TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A problem often heard when it comes to the discussion of schools in Arizona, is the lack of teachers.
Districts, across the U.S. and here in Arizona, are finding an alternative to solving that problem- reaching out to other countries. Some districts are doing so through the J-1 visa program which is designed to offer cultural and educational exchange opportunities.
One woman, who is a French and Spanish teacher at Amphi High School, came to the U.S. 20 years ago on the J-1 visa. Clara Estey has been teaching at Amphi for the past 11 years.
She originally came the U.S. as part of a program to better learn English while also teaching French, her native language, down in Nogales. Her plan was to better learn English so that she could become a flight attendant, but she caught the teaching bug. Now a teacher for several decades Clara has taught all over southern Arizona.
She wasn't surprised to hear that school districts are recruiting teachers from other countries with the current shortage. In fact, she'd heard about it before.
"It's so, so hard to find teachers now here that I'm wondering if they're recruited there and they're offered the visa or if they're asking them to come here and then get the visa. I heard last year, two years ago I forget, that some districts in Tucson were recruiting in, I think it was Singapore. I forget but they were recruiting there," Estey says of what she's heard.
In Arizona in 2017 there were 3,932 J-1 visa participants. 183 of them were teachers. That's an increase from the 166 J-1 visa participants that were teachers in Arizona in 2016. Clara sees value in that increase of international teachers coming to the U.S.
"It's always nice to know a different culture. It's an enrichment really because when you go there you can talk about what you're doing here and when you're here you can talk about life there. It enriches you," she says.
Arizona is not the only state where school districts are doing this. California, Florida, and Texas have school districts doing the same. And numbers are going up across the board for J-1 visas. According the state department in 2017 there were 2,867 J-1 visa applicants, as compared to the 1,197 in 2010.
J-1 visas for teachers have caused some controversy though. The reason being that school districts are able to hire J-1 visa participants without offering them the perks of a regular teacher. With many teachers already being paid a low salary, some people are saying it's time to reconsider the terms of the J-1 visa.
As for Clara, she says she enjoys teaching and loves working closely with her students. Teaching them language and culture makes her happy.