A Whole New Lesson Plan For New York Citys Foreign Teachers.
By Joanna Sufin
Its a rainy Monday morning. Renate Drescher, dressed in a
blue shirt tucked into dark navy jeans, stands still in front of
the dusty blackboard, holding a hole-punched sheet of paper
one of the handouts she distributed to her students a few minutes
"Lets look at this trilobite," she says with a
soft voice, pointing to a picture of a striped bug-like creature
at the bottom of the page.
Todays class is about fossil formation, and the audience
gathered in room 415 in Brooklyns Midwood High School is a
group of freshmen who are required to take biology in the first
year of their studies.
Drescher has been teaching biology here for four years. She
likes her job although the beginning was difficult, perhaps more
difficult for her than for any other teacher at Midwood. Why? Because,
being originally from Vienna, she is one of the foreigners who took
up the challenge of teaching children in New York City schools and
has gone through the pains of adjusting to the new culture and the
new school system.
"It was difficult in the beginning, especially doing the preps
before every class," she says recalling her first weeks working
in the American high school. "But now its better."
Drescher came to the United States four years ago through the New
York City Board of Education program that recruits teachers from
abroad, addressing the shortage of teachers in the New York City
Today Drescher can stand in front of students appearing as confident
as any other teacher. She does have an accent but speaks English
fluently and clearly enough to pronounce the word trilobite
with the full assurance that she will be understood and not ridiculed.
Now that she has polished her language skills, she says she does
not feel there is a big difference between what she is doing here
and what she did while living in her own country, where she taught
biology for eight years. "Teaching is teaching. Its the
same subject, just in a different language," she said.
The Austrian teacher is generally liked by her students, even by
those who get Fs and fail her exams. "Shes got
the accent going, but shes ok," said Diana Huseinovic,
one of the freshmen girls in her class.
According to Kevin Ortiz, the spokesman for the New York City Board
of Education, the recruitment program operates in many different
countries. This year about 500 teachers are being recruited from
countries like Austria, Germany, Sweden, Canada and the Caribbean
to come and empower the New York schools with their knowledge and
However, the teachers who end up working here through this program
are not the only ones that create diversity among the staff at the
New York City schools. There are many immigrant teachers who taught
in their home countries and after they immigrated to this country
decided to obtain the license in the traditional "American"
way and thus continue with their profession.
Ron Davis, the spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers,
says there is a high percentage of teachers that come from countries
all over the world. The immigrant teachers, however, are treated
equally with everybody else. "We dont categorize them
that way," he said.
Yulia Garmil, 39, has been teaching at Edward R. Murrow High School
for seven years now. She doesnt work by contract as Dresher
does, but started the job on her own accord. Garmil is originally
from Kiev, Ukraine, where she taught Russian. Here she teaches the
same subject; the difference is that she teaches it as a foreign
language at Murrow. For Garmil the first year was also hard, yet
right after she started teaching she discovered some pleasant surprises.
"I didnt expect students to be that motivated,"
she said. They are actually interested in learning Russian.
Alfred Ologan, 39, has been a biology lab instructor at Midwood
High School for five years now. He is originally from Nigeria. Although
he has spoken English since he was little, the Yoruba dialect is
so unique that it is often difficult to understand certain words.
"Sometimes the students dont understand me, so I always
try to repeat what I say," he said. "But I also show them
videos, so even if they dont understand me they cant
Jainluca Scattoni, 34, became a teacher in a similar way Garmil
did. He was raised and educated in Perugia, Italy and moved to the
US about 10 years ago. Although he studied physics back home, at
Murrow he teaches Italian. However, Scattoni did not become a teacher
right away. It took him a while to learn the language, and even
if he speaks English well now, there are times that he is reminded
he is different from other teachers.
"I still have problems saying 33 in English," he said.
"Students laugh at me but not in a derogatory way. They tell
me how to say it and I challenge them to say it back in Italian."
Like other foreign teachers, it was difficult for Scattoni to teach
in the beginning. Hes been teaching at Murrow for a year and
before that he was a teacher at Dewey High School for one year.
He is still in the process of adjusting.
"I find the job challenging," he said. "Every day
you have to come in and prove yourself. You have to deal with students
talking back to you. Its not like an office job, where you
have a set schedule. But as a teacher, even though you have your
lesson plans, there are situations you have to deal with that you
did not expect."
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