AFT hails new international teachers' recruitment code Share This Print AFT leaders and members joined several organizations at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on June 4 to unveil a new Teachers' Code for Ethical International Recruitment and Employment Practices (link is external), a policy model that will help safeguard human dignity and protect the quality of schools services whenever U.S. systems hire educators from other countries.

Drawing from lessons learned in healthcare recruitment, the teachers' code promotes essential goals and practices for ethical hiring across borders. It seeks to maximize benefits and minimize harm in education's international recruitment process, touching on issues that range from visa types, disclosures and documentation to cultural and professional orientation for teachers new to U.S. classrooms. The document also offers a strong statement of respect for individuals and their right to pursue better working conditions and expanded professional opportunities in other countries.

The AFT "heartily endorses the code," AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker told the press club audience. She said the union will encourage school districts around the country to adopt the code, either as a policy statement or through contract language, so that "fair and transparent recruitment of international teachers" becomes the norm and all schools gain the benefits that come from recruitment based on "fairly treated, well-trained and effective teachers."

Baltimore City schools have taken a leading role when it comes to pushing for a transparent, fair system of hiring teachers from abroad, and the event boasted a strong roster of speakers from the system. Addressing the audience, which included a large number of Baltimore teachers recruited abroad, were Baltimore Teachers Union President and AFT Vice President Marietta A. English; Erika Lomax of the district's Office of Human Capital; and Rogie Legaspi, a Philippines-born middle school science teacher who helped craft the new code. (English and Legaspi are pictured with Ricker.)

Legaspi is no stranger to both ends of the spectrum when it comes to ethical treatment in international recruitment. He first arrived in the U.S. more than 20 years ago, thinking he had landed a teaching position in Texas public schools. In reality, his true employer was the recruiter, which kept a roster of teachers pressured to accept any teaching vacancy that opened, regardless of the discipline or district. During that time, Legaspi slept on a sofa in an unfinished basement, sharing with 17 other teachers a living space that often had no water or electricity. Every morning, all of them were loaded into vans and driven for hours to the surrounding school districts, compelled to apply for any opening, pressured by a recruiter that charged outrageous fees tied to living and relocation—a recruiter awarded by contract a staggering 10 percent of each teacher’s salary during his or her first two years in the U.S.

Legaspi returned to the Philippines for a time and then accepted a new position in the states, this time as a math and science teacher hired by the Baltimore City Public Schools rather than the recruiter. This stint had none of the horrors of Legaspi's first U.S. tour: He received orientation before he embarked, was able to live in a clean apartment with his family, and received comprehensive guidance throughout the process of teacher certification.

This time, "I felt well-informed and respected," said Legaspi, who excelled in Baltimore and was later nominated for teacher-of-the-year honors in the system.

Years in the making

The need for the teachers' code was sparked in 2009, when the AFT published "Importing Educators: Causes and Consequences of International Teacher Recruitment." This landmark study revealed a pattern of problems for migrant teachers: extortion, abuse or fraud in the most extreme cases. Many other teachers dealt with bureaucratic problems, visa or job uncertainty, and culture shock—all of which could be mitigated by better planning, transparency and support. These problems include alien smuggling, visa fraud, domestic servitude, high housing charges, indefinite at-will status, bureaucratic challenges and culture shock.

With funding from the MacArthur Foundation, a Task Force on the Ethical International Recruitment and Employment of Teachers was established, which included teachers unions, recruiters, teachers educated abroad, and employers. A series of task force meetings—at which stakeholders discussed their challenges and needs—led to the development of the Teachers' Code for Ethical International Recruitment and Employment Practices.

Lora Bartlett, a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz and author of Migrant Teachers: How American Schools Import Labor, said the code is an important new arrow in the quiver of essential supports for migrant teachers. School systems and stakeholders that take up, examine and share the code will have made major inroads into understanding a problem that has been ignored or misunderstood too long. Often even the most well-intentioned districts don't understand the intricacies of the issue "and that is why we need a code."

[Mike Rose/photos by Michael Campbell] - See more at: