Nice Work, Eh? : Canadian Teachers Fill the Job Bill

Times Staff Writer

Diane Neilsen, a senior at Jordan High School in Long Beach, has been ending a lot of sentences with "eh" lately. As in "nice day, eh?"

She says she picked up the habit from her teacher, Glynis McGarva, a Canadian who sprinkles her speech with lots of "ehs." McGarva is one of 20 Canadian teachers hired by the Long Beach Unified School District this year.

"She's a good teacher," Neilsen said of McGarva. "We walked in and she already knew who we were," he said of the first day of class.

McGarva, for her part, said that, despite the occasional ribbing she takes from students enamored of her accent, she has found Long Beach not that different from the small district in Victoria, on Vancouver Island off Canada's west coast, where she taught until June.

'Teen-Agers Are the Same'

"Teen-agers are the same no matter where they are," said McGarva, who teaches English and is adviser to the school's yearbook class.

Like most of the Canadian teachers hired by the district to fill a teacher shortage, McGarva, 28, has made a good adjustment and seems to be satisfying her employers.

"We're quite pleased with the way they're all doing," said Helen Hansen, assistant superintendent of personnel, who has worked closely with the Canadian teachers. "I don't see any major problems."

In fact, Hansen said, district recruiters plan to return to Vancouver in April to look for a second batch of teachers.

Because economically depressed Vancouver-area school districts have laid off thousands of teachers in recent years, she said, Long Beach recruiters flew there last April specifically to fill openings--in math, science, English, Spanish and special education--for which qualified Americans were not available. Of 600 applicants, Hansen said, district representatives interviewed about 100. Eventually, she said, they offered positions to 30, 20 of whom accepted.

Although it was the first time the district had gone outside the United States to find new teachers, Hansen said, the hirings were not inconsistent with a long-standing policy of recruiting from other areas when necessary to find the best candidates for job openings.

And, although the district was criticized by credentialed teachers in Long Beach who had not been hired, the Canadian recruits seemed eager to come for a variety of reasons ranging from lack of employment opportunities back home to a simple desire for change and interest in learning about another culture.

Difficulties Encountered

Some, however, encountered difficulties when they got here. One man left after only three days, said Jerry Gross, director of special education. He "just decided he wasn't able to make ends meet" and was concerned that his family would be lonely in the United States, Gross said.

Another teacher has told district officials that she will leave the district at the end of the month for personal reasons. Others, who would be likely to stay, are concerned about California's strict requirements for credentials.

Jane Sulkers teaches a class for students with learning disabilities at Barton Elementary School. Although she is happy in Long Beach and would like to make a long-term commitment to the district, she said, she will seriously consider leaving if the state requires her to do a great deal of course work to get permanent credentials. "I just graduated from five years at the University of British Columbia," said Sulkers, 25. "I feel that I shouldn't have to duplicate."

Joyce Fell, credentials technician for the district, said all out-of-state teachers, including Canadians, are required to pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test--a teacher proficiency exam administered by the state--as a first step toward getting permanent credentials. In addition, she said, they must complete certain course work deemed necessary by the state to augment their previous academic training.

Although the teachers were initially told that additional course work might be required, Hansen said, they could not be given specific information before their previous courses were evaluated by school officials in Sacramento. That process is under way. In the meantime, said Hansen, the district is making every effort to give the new teachers as much information and support as possible.

She said the district has also tried to help the immigrant teachers with such personal needs as obtaining housing and credit, and adjusting to the Southern California life style.

Teachers said the district has worked hard to make them feel at home.

'Glad I Came'

"Everyone has been wonderful," said Mike Smale, a reading specialist who runs the learning center at Franklin Junior High School and says he came to Long Beach because he wanted a change. "I'm glad I came, and I wouldn't have changed it for the world."

Among the most surprising things about Long Beach, he said, were the ethnic diversity of its students, which he finds stimulating, and the fact that his previous image of Los Angeles-area schools as prone to violence hasn't been realized. Besides, he said, he loves the Southern California climate.

"Back where I taught . . . it's so cold that they have to keep the buses running all night" to prevent their engines from freezing, he said.

But local rents are high and, like a number of other Canadians, Smale is making less money here than he would in his own country.

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