08/27/04 — More foreign teachers hired in Wayne to alleviate shortage

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More foreign teachers hired in Wayne to alleviate shortage

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 27, 2004 2:05 PM

A cultural exchange program is helping to offset the ongoing teacher shortage in Wayne County.

For 10 years, Wayne County public schools have participated in the Visiting International Faculty program, which locates teachers from other countries interested in teaching in the United States. This year, 18 teachers have been assigned to schools across the county, twice the number from last year.

Hope Meyerhoeffer, director of elementary education, said that some of this year's group are working in elementary schools, but most are serving in the middle and high schools.

North Carolina was the first state to be assigned teachers in 1989 by the exchange. At the outset, she said, the emphasis was on teaching foreign languages. The cultural-exchange program has since expanded into nine more states and other subjects.

Because of the difficulty of getting teachers this year, Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said, she again called VIF and made a request. She said she has always been impressed with the program's reputation and the quality of teachers.

"VIF screens these people," she said. "They go to the countries themselves, interview them, and so forth. Then they wait for requests from the school systems."

She said the candidates are highly qualified and are checked out thoroughly before being recommended. VIF also has the teachers certified through the state department.

The match comes after a school system has reviewed the candidates' qualifications, via e-mail, video clips and phone interviews.

Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said she makes the selections personally.

This year's educators have come from South and West Africa, Spain, Colombia, Venezuela, France, Argentina, India and Canada. Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said the school system is lucky to have this resource for obtaining teachers.

"We have always had some good response," she said, not only from VIF but from principals, staff and students.

"They have brightened the classrooms," she said. "They have a lot of good strategies, good information that they share with their students."

Two of the Canadian teachers, Sarabjit Brar and Dennis Dyck, are assigned to Carver Heights Elementary School.

Ms. Brar has been teaching fifth grade for four years and is now working with first-graders.

Dyck, an educator for 30 years, most recently with high school students, is in charge of a fifth-grade class. When school ended in the spring, he and his wife, Clarice, also a teacher, were retiring from the profession when he learned about VIF.

"I knew nothing about it and all of a sudden here I was," he said. "But I knew if I got out on the golf course with my buddies, I would never do anything else."

The couple enrolled in the program and were soon packing up a U-Haul headed south. They arrived two weeks after school was under way. Mrs. Dyck is teaching first grade in Grantham.

The Dycks' have two daughters who live in Virginia, so they were familiar with the area. That doesn't mean there still wasn't a bit of culture shock.

"The educational system in the two countries are diametrically opposed," he said. "Not better, not worse, just different."

He said what most attracted him to the program was the opportunity to expose children to other cultures. He emphasized that the program should not be based solely on the teacher shortage.

"This was not a teacher shortage Band-Aid approach; it's a cultural exchange," he said.

Likewise, Ms. Brar said, this is all part of developing personally and professionally.

"You experience a whole different group of students," she said, noting that the profession of teaching is universal.

"Kids are still kids," agreed Dyck. "It doesn't matter what color or where."

Beverly Woodley, principal at Carver Heights, said this is the first time the school has had teachers from the program.

She commended the new teachers for doing a great job as they settle in and learn the community. She also said that students "think it's neat to have someone from Canada."

VIF teachers are under a yearly contract by the school system and can remain up to three years.

"Most do stay three years in the program," Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said. "They are highly committed.

"It's usually a case where we don't want them to leave at the end of the three years."