In ordinary times, Iris J. Moran, the principal at Oak Knoll Elementary in East Point, Ga., would not have to look far afield to find a Spanish teacher for her fourth- and fifth-grade classes.

But there is nothing ordinary about the shortage of t

In ordinary times, Iris J. Moran, the principal at Oak Knoll Elementary in East Point, Ga., would not have to look far afield to find a Spanish teacher for her fourth- and fifth-grade classes.

But there is nothing ordinary about the shortage of teachers afflicting American schools these days, particularly in the booming Sun Belt. And that is why Ms. Moran’s search ended two years ago with a phone call to Santiago, Chile, where she found an energetic young linguist named Claudia V. Cuervo.

Ms. Moran had concerns about hiring a foreigner sight unseen. But she also had far more vacancies than options. And so, like a growing number of other school administrators across the country, she took a risk, a risk that paid off. Ms. Cuervo quickly demonstrated her creativity by shepherding her students on an imaginary two-week trip to Santiago, teaching them the vocabulary of air travel and guiding their journey with photographs and maps. Earlier this year, she was named the school’s teacher of the year.

There are now thousands of foreign teachers like Claudia Cuervo in American classrooms. As school administrators struggle to cope with a teacher shortage that ranks among the worst in history, principals and superintendents are increasingly looking overseas for at least a temporary fix. Where it was once uncommon to cross state lines in pursuit of new teachers, recruiters now do not blink at crossing oceans.

In Palm Beach County, Fla., school officials are planning a recruiting trip to the Philippines later this month. In New York City, the Board of Education has mounted a well- publicized raid on math and science teachers from Austria. Chicago’s school system this year has hired 71 teachers from 28 countries, including China, France and Hungary.

Houston officials went to Moscow and returned with 11 signees. School officials here in Fulton County, Ga., the system that includes Oak Knoll, have already traveled to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. A trip to Jamaica is scheduled.

Ms. Cuervo was recruited through a for-profit clearinghouse called Visiting International Faculty, which is based in Chapel Hill, N.C. The program began as a cultural exchange in 1989 when it placed 12 foreign- language teachers in various North Carolina schools. This year, it recruited 1,300 teachers from 35 countries for schools in eight states. In the 2001-02 school year, it expects to place 1,800 to 2,000 teachers.

"We will continue to grow," said David B. Young, the clearinghouse’s co-director, "and some of that is obviously due to the shortage. It certainly gives us opportunities."

The widespread growth in the hiring of foreign teachers has raised questions among education experts and teachers’ union officials, who are troubled that some foreigners — like some American-born teachers — have not met all certification requirements for teaching in American schools.

Some education experts also say the availability of teachers from abroad may reduce pressure on governments to address the teacher shortage with pay increases and other benefits.

"They will always be, at best, part of the solution at the margins," said David C. Haselkorn, president of Recruiting New Teachers Inc., a nonprofit group in Massachusetts that promotes the profession.

"The bottom line," Mr. Haselkorn said, "is that we can’t run the system if teaching is still considered a philanthropic act."

In the meantime, American schools are focused frantically on the short-term need to fill classrooms each fall. For the last seven years, schools have had to find about 220,000 new teachers a year, compared with about 160,000 a year in the early 1990’s, according to the United States Department of Education.

The perpetual problems of relatively low salaries and tough working conditions have been exacerbated by a wave of retirements and by a strong economy, which has lured prospective teachers into the private sector. Simultaneously, immigration and a baby boom have stretched the capacity of schools.

The teacher shortage is likely to worsen before it eases in states like Georgia that have recently reduced maximum class sizes in early grades. Here in Fulton County, the number of new teachers needed has doubled in the last three years and now exceeds 20 percent of the total work force. Rick L. White, the system’s personnel director, said he wanted to hire 154 foreign teachers for the fall to help him fill 1,000 anticipated vacancies.

At Oak Knoll, 22 portable classrooms help accommodate a student population that is projected to reach 1,039 in the fall, up from 780 five years ago. The principal, Ms. Moran, had to place substitute teachers in two classrooms for the first half of this school year, and she enlarged several other classes. Three months before the new year begins, she has found only 9 of the 16 new teachers she will need for her staff of 82.

This year, Ms. Moran filled four vacancies with teachers from abroad, and she now hopes to find several more. While she said the real allure of hiring international teachers was to expose students to another culture, she acknowledged that without them she would probably have to resort again to substitutes and crowded classes.

Thus far, desperate school districts have shown little reluctance to pay for the help. Georgia schools pay Visiting International Faculty $11,500 for each foreign teacher they hire, in addition to the salary.

The V.I.F. teachers work on an annual contract that can be renewed for up to three years. The company helps them obtain work visas and find housing and provides a weeklong orientation to American education. It requires that the teachers have at least three years experience, teaching credentials from their home countries, fluency in English and the ability to drive. Some states require a certification test.

The Visiting International Faculty teachers are typically paid a beginner’s salary, regardless of experience. For some, like Ms. Cuervo, who makes $34,308, the American salary is well above what she would make in Chile. For others, like Julie J. Brown, who left Derbyshire, England, to teach British and European literature at North Atlanta High School, the pay is roughly equivalent to what she would earn at home.

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