Concerns raised over US teacher recruitment

Stabroek News
August 4, 2001

A handful of Guyanese teachers is among some 600 who have begun arriving in the United States to teach for the first time en masse in New York City public schools.

According to a Reuters report, there are deep concerns over the manner in which the teachers are being treated by the Board of Education.

At an extraordinary meeting Wednesday night of the Education Task

Force of Brooklyn's Medgar Evers College's Caribbean Research Centre (CRC), officials voiced profound outrage over a wide range of issues --ranging from late notification of recruits to relocation costs to the two-year J-1 visa -- which, they claim, would adversely affect the new Caribbean recruits.

Task Force officials, headed by CRC's executive director, Dr George Irish, who hails from Montserrat, said that their concerns have repeatedly been communicated to the Board of Education. But the latter, they charged, have failed to adequately address them.

Reuters quoted the Task Force officials as saying that this had resulted in tremendous "confusion, anxiety and uncertainty" for the estimated 550 to 600 recruits, who are expected to begin teaching in the sprawling school system in the new school term in early September.

The reports said that the Task Force had urged the Board of

Education to seriously consider providing salary advances, as offered by the British, to cushion the financial effects of relocation.

"Considering that these teachers would not receive salaries for July and August from their homeland, and might receive their first New York pay cheque only in mid to late October," the Task Force wrote, "we suggest that salary advances be made available so that these teachers may make personal and living arrangements."

Expressing dismay over what they regard are inadequate and inappropriate orientation and mentoring sessions planned by the Board of Education, the Task Force urged that they be extended throughout the duration of the contract so that the new teachers would be better able to grasp the complexity of the school system.

The Board of Education, according to the Task Force, is only planning a three-day orientation session for Caribbean teachers, beginning August14.

The Task Force also accused the Board of Education of not making any meaningful efforts to place the new teachers in graduate programmes, as required by the J-1 visa.

It is estimated that only about 90 teachers have been allocated slots in masters degree programmes at the City University of New York (CUNY), 50 at Brooklyn College, and 40 at Queens College.

But the Task Force's biggest outrage surrounds the issuance of J-1 visa to Caribbean teachers, Reuters said.

Dr Irish, who spearheaded the Caribbean Teacher Recruitment Initiative with Una Clarke, the Jamaica-born New York City Councilwoman, accused the Board of Education of discrimination by requesting a different visa for Canadian and European teachers.

He said that while teachers from Canada and Europe are issued H-1

visa, which requires them to teach in the city for up to six years, Caribbean teachers are only offered J-1 visa, valid for two years.

"With the J?1 visa, you are only allowed to come into the country for the one year or two years maximum," said Dr Irish, who accompanied Board of Education officials on their recruitment drives in May to Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica. While the recruiters did not visit Guyana, Stabroek News learnt that some teachers had made arrangements to be in those Caribbean territories, so that they could have been interviewed for posts in the US.

The report said Dr Irish noted that at --the end of that two years, if there is a two-year residency clause, they will have to go home to their home country and remain there for an additional two years before they can re-enter the United States.

"That to me is iniquitous. It is shameful," Dr Irish said that this sentiment has also been strongly communicated to the Board of Education. "I am waiting to see how it is going to pan out," he said, "because many of the innocent teachers, even though they knew initially they are coming for two years."

Reuters said that Board of Education officials did not return repeated calls for comment.

However, despite their concerns, Dr Irish and Clark said that the Caribbean community in the region and New York City stood to benefit significantly from the teacher initiative.

"I think it's a wonderful thing," Clarke said. "It's a win-win situation for these teachers. I hope this will lead to some cultural exchanges so we can better understand each other. We talk of brain drain," she added. "There is no brain drain. We're [Caribbean nationals] a resilient people. We can go anywhere and stand up." According to Dr Irish, just over 300 teachers were recruited from Jamaica, about 150 and 120 from Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, respectively, and a sprinkling from Guyana, St Lucia, Grenada and Montserrat, among other islands.