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'Canadian Connection' Teachers Find a New Home

January 02, 1986|CHIN-HAY LUE | Times Staff Writer

Jin Roe said he thought he would have to carry a weapon to class, but he arms himself only with a lesson plan.

Roe, who got the impression from watching American television that students would be "rough" and perhaps present behavior problems, said that he was pleasantly surprised when he started teaching math at El Monte High School in September.

"I find the students here very cooperative, even more so than in Canada," said Roe, one of 13 Canadian teachers who moved to the San Gabriel Valley this fall in search of job security in their teaching careers.

Culture Shock

Hired last June by the El Monte Union High School District at a job fair held in Vancouver, Canada, most of the teachers say they encountered varying degrees of culture shock. "By the time we got on the (Interstate) 10 freeway, we were in tears because of the smog," said Jim Feldes, 24, of Burnaby, who drove to California with another teacher.

"I'm really starting to like it, but at first I wasn't so sure," said Sheila Harrison, who teaches science and physical education at Arroyo High School in El Monte.

Harrison, 28, of Vancouver, said that when she first arrived in California this summer she called home every day, running up big telephone bills.

"I was ready to pack up and go home," she said, after moving into her first apartment, where she was greeted by an army of roaches.

"My roommate and I cried a lot."

But with a semester behind them, most of the teachers say they are glad they came to California.

"Professionally, it was a good move," said Sandra Lawry, 31, who teaches English at Rosemead High School. Lawry, from Powell River, had taught high school in Canada for five years but, like the other teachers from Canada, had been unable to get a full-time permanent job in her own country.

"We were all temporaries," she said.

3,500 Laid Off

"The schools wouldn't commit until August," said Roe. "What they were saying in essence is that there are a lot of fish out there, and why should I make it easy on you. They were playing a game. It definitely bothered me."

According to Mel Lehan, coordinator of the Unemployed Teachers Action Center in Vancouver, about 3,500 Canadian teachers have been laid off in the last two years.

Even those like Lawry who had jobs did not feel secure. Most worked under short-term contracts and looked enviously at their neighbors to the south who could look forward to tenure and the promise of lifetime security after a relatively short probationary period.

In an effort to help unemployed teachers, the British Columbia Teachers Federation held a job fair at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in June. About 2,000 teachers and dozens of recruiters from as far away as Texas attended.

"We found a gold mine of talent up there," said Jack Quinn, principal of Arroyo High School, where five Canadians got teaching jobs.

"They're doing great," said Dr. Terry Irvine, principal of Rosemead High School, who hired three teachers he affectionately refers to as the "Canadian connection," for his school.

El Monte officials heard about the "connection" from administrators at the Long Beach Unified School District, who sent representatives to a similar job fair in Vancouver in April. Long Beach now has 20 teachers from Canada working in the district, said spokesman Richard Van Der Laan, who added that most of the recruits had worked out well.

The El Monte district, which had encountered difficulty finding teachers with science and math degrees, decided to send five administrators to the June job fair to "shop" for teachers for its four high schools--Arroyo, Mountain View and El Monte in El Monte, and Rosemead.

Many of the teachers who went to the fair said they were surprised to find jobs because there was such keen competition.

"It was just like throwing a fishing line out without intending to catch anything," said Jim Taite, 26, a bachelor from White Rock who teaches science and coaches soccer at Rosemead High School.

"I thought that the interviewing experience would be good," said the first-year teacher who had just graduated from college when he met the El Monte officials.

"I thought that I didn't have a chance," said Anna Zastawny, 25, of Toronto, a physical education and math teacher at Mountain View High School. "I almost turned around and went home."

The teachers say they are earning about the same in California as they would in Canada, ranging from about $20,000 a year for beginners to $33,000 for more experienced teachers.

Job Security

But more important than money is job security.

In Canada, said Roe, who came to California with two years' experience, he never knew until the last minute if he would be working the next semester.

"Everybody is sort of on the edge because of the job competition," he said, adding that he felt little camaraderie with other teachers.

"Sometimes teachers walked right by without even saying hi," he said.

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