A shortage of math, science, and special education teachers more than six years ago prompted L.A. Unified to hire hundreds of teachers from the Philippines.
Now the shortage is over and that’s left some foreign teachers in a lurch. Many are heading home – even though they may not want to – when they were unable to obtain a visa.
One of them is Roda Mongen. She taught in Baguio City, north of Manila, for seven years before she arrived at the boot camp known as “first year L.A. Unified teacher” in 2006. She wasn’t prepared for what she found at Virgil Middle School.
“The kids talked back to me, they were even laughing at my accent. They were totally disrespectful because they know that I’m new here,” she said. Less than a year into the job, she thought no amount of money could convince her to stay.
“They could tell I’m new here, I’m a new teacher, they took advantage of me,” Mongen said.
She eventually got the hang of things, even though she didn’t always get to teach what she wanted. In the Philippines, she taught life sciences, such as biology and physiology. But L.A. Unified needed chemistry and physics teachers. She finally got to teach life science last year. Students perked up during one section.
“It’s the reproductive system. Kids love it. Every time they come to my class, you know, the first part of the hour they come to my class, they would ask me: 'Ms Mongen, what are we going to learn today?'” she said.
Last week, Mongen had dinner at fellow Filipino teacher Caridad’s Mid City apartment. A Christmas tree waited for decorations in front of a large window and a wood figurine nativity scene sat in a corner.
“I feel home now,” Caridad said.
Mongen and Caridad, who is afraid to be identified by her full name, grew close during their years in the program. But this would be their last dinner together. The district sponsored Caridad for a worker visa but chose not to renew Mongen’s visa.
“It appears that the district is allowing competent, well regarded teachers to be treated as disposable based on their immigration status and that just doesn’t seem fair,” said United Teachers Los Angeles area chair Dan Barnhart. He has tried, unsuccessfully, to help Mongen keep her teaching job.
One issue is a teacher evaluation, which was one factor L.A. Unified considered. Mongen says it didn’t include classroom observation or student test scores.
Debbie Ignagni, of LA Unified, says the district can now fill the job shortages so will no longer be sponsoring teachers to stay in the U.S.
“When the teachers were recruited there was no guarantee that permanent residency would be part of the package,” Ignagni said.
Roda Mongen has been packing up her life in Los Angeles to head back to the Phillipines. She’ll join her husband and two kids. She’s pregnant with her third child, due in the spring. She would have preferred they build their lives here.
“Most of us teachers doesn’t want to go back home. We want to bring our family over so we can be together here,” Mongen said.
Mongen has tickets for the 15 hour flight to Manila Tuesday night.