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International Educators Ease Teacher Shortage



When Wilmer Lagos Reyes first stood in front of a classroom nearly 15 years ago, he never imagined he would end up teaching students in Hutto, some 2,000-plus miles away from home.

Reyes is among six international educators who have come to Hippo Nation as District administration has begun looking far beyond the Lone Star State’s borders to fill staff vacancies left by the national teacher shortage.

“I’ve been an English teacher for 14 years and what inspired me to come to the U.S. was so I can grow professionally from a new context and learn so I can equip myself for a wonderful teaching career,” said Reyes, a native of Nicaragua who’s teaching 3rd grade at CCES.  

The Spanish-speaking educators, all hailing from Latin America, are teaching various grade-level dual language classes at three different campuses including Ray, Veterans’ Hill and Cottonwood Creek elementary schools. Across Texas about a fifth of public school students are learning English as a second language, and like many Texas school districts, Hutto is in dire need of bilingual teachers.

Such shortages are not unique to Hippo Nation or Texas. Many districts nationwide struggle with recruiting, training, certifying and retaining teachers, especially those with specialized skills, such as bilingual and special education. Since 1990, Texas has struggled to fill bilingual teaching positions, and over the past decade the number of students in the state who speak a language other than English has grown by about 40% while the number of teachers serving them has grown by only 30%.

“I know that I can contribute and influence the education and formation of students, and even more so working in a school where Spanish is spoken,” said Selene Gomez, a sixth-year teacher from Mexico at Ray Elementary. “The fact that students hear you speaking their language, whether it is their second language or their native tongue, brings you closer to them.”

Gomez said the primary reason for relocating to the U.S. was to improve her teaching skills. “I also wanted to get some ideas about teaching a language in a dual context, and hope to have personal and professional growth. I want to share a different perspective on the importance of learning another language, and the benefits it can have both personally and socially.”

For Cynthia Sauceda, a 4th grade teacher at CCES, experiencing American culture is both the most rewarding and most challenging aspect of teaching in the U.S. There’s a lot of “cultural shock” when going to a new country where the education system is completely different, such as varying approaches to grading and reporting, she said.

Sauceda says she’s amazed with the many resources Hutto students have access to, including the amount of technology in the classroom compared to her native Honduras. “We don't teach with much technology in my country, so here I’m learning how to use technology and engage the students. Back home we use whiteboards and markers. And based on the behavior of the students, they’re both kind and respectful and are very helpful. They like to teach me how to use things and lead the group. I told my students this year will be 50-50. I will be teaching you and also learning from you.”

While the concept of recruiting internationally isn’t new, this is the first year Hutto ISD has looked to bring in international teachers. Led by Dr. Cara Malone, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, the program enlists the help of experienced teachers to act as mentors for the foreign teachers to ensure they acclimate to a new area and country.

“Staff across the district have stepped in to help them find an apartment, furniture and transportation,” said Dr. Malone. “We help them find all the items that they need.”

In addition to being certified and qualified in their areas of expertise, these educators also provide a cultural experience for their students. This is another aspect in which Dr. Malone was interested in utilizing the initiative for Hutto. “International teachers help provide a cultural connection to our diverse student body. This program is something we are looking to grow.”

Reyes also wants to grow: professionally and personally. “I'm excited to learn about all the opportunities to learn from everyone in Hutto—the faculty, the students and the culture. If I return back to my country as a better teacher, then I will have something to contribute to my country and its students.”