Catholic Schools Recruit Irish Teachers

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Brother Joseph M. Shields, who recruits teachers for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, says he was "desperate'' when he went to search for teachers on the Emerald Isle.

"By 1985, we had done massive recruitment all over the U.S., through 800 colleges and several professional associations,'' he explained.

"Still,'' he said, "school would start in September and we would need about a hundred teachers'' for the 325 elementary and secondary schools operated by the archdiocese.

Like a growing number of other Catholic-school officials facing an inceasingly competitive market for teachers, Brother Shields, the archdiocese's associate superintendent for teacher personnel, decided to look overseas for a solution to his problem.

Inspired by a Time magazine article about the Atlanta public schools recruiting teachers from West Germany, Brother Shields began an international hiring campaign that has brought 125 foreign teachers to the archdiocesan schools over the past three years.

Fifty-five of the teachers--more than from any of the other 12 countries represented--are Irish.

With a culture steeped in Catholicism and an unemployment rate reaching more than 30 percent among young people, Ireland is perhaps the most promising supplier of teachers for American dioceses, recruiters say.

"Ireland has a lot of very fine, highly educated, Catholic teachers, but our economy is not doing very well,'' says Joseph O'Grady, a Dublin-based recruiter who specializes in placing Irish lay teachers in U.S. Catholic schools.

O'Grady-Peyton International, the firm owned by Mr. O'Grady and his wife, Teresa Peyton, has found jobs in American schools for 250 Irish teachers in the past three years. "It's a good matching up of Ireland's surplus and the needs of American Catholic schools,'' Mr. O'Grady said.

No National Figures

Because the trend is relatively recent, no national figures have been compiled showing the extent to which foreign teachers are working in Catholic-school classrooms, according to an official of the National Catholic Educational Association.

"It seems to me it's a fairly new thing for Catholic schools, and it's happening in large urban areas,'' said Michael J. Guerra, executive director of the association's secondary-schools department. Any plans for overseas recruitment would be made at the diocesan level, not by local officials, he noted.

"Because of the complexity, it's not something an individual school would do,'' Mr. Guerra said.

According to Mr. O'Grady, dioceses in California, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, and New York are among those that have recruited teachers in Ireland and other foreign countries.

Several avenues are open to personnel officers hoping to find candidates overseas, Brother Shields said. Some of his recruitment was handled through agencies such as O'Grady-Peyton, and some was done less formally through universities and "networks'' of people. Sometimes, Brother Shields himself makes recruiting trips to other countries, as he did to Ireland.

'Tremendous Interest'

Mr. O'Grady noted that only a few of the teachers he has placed in American schools have decided to seek permanent residency in the United States.

Last year, he said, the Irish government began allowing experienced teachers to take a sabbatical for up to three years, with a guarantee that they can reclaim their jobs when they return. This has helped foster a "tremendous interest'' in teaching in the United States on a relatively short-term basis, Mr. O'Grady said.

Foreign teachers are eligible for the H-1 visa for professionals whose skills are needed in the United States, he said. Artists and performers also use this type of non-permanent visa, which allows an immigrant to work here for up to five years.

None of the teachers he has recruited have been nuns, brothers, or priests, he added, explaining that Ireland, like the United States, has experienced a decline in the membership of religious orders, who were once the mainstay of Catholic-school teaching staffs.

Mr. O'Grady declined to disclose the amount of the fee he charges schools for his services. He noted that, under Irish law, recruiting agencies are barred from charging a fee to those seeking employment.

One factor complicating his job, Mr. O'Grady said, is that "emigration is a very emotional issue in Ireland. No one wants to be in favor of it.''

Ireland has been in a serious recession for most of the decade, and its gloomy economic prospects have caused a large-scale emigration that experts say is a national crisis.

Mr. O'Grady defends his business's efforts to aid emigration: "We encourage them to come back.''

Salary Disparities

In addition to attracting teachers from Ireland, Brother Shields said, the New York Archdiocese has found instructors in England, Italy, Canada, Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, Colombia, Ghana, Guyana, Peru, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

He noted that the archdiocese, which employs 5,000 teachers, faces a disadvantage in recruiting locally because of the disparities between its salary schedule and that of the public schools. The archdiocese pays starting elementary-school teachers $16,000 a year and starting secondary-school teachers $18,000 a year.

New York's public schools pay starting teachers $20,400 a year.

"We're doing everything possible to raise salaries, and we know they are not where they should be,'' Brother Shields said.

One positive effect of hiring foreign teachers has been their ability to act as mentors to students from the same backgrounds in the city's culturally diverse schools, Brother Shields added. Still, he said, he would prefer hiring Americans.

"It's discouraging that we're not able to find American teachers to teach American children in American schools,'' he said.

Vol. 06, Issue 32

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