Teaching in America

1. Which are the most welcoming states in the USA where foreign teachers would have less of a hard time adapting?

This is a complex question. In general, larger cities are easier to adapt to, for several reasons. First, they have better-developed public transportation, therefore eliminating the need for expensive, personal transportation. Secondly, they are already populated by migrants. Therefore, not only is one likely to find people originating from one's own native country, but also find it easier to locate native meals.

The down side of large cities is that, as compared to small towns, people are always busy. Therefore, although night life may offer a better promise of mental recreation, daytime life is mentally exhausting.

2. Do you recommend teachers from any academic level to work in the USA or is there any particular level which will benefit more than the rest by coming to the USA?

Your level of academic work does not matter as much as your content specialty does, since that largely determines if one, as a foreign worker, is needed in the first place. Immigrant workers are given special visas (like H-1 or J-1), which allow them to stay in the USA for three years. Such visas are offered contingent on the current needs in the US employment market. In this connection, the research indicates that there are certain areas of teaching like mathematics, science, special education, and foreign languages where there are critical teacher shortages. In practice, however, these shortages are relative. Real-life experiences indicate that in high-income schools, such shortages are virtually non-existent because teachers are more apt to migrate from low-income, relatively tougher schools to such schools.

Given the above information, I would advise, as explained in my book, Teaching in America: A Cross-Cultural Guide for International Teachers and their Employers, that migrant teachers should be adaptable in order to make it. In my forthcoming book, Teaching diverse learners: Basic principles, classroom insights, and best practices, I explain that there are certain fundamental socio-cultural issues (such as racial-ethnic, religious, and socio-economic cultural norms) that underlie teaching experiences in the US. Such issues must be translated into teaching strategies, not only for the benefit of the students themselves, but also for the teachers' own success, and sometimes sanity.

3. Would it be an easy matter for someone looking for teaching employment in the USA to get a VISA or USA Green Card?

As noted above, it all depends on the current needs, as determined by the US labor market.

4. Would applying and getting this VISA be the responsibility of the individual or the employer?

It is generally the responsibility of the individual to apply for the visa-since a lot of personal information is involved here. However, the hiring institution (the sponsor) may offer some help. The extent of the help depends on its size and scope of operations.

5. What is the most important thing in the job search process (resume, cover letter, interview, job search) , whilst looking for a job as a teacher in the USA?

The US is a place where self-presentation and proficiency in communication are very important. In general, the cover letter offers the opportunity to present one's strengths. Candidates need to clearly state their qualifications briefly, but also clearly-preferably in not more than one page. The cover letter makes the case as to why one is the best candidate for the job. Having sat on a number of search committees, I know that when we are looking at many candidates for the same position, clarity, brevity, and elegance matter. For teaching positions, however, most school districts use form applications.

The job interview presents the best opportunity to make the best first impression in person. That, indeed, is what really determines whether or not one gets the job!

6. Why do you feel that the number of foreign teachers that are coming to America is increasing?

The research indicates that Americans are aging, and therefore more teachers are retiring than are entering the profession though the conventional routes. Besides, the teaching profession does not pay as competitively as other jobs for the same educational investment in the US. Therefore, when the economy is good and employment levels are strong in the general market, teachers tend to gravitate towards better-paying jobs, and vice-versa. Another important point is that the recent high-stakes testing policies have made teaching even tougher on many fronts. Finally, there is increased diversity in America's student population. Many teachers are not prepared to understand the needs of the diverse populations in their classrooms. All these factors contribute to high teacher attrition, and thus the need to make up for the teacher shortages.

7. What are the differences an international teacher might face in terms of society and culture?

It essentially depends on one's country of origin. As explained in Teaching in America, those coming from 'conversational cultures' (mostly industrialized, Western-type nations) will find the culture more familiar, especially in the big cities. However, those coming from 'listening cultures' (mostly traditionalist countries) will find the culture shock more compelling. There are, however, significant differences in teaching philosophies across the board, and that is where the everyday teaching life may become challenging. I have also explained in several research articles (google them online) that there are several teaching differences: teaching methods and styles, assessment, teacher-student interactions, and even school organization (that is, how schools are set up and administered). All these make for interesting differences that immigrant teachers need to understand before they even make their decision to leave their countries.

8. Does the American school system differ from other countries enough that teachers would need to be well versed on it before moving? What do you think are the three biggest of those differences?

See the notes in the previous question. There are several successful international teachers in the US, including the author. However, there are also 'glowing' failures who were good teachers in their own countries, were interviewed for their jobs here, but did not really understand the level of change involved in teaching in America. Indeed, even within the US, there are significant differences in teaching experiences across states. Therefore, international teachers should expect no less. Prepare both intellectually and emotionally before you undertake international teaching. It is feasible, but certainly different.

9. Do you suggest that the teachers try to keep their culture and teach the students about it, or do you encourage the teachers to 'act American?'

I would advise international teachers to first be themselves, since they will certainly be viewed as 'cultural ambassadors.' However, they really will have no choice than to adapt to US teaching norms, since the alternative is non-survival. So, in that sense, yes, 'act American' teaching-wise, but be yourself, since that makes you more interesting to your students.

10. How do you think schools benefit from having international teachers?

As explained above, international teachers are 'cultural ambassadors' because they bring first-hand international flavor to the schools. That is indeed something that the US society, in general, values. International teachers offer their students and colleagues different perspectives of issues; something that globalization imposes on us all, as 'globizens' (global citizens).

11. How do you suggest helping students to cope with having a teacher with a style and personality they may not be used to?

This is an issue for a whole book. Suffice it, however, to note that this is really an issue of one (teacher) against the many (students). In a functional sense, the onus rests on the teacher to adapt. Remember that students are still kids. They generally do not make time to think about teachers' issues since at this stage in life, they are usually self-absorbed. Therefore, do not expect them to think about accommodating you. Many (certainly, not all) will tolerate your nuances like foreign accent, different spelling, teaching styles, etc. You, the teacher, therefore need to make yourself interesting and relevant!

12. If you could only say one thing to a new teacher coming to the United States, what would it be and why?

Prepare intellectually, prepare mentally, and prepare to become a student of the new culture. Read up on cross-cultural teaching issues, and mentally decide that you are going to do it for the rich learning experience international teaching certainly offers. If you make it with flying colours, that is great. If you fail, you have at least experienced an enriching difference, and that is life-transforming!