This school year, more than half of the Kuspuk School District’s entire teaching staff is from the Philippines. And nearly all of them are new to the U.S.
Rovan Agad teaches math and coaches junior varsity basketball at the Aniak high school. He’s happy to be here, finally connecting with his students in person. He arrived from the Philippines in October 2021.
Agad was supposed to have started at the school a couple months earlier, but a minor injury delayed his trip. He had to wait for a cut on his finger to heal before he could give his fingerprints to get a visa. So for the first two months of classes, Agad taught over Zoom from from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m., Philippines time.
“It was hard to establish the connection, especially when you’re on screen,” said Agad.
But now that Agad’s here in person the students are attentive, and even more so when Agad uses American slang.
“So that’s why I-squared is equal to negative one. Gucci?” Agad asks.
“Gucci,” the class agrees.
Agad applied for teaching jobs in Alaska because he had been let go by his former school when it shut down during the pandemic. Agad isn’t the only teacher from the Philippines in Aniak this year. There are four, and they’re all roommates.
The Lower Kuskokwim School District, or LKSD, also hired teachers from the Philippines this school year, though a smaller share of its new teachers are Filipino. Out of 82 new teachers LKSD hired this year, 10 are from the Philippines. At the Kuspuk School district, 19 of the 21 new teachers are from the Philippines, and 20 out of 39 of the district’s total teachers are from the Philippines.
Both school districts used the same agency to hire teachers last year, called the Alaska Teacher Placement Agency. A spokesperson for the agency said that it does not advertise in the Philippines, but accepts applications from all over the world. The spokesperson said that she saw an increase in the number of Filipino applicants compared to the year prior.
Kuspuk School District Superintendent James Anderson said that he didn’t necessarily look for applicants from the Philippines. Anderson said that he simply hired the best and most experienced teachers. It just so happened that nearly all of them were from the Southern Philippines and speak a Bisayan language as their native language.
The Aniak Filipino teachers all mentioned one reason to come to Alaska.
“It’s kind of a very shallow reason, but because of the snow. We don’t have snow there!” said Jay Mojello.
Mojello is a second grade teacher. He, like the other teachers, had a more serious reason for coming to the U.S.: the salary, which the Aniak teachers say is about 10 times higher than in the Philippines. Mojello needed to pay off his debt and send money back to his family.
So did Kaycee Limod, the sixth grade teacher. But for her, it was an extra difficult decision to come to the U.S. She had to leave her husband and young baby at home.
“He’s already two. I just, I just miss him,” said Limod.
Limod said that her husband was originally supposed to be working abroad this year too. But she asked him to instead let her spend some time working on her career while he watched the baby in the Philippines.
“I asked him, if you can, please give me this opportunity. Be with our son, and then I’ll get you,” said Limod.
Limod said that either she’ll join her family back in the Philippines, or she’ll bring them to Alaska. She’s enjoying learning a new culture and gaining professional experience.
That experience has come with growing pains. Limod and the other teachers all said that in the Philippines, students always listen to their teachers. But that’s not always the case in the U.S., and that hurt their feelings at first.
“Every time I give them instruction, they don’t listen to me. And the first week, first, second week there I was here, I was really crying. Every time I go home, I always cry because I feel like I’m not an effective teacher,” said Limod.
But she said now, about halfway through the school year, that she and the students have found a good rhythm. There’s a good rhythm at home too. The four Filipino teachers share a four-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment across town. They said that it helps them save on costs.
The teachers haven’t decided yet whether they’ll stay in Aniak for another school year. They say that overall they like Aniak, but they dislike the nearly-hour-long walk to school on cold, dark winter mornings, and the lack of emergency medical care available in the community.
But if they leave they said they would miss their students and the camaraderie.
On Fridays, the four colleagues hang out and watch movies. Each day, the men cook and the women do the dishes. Mojello makes breakfast and Agad makes dinner. He’s been blending Alaskan and Filipino flavors in the kitchen. They say that the community has been generous with gifting them subsistence foods.
“We had moose adobo. Moose tapa. We also had salmon,” said Agad.
The teachers have until March 4 to let the school know if they’ll be returning for the 2022-23 school year.
This story originally appeared at KYUK.org and is republished here with permission.