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Teachers From Spain Lose Jobs but Discover America

June 19, 1988|BERKLEY HUDSON | Times Staff Writer

Francisco Lopez, a native of Madrid, Spain, and a temporary Southern Californian, dreamed in English two weeks ago.

He was having a lengthy conversation in the language he has struggled for years to learn. "I woke up happy," he said in English.

And when Carmen Lopez shops in stores or walks along the streets near the San Gabriel apartment she shares with Francisco, she has noticed recently that she thinks in English.

Both feel they have made a breakthrough.

Francisco and Carmen, who are not related but live together to save expenses, came to California two years ago as part of a program that since 1986 has brought scores of Spaniards to California to help ease the shortage of bilingual teachers.

Francisco, 29, and Carmen, 34, taught in the Garvey School District, which covers Rosemead, Monterey Park and San Gabriel, until last June when their inability to pass the written portions of the state's teacher competency test prompted Garvey school officials not to rehire them and several others in the program.

Some of the Spaniards returned home.

Others, like Francisco and Carmen, decided to persist in their hopes of passing the test, which is required to obtain full-time teachering jobs in California.

Both have taken the competency test every two months, a total of nine times each. They passed all but the writing portion long ago. Carmen, who majored in biology, and Francisco, who has a degree in psychology, said the math portions were quite easy.

And Francisco has passed the written portion at last, while Carmen is awaiting the results of her latest test.

The program that brought the two teachers to California has become a subject of controversy in the Garvey district. The dispute contributed to the resignation of superintendent Andrew J. Viscovich in March. Some school board members, as well as some parents and leaders of the teacher's union, believed the program wasn't working and that qualified bilingual teachers could be found in this country. As a result, the Garvey board decided to discontinue hiring teachers from Spain, including those who have passed the competency test.

Nonetheless, state education officials have praised the program and are making plans with Spain's Ministry of Education to bring 60 more teachers to work in districts throughout the state next September. With the new teachers, 95 Spaniards will be teaching in the state. In addition, 44 California teachers are going to study in Spain this summer as part of the same program.

The aim of the program is to foster better ties between California and Spain and enhance language programs in both places. It never was intended that the Spaniards would teach here permanently.

In light of the initial difficulties faced by teachers like Francisco and Carmen, organizers of the program say they are ensuring that teachers from Spain are fluent in English, many of them having majored in it.

Francisco and Carmen have grown accustomed to living in a place that was once unsettling and foreign.

So Monday, two weeks before his visa was scheduled to expire, Francisco received news that he says was anticlimactic. He had passed.

He has taken the test so many times, he said, that he developed a good gauge of how his skills relate to the scoring. More than anything, he said, studying for the test had become a means to learn a language and to learn about a nation which neither he nor Carmen had ever visited.

'Heavy Thing is Gone'

"If I had passed the test last year, I would have had to work," said Francisco, who hopes that his success will help persuade officials to extend his visa. Not having a full-time job, he said, gave him time to explore Los Angeles.

Still, he says, "I prefer to have passed now and forget the easy life. I feel a heavy thing is gone. I spent one year focusing on writing English. We know English grammar better than Spanish. Now I will have more time to do other things."

He was not so blase that he spread the news slowly, though. "I have got it," read the telegram in English to his girlfriend in Madrid. He also called his "good Catholic" mother in Madrid and told her that her prayers had been answered and that, yes, he had learned to cook and was trying to eat better.

So far Carmen, who also hopes to extend a visa which expires at the end of the month, has yet to hear the results of her last test. But she views as positive a letter saying that grading of her test had been delayed.

Joined by Friends

In their apartment Tuesday, as they ate a late lunch of Spanish omelets, Francisco and Carmen talked about how they coped when they first came here and how they managed after losing their jobs last June.

Joining them was Alfonso Buedo, a professional photographer, who lives in the same apartment building. He came from Lerida, Spain, last year with his wife Pilar Bonet, who teaches in Garvey as part of the program with Spain. Bonet, who speaks fluent English, has decided to return to Spain, where she plans to start an academy to teach English.

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