More Vietnamese-Speaking Teachers Sought
"They're still a group apart. They're still very, very separate, because of the language barriers."
Dao Hoi, the only Vietnamese teacher in a Fairfax County high school with 200 Vietnamese students, was describing a situation that is worrying more and more educators: how to teach the burgeoning population of Vietnamese students.
School administrators in Chicago, New York, Houston, and Dallas said last week that the shortage of Vietnamese-speaking teachers is now even more severe than the shortage of Hispanic teachers.
Lourdes Travieso-Parker, director of bilingual education for Chicago's public schools, confronts a typical situation: a high concentration of Vietnamese in a few schools and 24 openings for certified Vietnamese teachers. In the last year, she has flown to the Arlington, Va., area--where about 12 percent of schoolchildren are Indochinese--to recruit teachers. She said she considered herself lucky that she now has at least five certified teachers of Vietnamese on her staff.
"It was like robbing Peter to pay Paul," she conceded, referring to the great need of otherdistricts for those teachers.
Nationwide, there are only about 35 certified Vietnamese teachers, said Ms. Hoi. These are mainly people trained in Vietnam who started here with temporary cerinued on certificates. A handful of teacher-training programs (in California and in the Washington area) are so new, she said, that they have not yet produced many graduates.
Most districts simply recruit untrained Vietnamese as aides, Ms. Hoi said. "They just grab someone who can speak Vietnamese and stick them in as an aide." Chicago and a few other districts are exceptions, she said. "They've made an effort [to find teachers]."
Vietnamese children first began to appear in public schools in about 1975, the year of the first large migration out of Vietnam to the United States. In 1978-80, a second wave came, known as the "boat people," and today Vietnamese number about 400,000, said Nguyen Ngoc Bich, a teacher-educator at Georgetown University's Bilingual Education Service Center. The first migration eventually settled mainly in Los Angeles and in the Washington, D.C., area, and included many well-educated people who had taught in Vietnam, Mr. Bich said.
Many Vietnamese who came in the second migration settled in Houston and Dallas, where there were jobs in oil and construction, he said. Besides the Vietnamese, there are another 300,000 Indochinese immigrants, including Laotians, Hmongs, and Cambodians, for whom schools desperately need cer-tified teachers.
In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area two years ago, an influx of nearly 500 Hmong children from the mountains of Laos caught the cities' school districts totally unprepared. Many of the children had no birth certificates, had never been to school, and had never seen an alphabet in any language. The next fall, their numbers rose to 750.
The schools had an immediate need for about 40 teachers who could speak the Hmong language, said Karen Pedersen, a registrar with the Minneapolis district. Gradually, the schools coped with the crisis by drawing in educated Hmongs from the community and permitting them to teach while they are working toward their certificates.
Thus far, there is no federal emphasis on training Indochinese teachers, Mr. Bich said.
In part to fill that gap, the Vietnamese have formed the National Association for Vietnamese American Education, which will hold a conference on Indochinese Education and Social Services from March 31 to April 2 in Vienna, Va. Many of the workshops will focus on issues related to teaching and learning English. More information about the conference can be obtained from Georgetown's Bilingual Education Service Center, Suite 376, D.C. Transit Building, 3520 Prospect St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007 (202) 625-3540.