A foreign fix: School districts go international to solve the teacher shortage problem

CASA GRANDE - Melvin Inojosa, a science teacher at Vista Grande High School said his teaching salary is the best it's been in the past decade.

"I know how to budget my money and I know where my money goes, to my wife," he joked.

Inojosa spent the first seven years of his career teaching in the Philippines, his home country.  

"I am earning five times more than I was earning back in the Philippines," he said.

This is Inojosa's third year teaching in Arizona and the last before his J-1 Visa expires unless he can get an extension. He said if he had stayed in the Philippines, he probably would have never married his wife because he wouldn't have been able to afford it.

There are several guidelines international teachers have to meet, such as having the equivalent of a bachelor's degree in teaching or in the subject being taught. Vista Grande principal Glenda Cole said science, math, and special education teachers are in the most demand. Cole said the problem isn't that the prospects interviewing don't take the jobs.

"We weren't even getting applications in the first place," she said. "That's why our former superintendent decided to go looking overseas."

Cole said they are so impressed with the international teachers, they hate to see them go when their visas are up. Though there are 15 teachers from the Philippines at Vista Grande High, they have had to bring in a fewer amount this year and fewer long-term substitutes because there were fewer positions to fill than in past years. Cole credits the recent teacher salary raises for the better retention rate. Online records show a first-year teacher at Casa Grande Union School district now makes $41,000 annually.  

For Inojosa, this job has been life-changing. He purchased his first car and his first pair of Nike shoes thanks to the opportunity to teach in the U.S. He jokes that he likes to substitute teach during his free periods to make a few extra dollars so he can go out for his favorite American food.

"That money I call steak money, so I tell my wife I can get the steak because the budget won't be hurt," he laughed.

Inojoso plans to apply for an extension to his visa. He said he would like to stay longer but will go back willingly if there's not another choice when it expires.  

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