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Our View: International teachers good hires

Ignacio School District is reaching out to the far corners of the planet in recruiting teachers. Literally.

Ignacio is hiring a teacher from the Philippines and one from Lebanon for the 2022-23 school year. Four years ago, the district hired two teachers from the Philippines and “they’re great,” said Superintendent Christopher deKay.

Whether local or international, “we just want to bring in really good people,” he said. People who will stay. We appreciate that deKay’s team is willing to deal with visas, and support new teachers with staff housing and mentors. Welcoming teachers from other countries and cultures is one clear way to get teachers here. Now.

Still, it’s a hard sell. Starting teacher pay in Ignacio is $35,600.

Until we as a society come back around to the value of ace teachers, we’ll miss out on hiring new ones. Or lose the ones we have. But this nationwide teacher shortage comes with an undercurrent of change. We expect the tables to turn with teachers gaining new agency. The higher salaries, ease in earning alternative licensure and the pathway programs, growing educators in high school, are evidence of that. Teachers may soon command a new bidding war.

And Colorado must position itself as a player. Our state ranks dead last in competitive wages for teachers. Colorado is also 43rd in spending on education. Roots of blame reach back to TABOR, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. A monumental shift must come top-down, from the highest state level to local districts, to raise salaries.

Our new teachers may just cross the state line to New Mexico, which starts teachers at $50,000, right out of college and green. The pay tier is generous, too, with an easy jump to $60,000 three years in, then higher pay with more education.

No wonder a local district is recruiting internationally. We just hope Colorado is more alluring than New Mexico.

Montezuma-Cortez School District recently increased starting teacher pay 14% to $36,000. This came around the same time Manaugh Elementary School, with a deteriorating building and severe staffing shortages, was put on the chopping block.

Durango School District 9-R’s strategy is to recruit heavily in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona. The district also eyes colleges and universities throughout the U.S. “known to produce high quality teaching candidates” and areas with those holding specific skillsets, said Laura Galido, executive director of human capital at 9-R.

Teaching is a tough job, no doubt, with fewer takers. By 2019, one-third fewer students completed teacher training programs than the previous decade, according to the Center for American Progress. We’re just not producing educators. This was before COVID-19 exacerbated problems, pushing teachers toward the exits. And who could blame them?

The success of students – measured by standardized tests – has become teachers’ responsibility instead of simply helping students succeed. Now, school safety and the mental health concerns of students add to the complexity. More parents want a say in curriculums and the minutiae of inner workings of school boards. This is usually not helpful.

Readers, think about the best teacher you’ve had. What was he or she worth to you?

Back in Ignacio, the student breakdown is generally 40% Native American; 25% to 30% Hispanic; 20% to 25% Anglo; and 5% other cultures. Education experts say it’s best to have role models reflecting the same backgrounds and cultures as students. Hiring more Native teachers makes the best sense.

DeKay is quick to say, “Teachers who have a tendency to stick come locally.” Until we accomplish this, it’s reasonable to throw open the doors and invite teachers of the world to Ignacio.