In Montana, classrooms face a crisis. There is a shortage of teachers who are willing to come to small rural communities. This is Shelby, a small town of less than 4,000 people. They turned to the Philippines
to recruit qualified educators and teachers like Ms. Mary Manda, or Ms. Em, are migrating to teach
the next generation of rural Americans. When I first got here in Montana, I said, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe it. I’m here already in the US!” So, I teach kids with different disabilities — children having autism, ADHD, and then,
like mental disability also. So, different kinds of abilities in one classroom. As a special education teacher, we are trained on how to handle this kind of kids. I feel so sad when the people look down at these kids having their disabilities. I wanted to tell the people, “Hey, excuse me. These people need more love, passion. They need patience. Because these kids have special needs.” Teaching is not just teaching academically. Teaching is, like — it’s a passion, you know. I want them to learn.
I want them to be successful in their life. When I first heard that Mr. Crump
was recruiting from the Philippines, as a teacher, I wondered if whoever they brought in would be familiar with our US education code. The special education laws are so complex that I questioned whether or not the candidate would be able to follow those codes and really know them. Ms. Em was amazing. She was so knowledgeable when she came. And what she didn’t know, she learned very quickly. I had this anxiety that when I came here to the US maybe I could probably experience discrimination. I could feel that I am different. They have a different skin color. Also, our accent as a Filipino, it’s different. For those people who are saying that I’m not qualified or I’m not deserving to be here — well, that’s their opinion. I have my master’s degree. I taught kids with different disabilities in the Philippines. They think I’m taking away their jobs. But the thing is I’m trying — I’m also helping, you know? I’m filling this teaching shortage here. If nobody will be in this position, nobody will help these kids. I think that there were thosewho struggled with the idea of why we were bringing
in teachers from another country and why we weren’t able to find and recruit teachers from within our state to come back to places like Montana, or to Shelby. But at the heart of the issue, the next generation isn’t moving back to small towns like Shelby. But even getting people to be interested in cultivating that next generation — people don’t seem to be applying for it. The greatest issue is getting people
to come and want to be here. These are loving, kind, generous communities that need good teachers! Filipino or not. Beloved by many, Ms. Em has transformed
the lives of many students with special needs. However, under her J-1 Visa, she can only work in the United States
for a maximum of five years. After that, she is required to return to the Philippines — a loss for Shelby and the Manda family. Whether this solution to the teacher shortage
is sustainable in the long run is a lingering question for many Filipino teachers in Shelby. There’s an anxiety that what will happen to us after our contract will end. Our type of visa — my visa is a J-1, so it means we are an exchange teacher. Our agency told us that we only
could stay here for five years. How are we going to help them if our contract
will not be continued? If we are not given another visa? I think it’s sad that in an instant, if something’s not approved, that they’re sent back home. They’re a part of my life. I will be the first to tell you: If you’re gonna come and
you’re gonna move to any country, I think you need to do it right. Historically, people come to a small town to get started and then they leave to go to a bigger place. They take from the resources — very limited resources — in a rural community and don’t give a lot back. The Mandas have planted roots, in my opinion, in our community. And it would be just as if my neighbor, who I’ve known, just up and left. They’re not just here as teachers, they’re here as a family in our town. The Filipino families aren’t here just to gain something but they’re here to give something as well. And I think that inspires other people. I’m very proud of my fellow Filipino teachers because they are very hardworking. And they could do something that could change or make a big impact on these kids. Leaving this place, it’s really sad. I love Shelby because of the people. We need more teachers here in Shelby or any other district here in Montana. We need more teachers. A teacher is like a mother, a friend, a counselor. And these kids need special ed teachers that would understand them better and I know Filipinos — we teach by our heart.