Polk County looks overseas as it struggles to fill open teacher positions
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - From the moment students stepped into Shenese Bonner’s class at Denison Middle School, they knew something was up.
"They hear your accent. They know you’re different. They want to know where you’re from," she told FOX 13.
Bonner is from Jamaica, so she is able to tell her eighth-grade English class what it’s like to live there. Kids have to find their own way to class because the system doesn't provide school buses. Life is more relaxed. People know their neighbors and take time to chat with them because they are not working all the time.
Bonner is one of 70 foreign teachers hired by Polk County this year to fill vacant teacher spots. Along with teaching a particular subject, school administrators say foreign teachers offer something else - a different view of the world.
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Last year, Dension hired two foreign teachers. The principal, Terri Christian, says things went so well, this year she hired seven, many of them veterans in the classroom.
Shenese Bonner, of Jamaica, is one of 70 foreign teachers hired by Polk County for the 2022-2023 school year.
"They’re content area experts. They are familiar with the curriculum and are on board and up to speed. It doesn’t take long, and they contribute," Christian explained.
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They have the same credentials and get paid the same as their American counterparts. Perhaps their biggest challenge is finding a place to live and transportation.
The agency that represents the foreign teachers, and their new schools, helps them with the information and things they need to settle in.
Ulpiano Jr. Delabjan, who has a fascination with America, teaches at a Polk County School while his wife and daughter stayed behind in the Philippines.
For many, coming to the United States to work is an adventure. But for others, there is a trade-off because they have to leave their families behind.
Ulpiano Jr. Delabjan, whose wife and two-year-old daughter are back in the Philippines, says the experience of working here is worth it.
"For years, I have been fascinated with American culture, even though I am on the other side of the world," he said. "I just love the Americans."
Statewide, as the new school year kicks off, there are still more than 8,000 teacher vacancies.