There's a teacher shortage in Arizona — and teachers from overseas are filling the gap

Arizona schools finding teachers overseas
Arizona schools finding teachers overseas 03:06

Last Updated Oct 30, 2019 8:05 PM EDT

A group of women from the Philippines came to Tucson, Arizona, to do a job fewer Americans want to do: teach. They share meals and live together to save money.

"We have the same reasons why we're here. Sacrifice for the family and all our sacrifice it's all worth it," said Andrea Locsin.

Back home, Locsin, who left her three children behind, was making $400 a month. In Arizona, she makes nine times more. Locsin is among eight teachers from overseas working at Magee Middle School.

Teacher Andrea Locsin with two of her children. Andrea Locsin

"This is a very big opportunity for me, a very big blessing," Locsin said.

There are more than 1,400 teaching vacancies in Arizona this year. Arizona ranks 45th out of 50 when it comes to teacher salaries. The average public school teacher in America makes $60,000 a year. In Tucson, it's $42,000.

"There's more vacancies than applicants. The pay isn't very attractive. We finally decided that it would probably be time to look overseas," said Dr. Gabriel Trujillo, the Tucson Unified School District superintendent.

Trujillo oversees the hiring of international teachers. "Where you may have two classes of 18 or 19, if one of the classes doesn't have a highly-qualified teacher due to the vacancy, now we have a single class of 38 students," he said.

Margaret Chaney, president of the largest educators union in the state, led a week-long teacher strike last year. She said it seems the job of a teacher is being outsourced.

"You brought in these other teachers and now you fill those holes. There's no reason to add more funding which is a problem to those of us who have been left behind," Chaney said.

Nationwide, there are over 3,0000 international teachers in U.S. classrooms, up 50% from 2014, according to the State Department. The majority of those teachers come from the Philippines. They need a J-1 Visa, which allows individuals to work or study in the U.S.

International teachers must have at least the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor's degree and two years of teaching experience to qualify. For international teachers, the process to get to the U.S. is expensive, costing $8,000 on average.