International Teachers Leave Their Mark on American Schools Thanks to J-1 Visa

Even after a teacher has taught countless students and memorized their subject matter and lesson plans by heart, there are still many ways to grow within their profession. Taking on the challenge of participating in an international teacher exchange program at a host school abroad is the perfect opportunity for teachers to develop professionally beyond what is sometimes possible in their home countries.

Foreign teachers in the United States enjoy a number of benefits to their professional development thanks to the Teach USA program and the J-1 Visa for teachers, which allows them the opportunity to earn salaries in full-time teaching positions for one to three years, with the option of extending for two more.

In addition to contributing unique teaching styles to the American classroom, the nature and duration of this visa for teachers in the U.S. also allows American children to be exposed to cultural practices and traditions from outside the U.S.

Below are the stories of three teachers currently participating in this mutually beneficial teacher exchange program across the United States.

Ianpol Canlas: Hope High School in Arkansas

Ian came from the Philippines to teach in the U.S. and seek out ways to innovate as a teacher within an American classroom. He has taught math to high school students in Arkansas since 2016.

“I know we have this important and moral responsibility to the young generation we have today which is to prepare them to the continuous challenges that life has to offer,” said Ian. “This made me wonder and gave me the urge to look for a teaching opportunity outside the Philippines.”

Filipino teacher Ianpol Canlas poses with some of his students at Hope High School in Arkansas

Ian said there was a learning curve to understanding the American school system. The format for lesson plans as well as the culture and practices within Hope High School were very different than what he was accustomed to in the Philippines.

“It was really hard at first because you have to go through a drastic adjustment,” said Ian.

But Ian has clearly taken to his new school’s culture. He was voted one of the two most liked teachers by the senior class and described receiving numerous thank you cards from students. He’s also been recognized by his colleagues. During one of his teacher observation days, Ian led a lesson in which students presented a transformation they had seen in real life to the class. The classroom observers were so impressed that they had Ian lead the lesson again in front of his fellow teachers and his principal.

Ian has received numerous thank you notes from his students.

In addition to adjusting to the culture of teaching in the U.S., Ian also makes sure to bring his own Filipino background into the classroom.

“Sometimes I use Powerpoint presentations, Kahoot games, video presentations of facts about Philippines like food, beautiful places, culture and traditions,” he said. “We also had a Skype conversation with some Filipino students teaching my [American] students how to speak our language ‘Tagalog.’”

Ian plans on returning home at the end of this school year, but he knows that the Teach USA program will have a lasting impact on his life. He said that he has been exposed to new teaching methodologies which he will bring back to the Philippines. He also says the program has helped his students broaden their perspectives after being exposed to international ideas.

Ian poses with one of his graduating students.

“You will be surprised how you touched students’ lives,” he said.

Audra Campbell: Everglades Preparatory Academy in Florida

Audra Campbell is also a math teacher. After teaching in Jamaica for almost two decades, she decided to take the opportunity to teach in the U.S. on the J-1 Visa after being offered a job at Everglades Preparatory Academy—a Florida charter school.

Audra’s host school has helped her adjust to American classroom culture and how to teach in the U.S. by offering support to ease her transition.

“The staff members are like a family,” said Audra. “They help to make my transition less burdensome and are always encouraging me to ask for any assistance I may need.”

Jamaican teacher Audra Campbell taught in her home country for almost two decades before deciding to start teaching in Florida through the Teach USA J-1 Visa program.

Some of the biggest differences Audra has noticed between American and Jamaican classrooms is the amount of resources provided by the school. In Florida, she is given teaching materials and a much larger budget to buy classroom supplies. Another contrast with her experience back home is that Everglades Preparatory Academy divides students into small groups, or “centers,” in which they rotate through different activities. Audra said this approach makes the classroom feel more focused on the students rather than the teacher.

Though much of her day-to-day life as a teacher in the U.S. is the same as in Jamaica, Audra has learned new approaches to dealing with common problems and struggling students.

“I’ve learned that while a student is sharing his/her thoughts on the board, the others should not be sitting idly but should be entering their [thoughts] in their journals,” she said. “Also, in order to build students’ thinking skills, they are given a higher order question (H.O.T question) daily and so that too I will encourage when I return [to Jamaica].”

Audra said that teaching in the U.S. will help her improve how she teaches math in Jamaica. In the meantime, she’s grateful for how the Teach USA program is organized. She said the program provides teachers with information on traveling, living accommodations, health benefits, and shopping, and also arranges school visits to ensure that teachers are treated fairly.


Adam Weston: Downtown College Prep in California

British teacher Adam Weston first saw Downtown College Prep when he was on vacation in the San Francisco Bay area. He noticed that the San Jose school was having an employment fair and stopped by to learn more. Once the school and Adam decided they were a good fit for each other, they turned to Cultural Vistas to get J-1 Visa sponsorship for Adam through the Teach USA program.

British teacher Adam Weston has learned how to teach first generation Americans at Downtown College Prep in San Jose, California.

“I had been teaching in the UK for around six or seven years and I was enjoying it, but I wanted to do something a little different,” said Adam. “I wanted to teach in a new country to see what it was like and have a new experience.”

Downtown College Prep is a unique school because it is designed for first generation immigrant students. Adam had very little previous experiencing teaching in an ESL environment and had to re-orient his teaching style to accommodate non-native English speakers.

“The biggest eye opener for me is how willing they are,” said Adam. “Some of them just moved here and don’t speak English, but they will show up in the classroom every day and still give 100 percent.”

Adam and his teaching partner dress up as Dory and Darla from Finding Nemo for halloween at Downtown College Prep.

In addition to demographic differences, Adam said that the American approach to teaching is very different than in the United Kingdom. In his home country, he has to teach according to exam syllabuses. At Downtown College Prep, where he teaches social studies, Adam plans independent work and lets students choose readings based on their own interests. This makes students more responsible for their own learning than in the UK.

“In England, I found that I had the major responsibility in the classroom, where here it’s the students,” said Adam. “It’s about putting trust in the students to let them do that.”

While he has learned a lot by trying out new teaching methods, Adam brings his British-style teaching into the classroom too. Since the focus at Downtown College Prep is on day-to-day lessons, sometimes exam preparation can be overlooked. To resolve this, Adam developed a program that helps students know what to expect when they sit down for exams.

Adam has loved experiencing all the San Francisco Bay area has to offer while teaching at Downtown College Prep through the Teach USA J-1 Visa program.

“I do think it helps the school to have teachers come in who have knowledge of a different educational system to offer any suggestions for improvement,” he said.

After over a year in the United States, Adam will return home to England equipped with new ideas to try out in his British classroom. He’s aiming for a higher level position at a school where he can influence curriculum decisions and bring his international experience to the table.

International teachers like Ianpol Canlas are helping fill classroom needs across the United States through the Teach USA J-1 Visa program.