Have Math Skills, Will Travel

A few years ago, when she was a Catholic school teacher in the city of Cebu, Philippines, Juditha Capa started looking for a change. She loved her work, but she had grown restless after 13 years in the same locale. So when she heard about the opportunity to move to the U.S. and become a teacher in the New York City public schools, she jumped at the chance.

“Since I was small, I had a longing to mix with other cultures, and to have adventure,” says Capa. “So the moment I heard I could go to New York, I applied immediately. It was very competitive, so for me it was a sign of God when I was accepted.” Capa came to the U.S. on what is known as an H-1B visa, a temporary work program for people with hard-to-find skills. Most of the visas go to tech workers who end up at companies like Microsoft (NasdaqGS:MSFT – News), Oracle (NasdaqGS:ORCL – News), IBM (NYSE:IBM – News), or Intel (NasdaqGS:INTC – News).

The New York City public schools is the most active user of the visas among educational institutions, receiving 642 H-1B visas in fiscal 2006. Like many schools and universities, it has a hard time finding Americans to teach certain topics, including math and science, at the salaries it is offering. People with those skills usually can earn more in technology, engineering, or consulting. The city’s public schools now employ 1,700 foreign nationals on H-1Bs.

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For Capa, 37, the chance to teach sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students at the Joseph Lamb School, located in a multiethnic neighborhood deep in Brooklyn, presented the perfect opportunity. As a single woman, she says she felt unencumbered and ready for a new adventure in teaching, a profession about which she remains passionate. Capa started teaching in September, 2004, and says she now feels comfortable with–and energized by–her students. “I’m very happy and my students are excelling now,” says Capa. “I’ve (not only) been able to instill in them values of discipline and hard work, but also show that I think highly of them and believe in them. Once they feel you are sincere in what you’re saying, the students come to respect and respond to you.”

Not that it was always easy. Before Capa arrived, she admits to being a bit intimidated by what she had heard about New York City. “People at home would say, ‘You’re crazy to go there. The students can be wild and could kill you,'” she says. And she did have trouble disciplining the students, who would sometimes talk during her class and throw paper balls at each other. continue reading

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