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Oct 21st
Home Sections Education & Technology The “Thomasite” Teachers Are Indeed Back in America
The “Thomasite” Teachers Are Indeed Back in America PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Bobby Reyes   
Wednesday, 18 March 2009 10:08

(There is) a recent wave of foreign-exchange teachers from the Philippines . . . recruited to fill chronic teacher shortages in math, science and special education throughout the United States. More-than 100 school districts, including at least 20 in California, are recruiting from the Philippines—Teresa Watanabe of the L.A. Times



  As the saying goes, “What goes around, comes around.” Well, American teachers were sent to the Philippines in 1901, after the United States took the Philippines as a colony from Spain. The American tutors, called historically as the “Thomasites,” went to the Philippine Islands to teach the native people how to speak English, among other things. Less than a century later, Filipino teachers were hired in the United States to teach American kids how to speak English correctly, among other subjects that the imported teachers were employed to do. Yes, the educational version of the boomerang has come back to America.


To my limited knowledge, the first imported Filipino teachers – aside from the so-called ABER Filipino or American teachers of Filipino descent – were hired by the New York (Catholic) Archdiocese in the mid-1990s to replace Caucasian tutors who quit their jobs at its numerous parochial schools. The Caucasian teachers resigned from their jobs to work at the higher-paying public schools. The Archdiocese of New York raided the ranks of the leading Catholic schools in Manila – Ateneo, Assumption, La Salle, Letran, San Beda, Santo Tomas University, etc. – and offered the Filipino elementary teachers work contracts that led to permanent residency and citizenship. The ABER Filipinos, as I coined, are the “American-born, educated and/or raised” descendants of immigrants from the Philippines. I met some of the former Ateneo-de-Manila teachers now working in New-York parochial schools during the All-Ateneo Alumni Convention in July 2000 in Secaucus, New Jersey. Some of the scions of these New York-based Filipino teachers are now studying to become teachers themselves.


Here is what the has to say about the adventures of American teachers in the Philippines: “The Thomasites arrived in the Philippines on August 12, 1901, to establish a new public school system, to teach basic education and to train Filipino teachers, with English as the medium of instruction. The Philippines had enjoyed a public school system since 1863, when a Spanish decree first introduced public elementary education in the Philippines. However, the Thomasites expanded and improved the public school system, and switched to English as the medium of instruction. 


“The name Thomasite was derived from the transport vessel, the USS Thomas (formerly Minnewaska), that brought them to the shores of Manila Bay.[6] Although two groups of new American graduates arrived in the Philippines before the USS Thomas, the name Thomasite became the designation of all pioneer American teachers simply because the USS Thomas had the largest contingent. Later batches of American teachers were also dubbed as the Thomasites.[1]" 


I wrote once a humorous article about the Filipino “Thomasite” teachers as either being educated in the Santo Tomas University of Manila or hailing from the numerous towns in the Philippines named after Thomas, the Apostle, or St. Thomas of Aquinas – like the Santo Tomas town in Batangas Province. But that was then and the return of the Filipino Thomasite is real now – as it had been since the mid-1990s. 


In today’s issue of the Los Angeles Times, Japanese-American staff writer Teresa Watanabe wrote a very-poignant story of a modern-day “Thomasite” of a “Filipino exchange teacher Ferdinand Nakila” in Los Angeles. 


* To read the complete story of Ms. Watanabe, please click on this link: Filipino teachers exchange homeland for jobs in America 


If you cannot access the hyperlink, please use this URL:,0,1449843.story  


Ms. Watanabe touched briefly on why many American school districts now prefer to employ Filipino teachers: Their well-rounded training in an American-established educational system, proficiency in English and a working knowledge of Spanish. This is aside of course from the fact that Filipino teachers can be paid at the lowest entry-level salaries, a practice that stretches the now-dwindling American educational budgets.


There is another reason why American educators prefer to hire Filipino teachers, who are usually assigned in problematic school districts where many Caucasian and other Minority-American tutors refuse to accept teaching assignments. In some school districts where the overwhelming majority of students is either Black- or Latino-American or Caucasian, many teachers (who are Black- or Latino-American or White) are not exactly welcome. Many of them are afraid of their students. As I wrote before, the Filipino teacher comes closest to being a friend of ALL the students, whether they are White or Black or Latino or of other ethnic backgrounds. The Los Angeles basin has about 120 ethnic groups.



Filipino teachers encounter in the United States culture shock and/or the difficulty of adjusting to the American accent, which varies among the different racial groups. Ms. Watanabe has related some of them. She interviewed officers of the Filipino-American Educators’ Association of Los Angeles (FAEA-LA). The FAEA-LA is doing its best to help the newly-hired Filipino teachers address cultural problems and issues, including helping them lose their “often-funny Filipino accent.” 


Why is the Filipino an acceptable teacher in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the United States?


To many Latino-American students, the Filipino teacher is like a relative. The people of the Philippines are considered “HispanoFilipinos” to a growing number of Latinos in the United States.


To read more about the Filipino linkages to the Hispanic civilization, please go to Rediscovering the “Missing Latinos in America”: The HispanoAsians and the ñ-Filipinos  


On the other hand, Black-American students now realize that the Filipinos are actually the closest to the African-American community. During the Filipino-American War, the United States sent some 6,000 Buffalo soldiers to the Philippines from 1899 to 1901. Some 20 of the Black-American soldiers defected to the Filipino Army and died fighting for the Filipino people’s freedom. When peace was declared on July 4, 1902, by then President Teddy Roosevelt, some 1,200 of the Buffalo soldiers stayed behind and married Filipino brides.



Even the White students consider the Filipino teachers as friends. Many of them are actually attended to in hospitals and clinics by Filipino-American medical professionals. Some of them were raised partly by Filipino-American nannies. Some of their elders are now being taken care of by Filipino-American healthcare workers and/or nursing aides. 


* To read about the racial clashes in Los Angeles – including some of its school districts – please read my essay, The "Clash of Civilizations" Now Brewing in California?


  T here are still problems that the Filipino teachers encounter in the United States such as culture shock and the difficulty of adjusting to the American accent, which varies among the different racial groups. Ms. Watanabe has related some of them. Daniel Gumarang, the new president of the Filipino-American Educators’ Association of Los Angeles (FAEA-LA), was interviewed by Ms. Watanabe for her article. The FAEA-LA members and officers are doing their best to help the newly-hired Filipino teachers address cultural problems and issues, including helping them lose their “often-funny Filipino accent.”



Eventually, this writer predicts that more-and-more Filipino teachers and men (and women) of the cloth will come to work in the United States, just as Filipino nurses and other medical professionals and healthcare givers are dominating the American medical industry. After all, like many hospitals, there are too-many American schools and parishes that lack willing teachers, priests, ministers and lay workers. The United States is the home of the Coalition of the Willing, Able and the Brave and not just the "land of the free."


* Writer's Note: This journalist used to be a member of the FAEA-LA when Dr. Art Pacho was its president. I was invited to join the FAEA-LA, as I was also considered an educator. Dr. Pacho and his fellow FAEA officials said then that I was “educating the policy-and/or-decision makers of the Philippines” and I was, therefore, an "educator" (sic), too. This author had to give up his membership in some of the 42 Filipino-American associations and federations that he used to belong to -- due to time constraints.


(To be continued . . .) 

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Last Updated on Thursday, 19 March 2009 11:29
Comments (3)
1 Wednesday, 18 March 2009 15:05
Thank you, Lolo Bobby. I read your article and it is accurate and
informative. I will let others know about your article.

Art Pacho

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2 Wednesday, 18 March 2009 15:24
Dear Ms. Teresa Watanabe:

Once again, I quoted you in my article about the "Filipino 'Thomasite' teachers," which is like a follow-up essay of your well-written and well-researched piece. In fact, I quoted you in the lead paragraph.

The hyperlink to my article, The “Thomasite” Teachers Are Indeed Back in America


As a matter of protocol, I included in my article the hyperlink to your L.A. Times story and also its URL.

Thank you again for the interest in our community in Southern California,

Mabuhay (Filipino equivalent of Aloha, Viva, Shalom and Sayonara),

Bobby M. Reyes
3 Thursday, 19 March 2009 10:19
Thank you! I enjoyed your article and was fascinated to learn of the Thomasite teachers.

All best

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