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Documentary Follows Baltimore's Filipina Teachers

A new education documentary, The Learning, which premiered on PBS about a month ago, takes a close look at the experiences of four Filipina teachers, who leave their schools in the Philippines to teach in Baltimore classrooms. According to PBS, there are currently about 600 Filipino teachers in Baltimore, which accounts for around 10 percent of the city's teaching force. Earlier this year, The Baltimore Sun reported that the district started hiring Filipinos several years ago due to the lack of qualified applicants for teaching positions.

In an interview conducted by NPR's Tell Me More host Michel Martin, film director Ramona Diaz explained that the primary force driving these Filipina teachers to the U.S. is providing for their families back home. "A lot of them are the major breadwinners in their families," said Diaz, who explained that teachers make about 25 times more in the U.S. than they do in the Philippines, where they only bring in around $300 a month.

Diaz also pointed to the impact these teachers make on the students of Baltimore simply by staying in their schools:

"You know, the year and a half that I filmed in the city's schools, I witnessed teachers leaving in the middle of the year—you know, fleeing to better-resourced school districts in the suburbs. So the fact that they're staying and there's this continuity that the kids will see them next year is itself a success story."

Diaz said the film also hones in on the theme of overcoming cultural and social differences. For example, while teachers in the Philippines are affectionate with students, in Baltimore the teachers were told touching was not allowed. Children in the Philippines are also generally "seen but not heard," while in the U.S., "children are expected to speak up," said Diaz.

According to PBS, the film hopes to explore whether teachers from a poor country will "prove to be part of the long-term solution to the struggling U.S. education system."

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