English-Language Learners

New Mexico Joins California in Looking South for Teachers

By Mary Ann Zehr — November 02, 2004 4 min read
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New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has signed an agreement with government officials in Mexico to encourage teachers from that neighboring country to teach in his state for up to three years. The agreement makes New Mexico the second state, next to California, to have such an agreement with Mexico.

By contrast, 23 states and four individual school districts outside of those states have formal arrangements with Spain to bring teachers to the United States for three-year stints.

About 1,000 teachers from Spain are teaching in U.S. public schools this school year through those agreements, according to the Spanish Embassy in Washington. Only 60 teachers from Mexico are teaching in the United States under California’s agreement with Mexico.

California’s agreement with the Secretaría de Educación Pública, the Spanish name for Mexico’s Ministry of Education, became effective in 1984. California was also the first state to forge an agreement with Spain to recruit teachers.

The visiting teachers come to the United States on J-1 visas. To stay longer than three years, they must obtain H1B visas, which have become scarce since 2004, when the U.S. government reduced the number of such visas that it issues from 195,000 to 65,000.

Bill Richardson

Gov. Richardson, a Democrat who is Mexican-American, supported his state’s agreement because he’s an advocate of bilingual education, said Marsha L. Catron, a spokeswoman for the governor. “Because of the current shortage of bilingual instructors, this is an important step to ensure that children have access to the type of instruction they need,” she said.

Gladys Gurule, New Mexico’s director for bilingual education, said the agreement makes sense as well because of the ties between the people of Mexico and New Mexico. “Several school districts have been requesting, ‘Why don’t we have a memorandum of understanding with Mexico? We have a lot of students from Mexico,’ ” she said.

It’s not clear, she said, which school districts will seek teachers through the new program, though 61 of New Mexico’s 89 districts operate bilingual programs. Ms. Gurule plans to travel with representatives of participating districts to Mexico in April to recruit teachers who will come to New Mexico early next August to begin teaching in the 2005-06 school year.

Juan Solana, the consul of Mexico in Albuquerque, N.M., has been trying since 2002 to seal an agreement between education officials of Mexico and New Mexico. Mexico will benefit from the Oct. 15 accord, he said, because participating teachers will learn new teaching methods and improve their English.

“The hard part is starting today,” he said. “We have the agreement. It doesn’t mean the teachers are coming.” He noted the teachers will have to pay for their own transportation to and from the United States.

Bureaucratic Obstacles

While state governments take the lead in setting up their own agreements, the U.S. Department of Education has memorandums of understanding with Mexico and Spain to lay the groundwork for those initiatives.

But state-level efforts to hire teachers from Spain have gained much more momentum than those to recruit teachers from Mexico.

This school year, Texas, for instance, has 210 teachers from Spain in its public schools, 95 percent of whom work in bilingual programs. The state does not, however, recruit teachers from Mexico.

“Mexico is much more decentralized than Spain,” said Inés García, the program manager for the Texas Spain Initiative, in explaining why efforts by Texas education officials to forge an agreement with Mexico haven’t panned out. “It’s been easier for us to deal at the national level with the [Spanish] Ministry of Education and Culture.”

But Mr. Solana, the consul in Albuquerque, said that “bureaucracy on both sides” created obstacles to completing the agreement between Mexico and New Mexico.

For foreign teachers to obtain J-1 visas, the U.S. Department of State requires them to be fluent in English, have teaching credentials in their home countries, and have at least three years of teaching experience. They’re paid regular salaries and benefits by their U.S. school districts.

The agreements between California and New Mexico with Mexico stipulate that school districts in those states must cover the expenses of sending representatives to Mexico City each year to interview applicants. All of the agreements with Spain, however, say that the Spanish government covers the cost of recruiting trips to Madrid by American school district officials.

California Teaching

California education officials first made arrangements to recruit teachers from Mexico in the 1980s because school districts were then required by state law to provide bilingual education, and many lacked the personnel to do so, said Edda M. Caraballo, a bilingual education consultant for the California Department of Education.

Since then, the mandate has been lifted and voters have passed a ballot measure, Proposition 227, that has greatly curtailed bilingual programs; hence the need for bilingual teachers has dropped off.

California officials say that teachers from Mexico have faced some challenges in U.S. schools.

According to Ms. Caraballo, some Mexican teachers struggle with classroom management here.

“I’ve observed classrooms in Mexico where there are 58 students and they are orderly,” she said. “There’s a high degree of respect for the teacher.”

It’s a different story in many American classrooms, she added, including those with students of Mexican heritage.

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