Houston area schools in need of bilingual teachers

HOUSTON – As students head back to class, schools across the Houston area are still looking to hire dozens of bilingual teachers.

“We’re all competing in the Houston area for these bilingual teachers,” said Javier Villarreal, chief human resources officer for the Aldine Independent School District.

As of this week, Aldine still needs to find another 43 bilingual teachers, he said. About one-third of the district’s students are English learners.

Villarreal said there are several challenges with filling the positions.

“We’ve seen more this year than ever where applicants or teachers who are getting certified aren’t able to pass their exams,” he said. “They’ve added exams in the past couple of years and so that’s become more strenuous on them.”

Bilingual teachers are on the Texas Education Agency’s list of teacher shortage areas. The need is not new and is not limited to one district.

As of this week, the Houston Independent School District needs more than 50 bilingual teachers.

“It’s very critical that we get certified folks that are ready to go in there and provide the service to our community,” said Dr. Alejandro Gonzalez, senior manager for teacher selection and recruitment at HISD.

Gonzalez said the district offers a $5,000 stipend and partners with universities to help recruit candidates.

In Aldine, Villarreal said the district partnered with an educator prep program to help get bilingual paraprofessionals certified. Until the jobs are filled, he said the district turns to long term subs and has other teachers take on additional students.

“The training is very rigorous,” said Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. “The standards and testing are also very rigorous.”

She called for more to be done about the issue, including higher pay and more help preparing for exams.

“Our students, who are very diverse, need bilingual teachers in order to be successful in the classrooms,” said Andy Canales, executive director for Texas of Latinos for Education.

Canales said he knows the value of that experience firsthand.

“I still remember as a student just being really grateful to have someone in the classroom that spoke the language that I spoke at home,” Canales said.

He said his non-profit group is running a fellowship program to help keep Latino teachers in the classroom.

To help fill teacher positions, HISD said it is also reaching out to retired teachers who are eligible to see if they have any interest in returning to the classroom.