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Scott Jagow: For most school kids, this is the best of time of year. I mean, there’s no school. But while the kids are out, the adults who run the schools are probably not.
School administrators spend their summers looking for teachers. People who teach math and science are always in short supply — and in Texas, so are bilingual teachers. Joy Diaz reports from KUT in Austin.
Joy Diaz: The Lone Star State has more than 4 million students in grades K through 12. Some 700,000 are English learners.
Georgina Gonzales leads the Texas Department of Bilingual Education. She says more than 90 percent of students learning English in the state have Spanish as their first language.
Georgina Gonzales: Our whole goal is the minute that a student walks into a classroom here in Texas, they must start learning English. So while they’re learning their oral language proficiency skills in English, their content area will not be behind. So based on that, the bilingual teachers are needed everywhere.
That need is more evident in the state’s fastest-growing areas such as Dallas, Houston, Austin and along the U.S.-Mexico border. These places attract a lot of Latin American immigrants.
Richard Batlle is principal of Bluebonnet Elementary School about 25 miles East of Austin. He says more than half his students are Hispanic. Most are English learners.
Batlle says it’s so tough to find bilingual teachers that this year, he went south of the border and hired some teachers in Monterrey, Mexico.
Richard Batlle: We’re looking for fluent bilingual teachers. I mean, because our assessments are so rigorous and the Spanish is so formal, we require teachers that have a very good vocabulary and the literature.
Those teachers can help students pass the state’s standardized tests since for the first two years students can be tested in their native languages.
Teacher Reyna Araceli Perez preps fourth grade English learners at Blue Bonnet Elementary for the state’s math test.
[Sound: Perez instructing students]
Perez and Batlle were connected through Region 4, one of the 20 state-approved organizations that recruit bilingual teachers. Most come from Mexico.
Luz Maria de Los Angeles Loyola teaches in Mexico City, but is gearing up to move to Texas later this summer.
At a Starbucks in the Mexican capital, Loyola, her husband and their three teenage girls pile out of their SUV. Loyola says she views her move to Texas as a mission.
Angeles Loyola: It’s a very worthwhile challenge. I think these children deserve the opportunity to get an education. If they couldn’t have it here in their own country, it is really nice that some other country’s offering them the chance.
Bilingual teachers have different reasons for coming to the U.S., but they all pay a hefty price out of their own pockets. The cost of immigration procedures, remedial courses and taking the test for a Texas teaching license comes to around $8,000. Loyola also has to pay for her entire family to move.
But salaries are higher in Texas than in Mexico. Teachers start out earning around $40,000 a year — and most districts offer $5,000 stipends to bilingual teachers. That’s about three or four times what they made back home.
In Austin, I’m Joy Diaz for Marketplace.
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