What must I do to teach in the US?
January 7, 2010 5:08 PM   Subscribe

Hypothetically what if I, a New Zealander who has just graduated in New Zealand with a Bachelor's degree in teaching at primary/elementary level, wanted to teach elementary school in the US? What would I need to prove and do?

Husband has opportunities for sponsorship to work in the US (wouldn't be our first time) and I'm currently about to start my teaching career. We're considering the US again, possibly California but not necessarily and if we do make the move we'll apply for green cards, so even if I can't work right away, I plan to later.

I've looked before at the requirements for teaching in various states for people with overseas training and most places I've looked are confusing and sometimes contradictory. What qualifications do US teachers generally need to teach elementary school, and what is the process to be a licensed teacher for a foreigner (assuming there is a licensing/registration process)? Has anyone moved to the US to teach and gone through this process who can tell me about it in a more subjective way? What is the job market like -- for example in San Diego or the Bay Area? How do teachers generally find jobs there? (In NZ there is a gazette that lists all current job vacancies for the country.)

I'm aware of significant differences in schooling in the US vs NZ, particularly in the way students are tested and assessed, and performance-based pay for teachers. Can anyone tell me a little more about the way teachers are paid and what benefits are generally available?

Is there anything else I need to consider or be aware of in making this decision (bearing in mind that it is one of many options including staying in NZ)?
posted by tracicle to Work & Money (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about teaching, but you can't apply for a greencard. Neither can your husband. An American with an appropriate relationship to you must apply for one on your behalf. Since (hopefully) neither of you will be marrying an American, and it sounds like you don't have American family, that presumably leaves your employer.

The process will take years (I'd estimate six), and cost thousands of dollars, during which time you will not want to change employers if you can possibly help it, as their greencard application on your behalf as an employee will tend to evaporate if you're no-longer an employee.
You may essentially want to be prepared to make a big commitment up front to stay in the same area in the same job no-matter what for many years ocne you get the greencard process under way.
(US immigrations is not as sane as most other countries. The US has a huge land border with Mexico and a big problem with illegal immigration. One of the results of this is a kafka-esque immigration system that often makes little to no sense.)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:29 PM on January 7, 2010

Generally speaking, the qualifications for teachers are determined first on a state level, then by locality. Individual states do the licensing, and the rules vary greatly by state, and greatly by the need for teachers and the economy. (Some states have advertised position overseas. Some places now have hiring freezes.) In some states, teachers are desperately needed and all sorts of qualification "exceptions" are made, presuming you will eventually get the right qualifications. It helps a lot if you teach one of the subjects that schools have a hard time finding qualified teachers in - like math or science. Willingness to teach in rough areas may make it easier. But the only way to know for sure is to contact the board of education for the state(s) you are considering.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:40 PM on January 7, 2010

Well, you're juggling a lot of things here.

On the one hand, there are federal-level immigration laws (i.e., those laws promulgated by the United States' federal government, in Washington, DC).

On the other hand, you're also dealing with various state laws and regulations about the recruitment of qualified foreign national teachers; those laws and regulations vary across the states.

Your best bet would to stick to major cities, as they both have a need for qualified teachers and have the resources to have a program with which to recruit qualified foreign teachers.

I would not expect that any of this will be easy to do or that you can get all this done in a simple series of phone calls.

At the very least you will need an immigration lawyer to represent you (either paid by you or else by the school district recruiting you). I assume from your description that your husband works in private industry; if this is the case, most of the paperwork/legal services will be paid for by his employer and he will not have to do much of anything to get the appropriate visas in place. Do not assume that this will be the case for you.

Another alternative entirely is to consider employment at a private school (i.e., not funded by the government); however, I don't know if private schools have much familiarity with this country's very complex immigration laws.

(Note that in the United States "private" school refers to schools that are not funded by the government. This may not be the case in New Zealand. Don't get confused by different terminology...)
posted by dfriedman at 5:53 PM on January 7, 2010

This site has information that might be useful to you. The most likely route would be as an H1B, which is a type of skilled-worker visa, but is not considered "citizenship track."

I don't know if you have any language skills, but generally speaking, a high degree of proficiency in a foreign language, especially Spanish, is desperately in demand in most urban school districts in the US. Also, if your degree included training or student teaching in special education, that's another great need area, and it will make you VERY attractive as a candidate.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1132834-1,00.html also might provide you with some insight.
posted by deadmessenger at 5:53 PM on January 7, 2010

I'm a certified teacher in California and New York. Here's the deal. In California, I would be absolutely shocked if you're able to find a job in one of the large cities. Teachers are being laid off like mad in most urban areas there, especially elementary school teachers in LA. (I'm from LA and couldn't find a job there.) In California, most schools post positions on edjoin.org. Most other states do not have a central listing site for job vacancies. You would need to get a list of all school districts in the state and look at each district's website for available positions.

All states have their own requirements for certification. In California, you must have a bachelor's degree, complete a battery of teacher certification courses at a university--usually one year including student teaching--take the CSET and CBEST tests, and complete 2 years of an induction program (BITSA) to get your permanent certification. You already completed your coursework, so you might only need to take the exams at this point. You'd be applying for a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential in CA (look at this). In New York, you'd be applying for a Childhood Education credential. Each state calls it something different and each state's credentials carry different stipulations. What you really should do is phone the teacher credentialing office in the state you're interested in moving to and get information specific to your situation. In California, call the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. I have never had to spend less than 30 minutes on hold when I called. Call as soon as the office opens in the morning.

MeFi mail me if you need any more help or would like anecdotal info on teaching in CA or NY.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:54 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Each state's requirements can be found here.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:56 PM on January 7, 2010

My wife, who has a South Carolina teacher's certificate, thinks you're crazy for considering coming here to teach and would love to just trade with you so she can go teach over there and you can have her spot.

Now onto the serious answer (although she was really serious about trading). Most of the time when you're certified in one state you'll need to take some standardized test(s) to prove that you have some basic idea of what you're supposed to be doing. Also depending on your state you might need to take some extra classes to be able to teach what you were actually taught to teach.

For example, my wife did early childhood in South Carolina. Here she can go up to 3rd grade (8 and 9 year olds). If we go literally 20 minutes up the road to North Carolina she'd have to take a North Carolina teaching test and then she'd only be able to teach up to Kindergarten or 1st grade.

Some states have special programs for people coming in from overseas. So check into that. Also keep in mind that one of my friends wanted to teach in Tennessee and had to get her master's degree to have that happen. She also wants to teach high school and she's not around right now for me to be able to ask if that master's requirement would apply to the age group you want too.

Also, the job shortage for teachers is in no way just in California. South Carolina has it too, although the wife says that she thinks North Carolina needs teachers but she's not positive.

If you plan on living around a college/university that has a teaching program then those jobs tend to get snatched up pretty quickly. That's something you probably know already but I thought I'd say it anyway.

I don't know when you're planning on moving, but in South Carolina the schools don't know for sure if they'll need to/be able to hire people sometimes until right before the school year starts. That sucks anyway, and I'll bet it would doubly suck to go somewhere and then not get a job.
posted by theichibun at 7:01 PM on January 7, 2010

If you are just starting out, you will need to worry about fufilling the NZ requirements for registration as well, as you are only provisionally a teacher for a few years.

The NZ teachers council have a phone line where someone who knows all this stuff can give you info, they will probably know a bit about the US requirements as well (from memory, US in general doesn't recognise NZ teachers, Canada does).
posted by scodger at 8:30 PM on January 7, 2010

In terms of immigration law, I'm fairly au fait with that having lived in California before when my husband was on an H1 visa, so I know most of the ins and outs there. I'm also registered in NZ, provisionally, and may well be fully registered before leaving. The Teachers Council rep I've spoken to was not overly informative.

theichibun, I can just imagine -- a friend taught for two years in GA before returning to NZ, and she has some crazy stories to tell.

Thanks for that answer, HotPatatta. That gives me a basis to call the state licensing people with to find out more. It sounds pretty daunting, eek.
posted by tracicle at 9:54 PM on January 7, 2010

Seconding the suggestion that you look into private school teaching. There are various placement agencies like this one specifically for private K-12 schools. I got a job through them but struck out a few years later when I was looking to re-locate. Still, they get paid to find you work so it's worth looking into. I can imagine some private schools would like to hire a teacher from another country to broaden their faculty. I can imagine others would have no interest in taking on the additional paperwork for your green card. Every school is different for better or worse.

Expect to make less and have much crappier benefits than you would in a public school, but you'll probably have smaller classes as well. If you can coach a sport that's a huge plus in the private school world, to an almost ridiculous extent (i.e., some of my fellow teachers were complete morons but hey, they sure as heck could coach lacrosse).
posted by bardic at 11:31 PM on January 7, 2010

There's also this website, with more specific info for out-of-country applicants. It looks like you'll need to have your foreign transcripts evaluated. The relevant pdf on the CTC website.

I'll second HotPatatta's statements regarding job scarcity in the coastal cities, and the usefulness--nay, necessity--of edjoin.org. The only district that doesn't post jobs on there is LAUSD: you have to go to their website and fill out an application, and then they'd interview you downtown and set up schools for you to interview at. (I think, anyway... I work for LAUSD's Arts Ed Branch, so I can't say what the procedure is for certain regarding elementary educators.) LAUSD is in layoff mode again this year though, so teaching in that district is probably not a realistic option for the next couple of years.
posted by the_bone at 11:45 PM on January 7, 2010

Re. bardic's comment: One advantage of working for a private school is that you don't necessarily need a US teaching credential. A lot of private schools have un-/undercredentialed teachers (not necessarily a reflection of their competence, but still), and they be thrilled that you had a certificate from somewhere! They'd probably be less experienced at navigating the choppy visa waters than a public school district, but the credential hassle would be nonexistent at least. (I'm not a fan of private schools, but that's a different matter.)
posted by the_bone at 11:59 PM on January 7, 2010

No can do. in order for a profesional (teacher) to get work in this country there needs to be a shortage in that profession.... There is no shortage of US teachers so I'm afraid you're out of luck to emigrate legally. Or you could do like the other four million, become an illegal alien and over-stay your tourest visa
posted by RENNER8592 at 12:32 AM on January 8, 2010

To clarify, what the bone says is correct. I had an MA in English and no ed schooling or credentialing. In my experience private schools are looking for hires with strong in-subject backgrounds and couldn't care less about public school credentials. Not that it would hurt if you had them, but at the second-tier institution I was at an MA was standard for all teachers, although a few simply had bachelor's degrees.

And seriously, any extra-curricular type stuff you can offer up looks good to these schools which generally have much tighter budgets than public schools. If not lacrosse or basketball, think chess club, photography club, yearbook (dear god don't do it), etc.

"in order for a profesional (teacher) to get work in this country there needs to be a shortage in that profession'

Last time I looked (granted it was a few years ago) there were plenty of public school districts in America desperate to hire teachers, especially in math and science. Maybe not in New York or Los Angeles, but definitely in less urban areas.

"There is no shortage of US teachers"

Not true, as mentioned. If you look for jobs based on location (poor inner city districts, rural districts) there are plenty of openings. It's just that teachers tend to want to teach in the more affluent areas, understandably, because the pay and working conditions are better. Also as mentioned, math and science are in the highest demand, by far.
posted by bardic at 12:48 AM on January 8, 2010

Thanks for the answers, everyone. It gives me a clearer idea of what is required for me, so it's all been added to the list of pros and cons for a move to the US.
posted by tracicle at 9:56 PM on February 7, 2010

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