The need for qualified Spanish-speaking teachers to meet a sudden influx of Hispanic students has contributed to a pre-existing teacher shortage in North Carolina.
For years, state education officials have warned of a statewide teacher shortage that could worsen in the future. But the shortage is having an even greater impact on the state's growing Hispanic population.
Fran Hoch, N.C. section chief of second language programs, said the influx of Hispanics in North Carolina is due to low unemployment rates that have forced companies to hire foreign workers.
"A large number of those (workers) are Hispanic, and they bring their children into the classroom," Hoch said. "Over the previous year there has been an increase of over 7,000 Hispanic children in North Carolina schools. Their number now totals 44,165."
Hoch said the increase has created the need for Spanish-speaking teachers in classrooms.
"There needs to be a lift in the number of folks who teach English as a second language," she said.
Hoch added that teaching children who speak little English requires extra effort from teachers.
State education officials also say the demand for Spanish-speaking teachers is overwhelming.
"In the past there has not been a tremendous Hispanic population in North Carolina but that population is growing," said Gordon Millspaugh, assistant director of human resource at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
"The school systems are looking to recruit Spanish-speaking teachers," Millspaugh said. "Even states that have historically large Hispanic populations have problems finding teachers."
Barbara Todd, superintendent of the Yadkin County school system, said Spanish-speaking children often start school with scores of "zero" on English proficiency exams.
"We'll start working to increase their improvement," Todd said. "We're always looking for ways to solve the problem."
But the teacher shortage is not just limited to Spanish-speaking teachers.
Millspaugh said there is a limited number of people who are certified to teach statewide.
"If you look at the resources, every one of the 117 school systems in North Carolina, just about every county, has vacancies," he said.
The acute shortage of proficient teachers forces N.C. schools to look across state lines to recruit qualified personnel.
Todd said small counties face additional difficulties.
"The county does put in extra money, but we're a smaller county with a low tax base," she said. "In this state, there are not enough graduates to fill the places of retired people."
But Todd added that cooperation with the children's families is essential.
"Schools will usually have Spanish-speaking teachers and translators at parent-teacher meetings," she said. "We use all resources we have to get the community to work with the children."
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