What to Consider When Looking for International Teachers
While many school leaders are enticed by the benefits international teachers bring to their schools, some find the process of attracting and hiring educators from other countries to be daunting. Many of the challenges relate to visas. Procuring them can be costly and time-consuming. Additionally, the No Child Left Behind definition of a highly qualified teacher has made converting an international educator's credentials to U.S. requirements especially difficult.
As a result, schools have looked to specialized organizations for help finding and hosting the world's most qualified educators. These organizations are designated by the U.S. Department of State as official visa sponsors. Some, like the Visiting International Faculty Program, provide turnkey services by recruiting, screening, relocating and sponsoring international teachers for U.S. schools.
When considering hiring professional educators from abroad, district officials should consider the following points.
• Screen Beyond What's On the Screen. Host schools should take an active role in the screening and selection processes. International teacher programs typically offer video clips to meet candidates virtually, but few go the extra mile to provide experienced regional screeners who are well-versed in both state certification requirements and educational systems in teachers' home countries.
• Gauge Cross-Cultural Competence. A great teacher in England may not necessarily have transferable skills for U.S. classes. Writing samples, tests in English proficiency, and experienced staff who work closely with both teachers and hiring officials ensure the best matches are made.
• Get a Jump on Hiring. The earlier a school or district makes hiring decisions, the better. The extra time allows international teachers to plan and prepare prior to arriving in the United States.
• Support Leads to Success. A host program that provides comprehensive support will lead to a successful experience for the international teacher. Look for a program that provides thorough support, including pre-departure and arrival orientations; relocation support, including housing, transportation, banking and insurance; and professional development in the areas of classroom management and intercultural communications. Some programs go even further and visit each international teacher during the school year.
• Know the Basics About Visas. International teachers are placed in U.S. schools through two types of visas--the J-1 visa and the H-1B visa. The J-1 visa is designed to ensure high-quality, cross-cultural, real-life international learning experiences for teachers and students. The H-1B visa typically is used to hire international workers who fill a specific area of skill shortages.
• Orient and Mentor. No matter which route schools choose to hire teachers from overseas, the school must commit to providing a nurturing climate. Support at the school level should include a new teacher orientation and/or pairing new teachers with a mentor. Professional support tremendously increases an international teacher's likelihood of success while creating greater opportunities for cultural exchange.
International Teacher Options
The Visiting International Faculty Program, the largest cultural exchange program for teachers and schools in the United States, is hosting nearly 1,500 highly qualified teachers from more than 50 countries in more than 800 public and private schools during the 2008-09 school year.
Founded in 1987, the program today places experienced teachers in five states--Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Designated by the U.S. State Department, VIF sponsors international teachers through the J-1 cultural exchange program visa.
Further details are available at www.vifprogram.com.
In addition, the following programs offer support finding and placing international teachers:
• Amity Institute, a nonprofit, international teaching exchange organization based in San Diego, Calif. www.amity.org
• The Cordell Hull Foundation for International Education, a not-for-profit organization in New York City overseeing exchange programs for teachers from 50 countries, www.cordellhull.org
• The Fulbright Program, funded jointly by the U.S. Department of State and partner governments, sponsors foreign teachers in American schools, www.fulbright.state.gov
Cris Galicia Mulder is director of communications for the Visiting International Faculty Program in Chapel Hill, N.C. E-mail: cris. email@example.com
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