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Spanish speaking teachers are hard to find in the U.S. Fort Worth went looking in Mexico

Woman with red lipstick, long hair, white turtleneck takes up most of the frame. Behind her a multi pain window letting in sun and a wall with a picture on it.
Bill Zeeble
Karla Villegas Rocha has been teaching in Mexico City and raising three young children with her husband there. She's now one of the bilingual applicants seeking a job in the Fort Worth School District. She wants to teach in Texas and if Fort Worth says no for whatever reason, she'll keep looking.

The Fort Worth Independent School District is short so many bilingual teachers that it just finished interviewing candidates from Mexico City. The district has recruited outside the states before, but not in Mexico.

Fort Worth ISD says the district needs more teachers, especially after so many quit teaching during the pandemic. With the growing population of Spanish speaking students, the need for bilingual teachers continues to increase. Starting first-year bilingual teachers in North Texas can earn $68,000 a year.

The district’s original plan was to set up shop in Mexico City’s Polanco neighborhood and spend two days interviewing potential candidates in-person.

"We created a Facebook site where we put out information to Mexico more than a month ago, in English and Spanish, saying ‘Hey, we're coming to Mexico. We're going to be at this hotel. Please come visit us,’” said Fort Worth Independent School District’s Chief Talent Officer Raúl Peña.

The rapid spread of COVID-19’s omicron variant forced virtual appointments instead, so Peña stayed in Fort Worth and connected with potential teachers online.

"People signed up to these virtual links and then we're meeting through them through Zoom to have these conversations and interviews,” continued Peña.

Connecting with bilingual teachers abroad

Karla Villegas, a 42-year-old mother of three, was one of the virtual interviewees.

“I worked for a school here in Mexico for 11 years. I have a bachelor's in communications, and a Master's in Psychology from Texas A&M, Kingsville, and more than a decade of experience with pre-k kids,” Villegas said.

Fort Worth ISD's Raúl Peña says passing the test known as TOEFL, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, has often been a deal-breaker for his global applicants in the past.

“I used to work in Dallas and I used to do recruitment trips to Monterrey, Mexico. They really had a hard time just passing that test,” Peña said. “And that was probably one of the number one challenges, ‘I want to go over there, but I can’t pass my test.’”

Villegas figures she can pass it, and she wants to make the move. Her sister’s already employed by Irving ISD, and her husband can shift to remote work.

“I have been looking for this opportunity for the last two years,” Villegas said. “I started my certification program for a bilingual teacher in the state of Texas, and I'm doing it virtually. So every two or three months I call the school district to see if there are already opportunities for Hispanic people.”

When Villegas saw the Fort Worth ISD post, she jumped.

Still, nothing’s a done deal. Villegas will know more for certain about working in the Fort Worth district in a few weeks.

Pena says Fort Worth ISD is short about 40 bilingual teachers. He hopes to hire at least 8 or so from last week’s teacher search in Mexico City. He’s also looking past immediate needs.

Ultimately Peña says the goal is to expand a network of partnerships with Secretaries of Education in Mexico and Puerto Rico “to establish a relationship with universities, so we can create an easier pipeline…with students graduating right out of college from those areas.”

Got a tip? Email Reporter Bill Zeeble at . You can follow him on Twitter @bzeeble.

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Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.