The shortage of teachers in North Carolina is a topic that has received considerable attention in the recent years. According to an analysis by the UNC Office of General Administration, North Carolina will need approximately 5,000 new teachers each year for the next few years to meet demand. The 5,000 number is over and above the several thousand students who graduate from teacher education programs in NC public and private colleges and take teaching jobs in the state.
Aside from limited progress on developing alternative certification requirements and tweaking retirement provisions to allow teachers to return to the classroom without penalty, the North Carolina General Assembly hasn’t done much to address this growing problem. The inaction may in part help to explain a trend that has been long visible in higher education, but is now beginning to show up in K-12 schools around North Carolina: the growing presence of foreign teachers.
An article in Education Week on the subject chronicles recent developments. Hiring more foreign teachers is an area fraught with difficulty. It is well known that foreign teachers are often better prepared academically than their American counterparts. Nevertheless, it is difficult to overestimate the language and cultural issues that frequently accompany foreigners who teach in our public schools.
One of the largest sponsors of foreign teachers in the United States is Visiting International Faculty (VIF) of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Cris Mulder of the organization’s Chapel Hill office places about 1500 teachers nationally; a little more than half – 759 – are working in North Carolina public schools. If they were divided out evenly among N.C.’s 115 school district each district would have approximately 6.5 foreign teachers.
We should welcome qualified foreign teachers who wish to work in NC public schools. However we also need to ensure foreign teachers are placed in appropriate classrooms and that linguistic and cultural differences don’t prove an obstacle to learning. Yes, foreign teachers can play a role in meeting our current teacher shortage. However, a policy to encourage the use of foreign teachers in our public schools is only another short term fix; one that underscore the importance of answering larger concerns regarding teacher qualifications, compensation and retention. In my view, successfully addressing those concerns is the best route to addressing the teacher shortage and one that will also likely reduce our concerns about foreign teachers as well.