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Live Chat With Filmmaker and Teachers

Replay the live chat about The Learning with filmmaker Ramona Diaz, the teachers featured in the film and NewsHour Correspondent for Education John Merrow that took place on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011.

Last Friday, PBS NewsHour, NewsHour Extra, Independent Television Service (ITVS), POV and the Economist Film Project hosted a live chat centered around The Learning, which premieres Tuesday on POV.

NewsHour Extra: Welcome to our live chat about The Learning! While we’re waiting to start, here’s the trailer for the film, which will be shown in its entirety by POV and ITVS on PBS stations across the country on Sept. 20. - check your local listings.

NewsHour Extra: Here is a ‘sneak peek’ of an excerpt from the film that will air on the PBS NewsHour tonight as part of the Economist Film Project:

NewsHour Extra: First, a bit of background information on the film - ‘The Learning’ follows four teachers from the Philippines who were recruited to work in Baltimore City Public Schools. They came to the U.S. on temporary H1-B work visas to earn more than twice what they could make teaching in their home country. In the film, we see them struggle to adapt to a foreign education system while dealing with being away from their families.

NewsHour Extra: Today, Baltimore City Public Schools no longer recruit teachers from the Philippines - they ended that practice in 2009. However, many of the teachers in the film still work for BCPS and have brought their families to live in the U.S. And, while it has dropped off significantly from a few years ago, the practice of recruiting foreign teachers continues in some school districts around the country.

NewsHour Extra: Now, let’s get started. We’re pleased to have our own Hari Sreenivasan moderate today’s chat. Hari, take it away….

Hari Sreenivasan: Thanks to our panel and for all of you in the audience (as well as those of you who may be seeing this later on) for checking out our chat on this interesting documentary - The learning…

Hari Sreenivasan: Since we have so many guests here, let me start by briefly introducing who we have at this large roundtable …

Hari Sreenivasan: Ramona Diaz - Director, ‘The Learning’

Hari Sreenivasan: Grace Gonzales-Amper one of the teachers featured in ‘The Learning,’ and current teacher in the Baltimore City Public Schools

Hari Sreenivasan: John Merrow - Education Correspondent, PBS NewsHour and president, Learning Matters television

Hari Sreenivasan: Sara Neufeld – Freelance journalist whose articles in the Baltimore Sun inspired the film

Hari Sreenivasan: Erica Green – Journalist at the Baltimore Sun who reports on current education issues

Hari Sreenivasan: Anthony Japzon - President, Filipino Educators of Maryland

Ramona Diaz: Hello.

Erica Green: Hello

Sara Neufeld: Hello.

Grace Gonzales-Amper: hello

John Merrow: hello

Hari Sreenivasan: I'm sure there are already lots of questions you may have if you've seen the film - so while those come in- let me start with some for our guests.

R. Anthony Japzon: Hello

Hari Sreenivasan: Sara - it was your story that started filmmaker Ramona Diaz down this road- how did you find it- what drew your attention to it?

NewsHour Extra: Here’s that article from the Baltimore Sun by Sara Neufeld that first inspired Ramona Diaz to make the film:

Sara Neufeld: I heard the city schools were recruiting in the Philippines and asked if I could follow a teacher for the year…

Sara Neufeld: I selected Aileen Mercado, who had left her husband and three young children to teach at a school that had just been labeled "persistently dangerous"…

NewsHour Extra: (NOTE to the audience...we see you out there! Please submit your questions so we can direct as many of them as possible to our panelists…)

Sara Neufeld: I started a series with articles coming out every few months. After the second one (I believe), I got an email from Ramona asking if I could connect her with the teachers so she could approach about a potential film.

Hari Sreenivasan: Ramona Diaz- what was the hardest part of making this film?

John Merrow: Grace, did you have qualms about letting a filmmaker into your life the way you did? And did you ever come close to saying 'no mas' to the camera?

Ramona Diaz: As always with independent documentaries, it was getting funding. But ITVS and CAAM came through for me with development money…

Ramona Diaz: And when I was given permission to film in the schools by BCPSS, I was off and running.

Grace Gonzales-Amper: At first yes because it involved my private life…

Grace Gonzales-Amper: My first reason for saying was to impress the interviewers…

Grace Gonzales-Amper: Ramona was also very convincing so I said yes.

Hari Sreenivasan: Ramona- Its clear that the teachers connected with you - as they slid between english and Tagalog- did you ever want to cross that wall and tell the teachers how to resolve an issue with their students etc.?

Ramona Diaz: I was always conscious of not crossing the line…

Ramona Diaz: but there were times when fights broke out in the classrooms and it so happened that we (my crew and I) were the only adults in the room. It was very difficult to then just keep on filming.

Hari Sreenivasan: Grace- did you ever just want to ask Ramona what do in situation x or y ?

Grace Gonzales-Amper: In the classroom?

Hari Sreenivasan: yes-

Grace Gonzales-Amper: Fortunately, I got accepted in one of the best schools in the city and behavior problems are less.

Hari Sreenivasan: One of the topics the film deals with are the stresses of homesickness and loneliness that these teachers face when they get here- Sara you covered the tragic story of a pair of teachers who took their own lives within a matter of a couple of days from each other right?

NewsHour Extra: Here's that article by Sara Neufeld:

Sara Neufeld: Yes. That was one of the hardest stories I ever did. It was a few years after my series and I knew one of them, Fe Bolado, fairly well. She was being followed by Ramona…

Sara Neufeld: Since I thought I was done covering the teachers at that point, they came to me like friends when Fe died, but after the second death it was clear I needed to do a story…

Are you an educator?
Yes - ( 19% )
No - ( 81% )

Sara Neufeld: In both suicides, however, there were extenuating personal circumstances. I do not believe they were a reflection of the program, which provided teachers with extensive support.

Hari Sreenivasan: Erica - just to bring people up to speed- whats the situation as we know it now- the Baltimore Public schools are no longer recruiting in the Phillipines correct- and have not been for a couple of years right?

Erica Green: Correct. Baltimore City stopped recruiting from the Philippines in 2009. Currently, roughly half of the teachers who are still teaching in the city are awaiting word of their futures here in Baltimore…

NewsHour Extra: Here’s an article by Erica looking at how the Baltimore City Public Schools are struggling to keep on their Filipino teachers amid a job shortage in the U.S.

Erica Green: With the current economic situation, Baltimore city has too many teachers, and the district is having a hard time justifying a need for Filipino teachers to the federal government. However, there are efforts underway to help the teachers obtain permanent visas, so they could obtain jobs in other districts.

Hari Sreenivasan: Question for you Anthony- that you might be in a good position to know the answer to-
Question for Anthony : Are there other American cities where teachers from the Philippines are still being recruited to teach in public schools?

R. Anthony Japzon: There are, but not nearly as many, and not the large urban cities……

R. Anthony Japzon: mainly in the southwest……

Do you think your school district would benefit from recruiting teachers from other countries?
Yes - ( 31% )
No - ( 23% )
Undecided - ( 46% )

R. Anthony Japzon: Baltimore, New York, Los Angeles have all stopped mainly as a result of the economy. I was a representative of the Baltimore City delegation during our last recruiting trip to the Philippines.

NewsHour Extra: Here’ s a 2009 report by the American Federation of Teachers looking at issues surrounding foreign teacher recruitment.

Hari Sreenivasan: question for both Grace and for Ramona

Guest: Is the student culture in America vastly different than that in the Phillipnes (in terms of respect for the teacher, diligence in studying, effort, etc.)?

Grace Gonzales-Amper: Very different…

Ramona Diaz: Yes it is. The social/cultural expectations are very different between these two countries. Children are seen and not heard in the Philippines. While in the US, they are expected to speak their minds.

Grace Gonzales-Amper: In the Philippines, teachers are treated like gods and goddesses to the extent that even if the teacher is wrong, the students still follow and will not say anything. It might be different in urban areas…

R. Anthony Japzon: Teachers and educators in general are much more respected in the Philippines by their students and the community.

Ramona Diaz: But Dorotea comes to the realization in the film that perhaps the definition of "respect" here in the US is different.

Grace Gonzales-Amper: In general, the teacher is always the authority in the classroom and questioning the authority may mean suspension or expulsion.

Hari Sreenivasan: John Merrow- a couple of questions in the queue are asking a larger question that you might have some perspective on.. - what are some of the issues facing urban schools in the US that lead school districts to look abroad.- Sara & Erica you are welcome to chime in after John as well

Erica Green: I will note that in the film--we see that the teachers forge strong bonds with students who some may consider disrespectful. Particularly Dorotea. It's all about definition.

John Merrow: Then the challenge was a shortage of teachers in certain fields and a shortage of teachers willing to teach in tough areas. And as Sara's report and the AFT report make clear, some agencies were making money….

Sara Neufeld: Current economic issues aside, urban school districts in generally have difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers in math, science and special education. The Philippines, with high poverty and a surplus of highly-trained teachers in these areas, is a fertile recruiting ground.

R. Anthony Japzon: As a principal in a Baltimore City School and one of the recruiters, part of the rationale for looking abroad was a direct result of No Child Left Behind

John Merrow: The recession seems to have changed all that. Erica reports that Baltimore has a surplus of 600 teachers (did I get that right?).

Erica Green: Yes. That number fluctuates…

Sara Neufeld: Following up on Anthony's comment, the Filipino teachers met the criteria for "highly qualified" teachers under NCLB at a time when districts were under extreme pressure to meet that requirement.

Erica Green: But Baltimore has carried at least 100 teachers every year since 2008. Roughly 600 teachers were looking for jobs at a job fair last summer. The trend has definitely reversed from the years the city was recruiting overseas.

R. Anthony Japzon: Finding highly qualified teachers as defined by the federal government, who replaced hundreds of long term substitutes who worked in urban areas, with little or no educational qualifications.

NewsHour Extra: Here’s a recent blog post from John Merrow about improving teacher training in the U.S.:

Have you worked with a teacher recruited from another country?
Yes - ( 26% )
No - ( 74% )

Erica Green: My apologies...this past summer, 600 teachers attended job fairs. However, the surplus number won't be finalized until the end of this month.

Hari Sreenivasan: Grace- a couple of questions have come in regarding how you felt/ were treated in the classroom- both by your peers- and also by your students- you can take them one at a time if you like

R. Anthony Japzon: For many teachers it was a difficult transition in terms of classroom management…

Hari Sreenivasan: While Grace is thinking about her answer- Ramona- Anthony- care to chime in?

Grace Gonzales-Amper: I was the second Filipino teacher accepted to my school, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, so the teachers were used to the idea of having a Filipino teacher in their midst. The students were not really used to it but they were not so disrespectful…

Ramona Diaz: The local teachers were great, they were very open and supportive of the Grace, Dorotea, Rhea and Angel, the teachers I filmed…

Ramona Diaz: As for the students - they tested the teachers of course. As any kid would do

Grace Gonzales-Amper: It only took me around two weeks to adjust to the students because the school accepts students who are good academically. They were generally polite to me…

Hari Sreenivasan: A couple of questions have been coming in - talking about the impacts back in the Phillipines- has the recession here- and the slowdown in recruiting had any tangible impacts there?

Grace Gonzales-Amper: They expressed gratitude at the end of the year.

Ramona Diaz: The students were great at the end of the year. Tearful goodbyes everywhere.

Guest: It was interesting to contrast the students' tearful goodbye in the Phillipines, with the teacher's question to her American student "will you miss me". Were the students happy to see her return for a 2nd year. Was it harder to leave home knowing more about the challenges you faced in the US schools?

Hari Sreenivasan: i think that's one for Grace

R. Anthony Japzon: Many of the top schools in Manila and Cebu, had large numbers of teachers leave their schools for the United States. One of the best in Cebu, Sacred Heart de Jesus has over 25 teachers here in Baltimore alone. When I visited the school the principal specifically brought up that point.

Grace Gonzales-Amper: yes...and they still how we become their favorite teacher in math. There were also students who were resentful of my presence.

What would most help teacher retention:
Higher pay? - ( 42% )
More recognition? - ( 17% )
Shorter hours? - ( 0% )
Better school leadership? - ( 42% )

Hari Sreenivasan: Ramona/ Sara/ Erica - perhaps this next one is for you

Guest: what is the path for getting US citizenship for the teachers?

Grace Gonzales-Amper: Most of my students were happy to see me back and they even flatter me with words like " I learn a lot from you, can you be my teacher again?."

R. Anthony Japzon: It is long and complicated, and the school district has an enormous amount of documentation to do correctly, in order for the teachers to obtain permanent residency.

Erica Green: In short, it's a matter of going through the same process as any other person seeking permanent citizenship. And that is way too complex to explain here. The school system can serve as a sponsor, requiring them to do a ton of legwork--well in advance of any visa deadlines.

R. Anthony Japzon: Something that has been an issue in Baltimore and PG Counties in Maryland.

Hari Sreenivasan: Grace- what's your citizenship status- there are several questions about the impact on your family back home. In the movie- we see how heart-broken you were at times to miss the first year of your child's life

Grace Gonzales-Amper: I'm still on a working visa…

Erica Green: Baltimore was not prepared for that process this year for the more than 200 teachers who were facing critical deadline. However, they have hired a team to handle the issue. The problem is whether there is enough time.

Hari Sreenivasan: John - you've been covering teacher retention and training issues all over the country- the future any brighter- or are we likely to see more situations like Baltimore?

Grace Gonzales-Amper: My sister is here working as a teacher too and my mother is there. My son is now five years old and is now with me so I'm now ok…

Ramona Diaz: And she also gave birth to her second son two years ago.

Grace Gonzales-Amper: My son, Gaddiel, is in Mr. Japzon's school.

Hari Sreenivasan: congratulations Grace

Erica Green: Congratulations!

Grace Gonzales-Amper: Thank you.

John Merrow: Great question. Teacher training is due for a big shakeup, and the way we pay teachers is changing. The US will need a million or so teachers in the next decade. Some of them may come from other countries…

NewsHour Extra: John Merrow recently stopped by the NewsHour to talk with Hari about developments in the teaching profession and his new book, ‘The Influence of Teachers.’

John Merrow: One of every 100 Americans is a public school teacher, and millions more are former teachers. This is a fascinating field to report on, and the film is a great contribution

Hari Sreenivasan: Ramona- i think there were several questions- i know there is an update at the end of the documentary- but could you tell us where your four central characters are now and what they're unto?

Ramona Diaz:

Grace is a prized teacher at Poly Tech, one of the the highest ranking HS in the state. Rhea, Angel and Dorotea are all still teaching in Baltimore City. Rhea is now divorced, Angle married her long-time boyfriend. Dorotea's husband and three sons have now joined her in B'more as well.

Hari Sreenivasan: wow

R. Anthony Japzon: Angel is actually in Philadelphia now.

Hari Sreenivasan: alright- on that note- a final thought from our guests?

Grace Gonzales-Amper: Yes she is in Philadelphia

R. Anthony Japzon: Took a new job last week at a public school.

Sara Neufeld: Thanks so much for having me today. It was really exciting for me to finally see Ramona's film this week after all these years. She did a beautiful job.

Ramona Diaz: Thanks Sara. And it's all your fault too. :)

Sara Neufeld: :-)

John Merrow: Loved the film. Good luck to the wonderful teachers. Thanks for having me as part of this

Grace Gonzales-Amper: Thank you for having me here. I'm hoping that my district will sponsor us.

Erica Green: Thanks for having me. It was refreshing to see a film bring to light who these teachers are, where they come from, and why teaching in Baltimore City matters so much to them. From what I can see in the film, there was a mutual benefit. Good luck to all.

Grace Gonzales-Amper: Good luck to all and God bless.

R. Anthony Japzon: While the film accurately portrays these woman as desiring a better life for their families, it is also important to understand that they are also providing a very valuable service to the children of Baltimore City.

Hari Sreenivasan: Another big thanks to
Ramona Diaz - Director, ‘The Learning’
Grace Gonzales-Amper one of the teachers featured in ‘The Learning,’ and current teacher in the Baltimore City Public Schools
John Merrow - Education Correspondent, PBS NewsHour and president, Learning Matters television
Sara Neufeld – Freelance journalist whose articles in the Baltimore Sun inspired the film
Erica Green – Journalist at the Baltimore Sun who reports on current education issues
Anthony Japzon - President, Filipino Educators of Maryland

Hari Sreenivasan: And to all our guests in the audience for making this happen.

Hari Sreenivasan: Thanks to Newshour Extra and to ITVS and POV…

Ramona Diaz: And don't forget to tune in to POV on the 20th to view the film!

Hari Sreenivasan: Be sure to tune in to the NewsHour tonight for an excerpt from the film with the Economist Film Project, and check your local listings for POV's airing of the whole thing on Sept. 20

Hari Sreenivasan: ramona took the words out of my mouth

Hari Sreenivasan: thanks all- and have a great day

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While I was born and raised in the Philippines, I’ve lived my entire adult life in the United States. I’m both an insider and an outsider, which allows me to have a distinct point of view.”

— Ramona Diaz, Filmmaker

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