By Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Thinking he was being disrespectful, the teacher was infuriated all the more. But what Ligaya Avenida, 64, later saw on hindsight was a glaring example of cultural disconnect common in the American school system years ago.
By staying meek in the face of authority, a common Filipino trait, the boy thought he was doing the “right” thing, explained Avenida, a long-time teacher and administrator in the San Francisco Unified School District.
In the American context, he was not.
“It had a cultural implication,” she said in an interview. “Here, you look directly at the person even if you’re being reprimanded. If you don’t, that’s a sign of disrespect.”
Many school kids coming from immigrant families apparently knew very little about American culture and educational system, leading them to occasional trouble with mentors in the United States.
But between students and teachers with the gulf of cultural differences between them, the city’s school district, with a big lift from Avenida, saw that more had to be done from the latter’s end.
It looked for new mentors who could better deal with its culturally diverse student population. The search eventually led to a familiar face in the global diaspora: the Filipino.
Since the 1970s when the problem of cultural divide first came prominently into national view, hundreds of Filipino teachers have found employment in American schools, says Avenida, who now runs a recruitment agency for international teachers.
Her company alone recruits 600 to 700 Filipino teachers annually. The number dwarfs Hong Kong and Mexico, where her company, Avenida International Consultancy, enlists only 50 to 70 teachers every year.
She says the bulk of her recruitment is from her home country because of Filipino teachers’ facility in both the Filipino and English languages. This flexibility makes them a perfect fit in school districts with a large Filipino-American population. “They needed teachers who understood the students,” she says.
Their quiet search for greener pastures could be just as worrisome, however, a contribution in small or large measure to the Philippines’ continuing “brain drain.”
“The reason I don’t feel bad about it is because the truth is, the Philippines has a lot of teachers,” says Avenida, arguing that it’s just a question of how effectively the Department of Education is filling positions left behind by migrating teachers.
With few well-paid employment opportunities in the country, more unfortunate Filipino teachers are forced to settle for menial jobs such as being domestic helpers in Hong Kong or Europe for bigger bucks, she says. [...]
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