Trinidad and Tobago teachers interested in teaching at elementary schools in the United States can now register for positions with the international exchange programme, Participate.
The private organisation, which works under the US State Department, allows for teachers to go to the US and experience teaching particularly in North and South Carolina, and Virginia.
Jeff Seaby, international education advisor with Participate, told Sunday Newsday the aim was to promote cultural exchange for teachers and schools.
“Their curriculum does not necessarily give them a window to the world so having a teacher from another country can provide them with all kinds of experiences that would open their minds to the global perspective,” Seaby said.
Over the past 30 years, the programme has had teachers from over 50 countries including Jamaica, England, South Africa, Bahamas, Canada, Ireland, China, The Philippines, France and countries in Central and South America.
He said, while the programme had international teachers in middle and junior high schools (Forms 1 to 3) as well as high schools (Form 4 to Upper 6), the bulk of the teachers were situated in elementary school (primary school) because they feel younger children were more greatly impacted, especially with learning languages.
He said teachers would teach the standard curriculum but teachers were asked to add to it and integrate something about their country in the lessons. “The goal is culture, not filling positions,” Seaby said. “The schools we work with and the principals have seen the impact on the students when you bring in a global teacher. They have basically made spots for these teachers. They have worked it into the system.”
Seaby said the programme started in North Carolina so most of the organisation’s connections were in that state. As it became popular and successful, it spread to neighbouring states of South Carolina and Virginia.
“At times we have been in other states – Florida, Kansas, California, Arizona – but we felt we wanted to bring it back near to our headquarters in North Carolina, so that we can make sure we are able to visit all our teachers easily, and that they have a good social network and offer support to each other.”
Since it is a non-immigrant programme, teachers would return to their home countries having learned and grown from their experience, and bringing some of their knowledge.
Seaby said he came to TT in 2005 to find out about the country and eventually recruited one teacher who spent three years at a US school.
“The reason we looked at Trinidad and Tobago was because it has such a unique and rich culture,” Seaby said. “It’s got African and Indian cultures, it invented the steel drums, and calypso, limbo is from Trinidad, you’ve got Carnival, roti...
“There’s so much that is unique to Trinidad and Tobago that it would be interesting and something I think people should know about that we thought it would be great to have some representatives from the country.”
However, he said soon after that local teacher’s stay, the global recession hit and school budgets in the US had some cut backs. Therefore, Participate put a hold on expanding beyond its usual countries at a time American teachers may have been struggling for work. After more than a decade later, Participate decided to resume its expansion, hence its request for local teachers to register on their website. Seaby said for the August 2018 school year, Participate was expecting 300 international teachers to be placed in US schools. However, they were only asking for five primary school teachers from TT to teach kindergarten to Grade Five at elementary schools.
The reason, he said, was because the country was relatively small and the programme did not want to be a drain on the education system. Yet, if TT teachers became popular with the schools, they might increase the number to ten in the future.
Teachers of the Participate programme are usually well taken care of. Some of the benefits include a full-time teaching position; visa sponsorship for the teacher and their family; salary, vacation and holidays that is the same as US-based teachers; airfare to the US; subsidised health insurance and free life insurance.
The J1 visa, a non-immigrant visa, allows a legal spouse to reside in the US where they could apply for any job. Dependents under the age of 21 are covered under the visa, and dependents who are five and older would qualify for public education.
In addition to these benefits, Participate provides a lot of practical support for its teachers.
According to Seaby, when they arrive there is an orientation where they meet teachers from around the world. Local advisors, who live in the school district the new teacher would soon work in, would help them set up bank accounts and phones, help them find a place to live, show them around the area and more. The advisors also organise social events, check up on the new teachers, and try to help those struggling with adjustment.
Seaby said, “Everyone goes through a period of cultural adaptation, even people who visited the US before and think they would be fine. We are there to assist them during that phase through teacher workshops and more.”
Participate also has an open-source online learning centre for its teachers and any teacher who wishes to sign up to share resources and ideas on how to infuse culture into every-day lessons.