers come through government or private programmes. The largest, Visiting International Faculty, has brought 1,200 teachers to the United States this year - 20 per cent of them from the UK. The government's Fulbright teacher and administrator exchange programme has imported 200 more.

"Our goal is that every school should have an international teacher," says VIF spokesman Andrew Barron.

Individual schools cover the cost of salaries and recruiting costs - although they still save money, since foreign teachers are cheaper in terms of insurance and pensions - and VIF provides a screening process. The company also requires its teachers to attend a week-long orientation upon arrival, and provides them with mentors and advisers.

Under immigration regulations, visiting teachers may work in the country for a maximum of three years. After two years, however, they have to pay US income taxes dating back to their arrival.

Many states also require certification procedures and competency tests, though these regulations are being relaxed in many places as the teacher shortage worsens.

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