Portland program hopes to place foreign-trained teachers in classrooms

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PORTLAND — A recent report shows that new Mainers often have a high level of education and work experience, but they face roadblocks to re-employment in the U.S., including certification requirements that are often hard to navigate.

That’s partly why the New Mainers Resource Center at Portland Adult Education has created a program to put foreign-trained teachers on a path toward achieving the prerequisites needed to teach in local classrooms.

Called the Education Academy, the program will start in January and run through mid-April. The hope, according to Sally Sutton, program coordinator at the resource center, is to get at least some participants ready to be employed by September 2019.

The New Mainers Resource Center commissioned the report, entitled “Foreign Trained Professionals: Maine’s Hidden Talent Pool, Findings and Recommendations Regarding Certification and Licensure.”

Among the findings is that professional licensing in the U.S. is a decentralized system and includes various levels of oversight that make it especially hard for immigrants to find work in their profession.

The overall goal of the Education Academy is to build and diversify the potential pool of teachers in Portland schools, according to both Sutton and Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana.

The School Department’s new strategic plan calls for the teaching staff to be as diverse as the student body, and the Education Academy is “one strategy to help foreign-trained educators work toward certification and hopefully employment as teachers,” Sutton said this week.

As a pilot program, the Education Academy will start small, with 10-15 participants, she said. It will provide an overview of the education system in the U.S., as well as guidance in becoming certified, job search help, and financial support to pay for any required college courses. Participants will also get hands-on classroom experience and intensive English language training.

Sutton said there’s already been a lot of interest from schools in the city about being a test site.

To be eligible for the Education Academy, enrollees must be at least 18, have work authorization from the federal government, access to their college transcripts and diplomas, and meet income requirements; Sutton said the Education Academy is being funded through the Maine Department of Labor, and household income must be at or below 200 percent of the poverty level.

For an individual, she said, that would be a gross monthly income of about $1,800. For a family of four it would be around $3,200 a month.

Other requirements for participating in the Education Academy include meeting basic English proficiency requirements and attending the full course, as well as completing the classroom practicum, Sutton said.

She said the Education Academy is needed because “teacher certification is not an easy process to understand or pursue. Many foreign-trained teachers want to teach in the U.S., but they just don’t know the steps they need to take … and they (also) may not have the financial resources to pursue the college courses they need to become certified.”

Sutton said the requirements for teacher certification vary, depending on the subject matter and grade level.

Most of the Education Academy participants will already have bachelor’s degrees from their home country, she said. But to become certified they would also need “at a minimum, a teaching methods course in their subject area, a course on teaching exceptional students and a student-teaching experience.”

Sutton said they would also need to take tests “to demonstrate their English and math proficiency, tests in their subject matter area and a test on the principles of learning and teaching.”

“We are fortunate in Maine to have an immigrant population that comes with education and skills and that can be a tremendous resource to us as a state as we try to address our workforce shortages,” Sutton said. “Being able to understand and support these skilled professionals through a licensing process or in utilizing as much of their training as possible will benefit us all.”

See www.nmrcmaine.org or call 874-8155 for more information about the Education Academy.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

New Mainers like these, are often well educated and have experience in their profession but find it hard to be employed in the U.S. That’s why the New Mainers Resource Center at Portland Adult Education has launched a program to help foreign-trained educators become eligible to teach in local classrooms.

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