Business As Usual

Teachers for Texas

- Margaret Jao-Grey  -
The Sunday classified section carries ads for Filipino teachers for at least four states in the US. In some of these ads put out by recruitment companies, there’s a phrase in very small print that reads: "For pooling purposes only".

Not so JS Contractor Inc. which has teamed up with Texas-based Omni Consortium/Multicultural Professional Limited Liability Co. to place teachers in Houston public schools. This Saturday, Omni chief executive officer Florita Tolentino is accompanying 86 teachers to their new home.

Each teacher carries with her a two-year US working visa and a 12-month renewable work contract equivalent to $3,000 a month for 10 months’ work. Upon reporting to the school district, each teacher gets a signing bonus equivalent to between half-month and a month’s pay or between $1,500 and $3,000.

The teacher is exempt from paying income tax for the first two years.

The teacher also has access to credit from the school’s credit union for moving in expenses such as $600 for a two-bedroom apartment, and $500 for food as well as repayment of loans incurred in the Philippines such as plane fare to Texas of about $550 and some money for the family left behind. (The holder of a working visa may bring her family with her to the US but her husband cannot work. Her children can, however, go to school for free up to high school).
Long process
It has taken each of the 86 teachers leaving this Saturday about a year and $1,165 to process their application. Tolentino makes no excuses. "If they meet all the requirements of the Houston Independent School District, which is short of 12,000 teachers, then they have a job waiting for them," she said. Tolentino singles out her minimum two years teaching experience as an example. "It’s true that you don’t need a two-year teaching experience to get a teaching job in Texas. Private schools require a minimum of one year experience but private schools pay a starting salary of only $1,000 a month," she said.

The first cash out is $10 for an application form. Only teachers who meet the basic requirements of two years teaching experience and a general point average or GPA of 2.5 move to the second step, which is to take the Functional Academic Skills Test.

The next FAST, which will be administered by US school representatives, will be held on Aug. 26 at the Philippine International Convention Center. Based on the FAST given last April, Tolentino expects at least 700 examinees, half of whom will pass the test.

Taking the FAST costs $135.

Successful examinees must submit documents such as their original transcript of records and their diploma. They also pay $150, which will help defray the expense of sending the documents to the US, where a company verifies that the documents came from the school and not somewhere in C.M. Recto.

The August examinees will also be videotaped. These tapes will be sent to the 137 grade schools and high schools in Houston. "Through the tapes, the school administrators will be able to get an idea of the teacher’s personality and her facility with English," Tolentino said.

By December of this year, the different schools will send their representatives to the Philippines to interview and hire the teachers they have pre-selected. These will leave for the US in time for the opening of school in September 2002.

"The process up to US Immigration costs $1,165," Tolentino said. "Based on the teachers I have been recruiting since 1992, each teacher would need another $10,000, mostly money to tide over the family she will leave behind. What most teachers do is to borrow against their work contract."
Tolentino is very protective about the teachers she recruits. Most of these are not yet 30 but are married. Many of them also have graduate and post-graduate degrees.

"Based on our talks with American school administrators, Filipino teachers are very good at content or their subject matter but they do not do as well in classroom management. Here in the Philippines, when a teacher tells a high school boy to sit down, the boy will obey. In the US, these boys are not just one foot taller than you but also tell you to your face that they don’t like you," she said.

To help new arrivals, Omni has a "big sister, small sister" program where teachers who have been in the US for a longer time teach the new ones everything from how to save money (by sharing an apartment with friends and splitting the cost) to earning more money (by accepting after school tutoring and working summers) to handling messy classroom situations (by being firm but polite in imposing rules).

Tolentino, however, admits the American education system takes some getting use to. In Texas, there is a teacher for a maximum of 20 students compared to the teacher to student ratio in the Philippines of one teacher for every 45 to 80 students. In special education (for the physically or emotionally handicapped), the ratio is one teacher for a maximum of four students.

Because Texas and Mexico share a common border, Spanish is also taught in all schools. "It’s easier for the older teachers because they took up some Spanish units. For the younger ones, some of the Spanish words are now part of Pilipino and they learn quickly," Tolentino said.

Teachers who are unhappy or cannot adjust in one school are normally moved to another school. "We haven’t sent back a teacher in the nine years that we’ve been doing this. All the work contracts of our teachers are renewed," Tolentino said.

Most teachers remit about $2,000 to their families at the start of their employment. After the end of their second year, their working permit is, however, changed to immigrant, which allows their husbands to work in the US.

The money sent back to the Philippines, however, never stops. Some of the teachers have built homes for their ageing parents. All of the teachers pay for the education of their nephews and nieces. "It is the Filipino way to care for others and that is what makes Texas school administrators love us. Our teachers do not only teach; they also care for the children they teach," Tolentino said.

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