Thursday, April 26, 2007

Teaching in the Saipan public schools - the good, the bad and the ugly

I've got a lot of email inquiries and google search hits relating to teaching in Saipan. Right now is recruiting season for the next school year, so a new group is out there considering their options. In the interests of "esprit de corps," I will offer what I feel is a balanced views of the pros and cons of living and working here as a teacher. I am not speaking on PSS' behalf, but offering my own personal views.

The positives about living and teaching here are the following: the kids are reasonably respectful, there is minimal to no violence such as shootings, fights and the general horror stories you read about in the states, at least in the classroom, do not exist. Note this is not the case in Guam if that is a place you are considering. I've never heard a positive word about the Guam Public Schools, and in fact, GPSS sounds like a pit of epic proportion.

Saipan is a low stress environment. Administration is usually pretty hands off if you are a competent professional. There has never been any micromanaging of the classroom experience in my experience. As a teacher, you have a lot of academic freedom and are encouraged to be creative.

There is minimal traffic here, and your commute to work shouldn't be more than ten minutes. You can get a beautiful ocean view apartment for $500 to $600 dollars per month. You can get the kind of view you would never have on a teacher's salary in the mainland. Car insurance and taxes are also very low. Salaries are pretty competitive and are better than places like the southeast. The northeast and the west coast pay more, but the cost of living is much higher. There is a teacher shortage usually, so it is not that hard to get a job. A BA/BS in most anything, and completion of the Praxis I and II are the basic entry requirements. Take Praxis II in the subject you intend to teach. Later on you will be required to take a few classes in education if you do not have an education degree. You must be eligible to work in the U.S. to be employed here.

The schools often have high tech equipment like digital projectors, video equipment, high def television, ample computers, wireless Internet and so on because we get disproportionate federal funds because we are so small. Since local funds pay for supplies, you will have all these hi tech things, and then not have toilet paper in the restrooms.

Being in Saipan, you can easily travel to places like Bali, Cairns, Australia, the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Singapore and Thailand. There is a two to three week break at Christmas and two months off in June and July for summer vacation.

Saipan has pretty good scuba diving, and access to the world's best diving in Palau. There are a few nice hotels, two water parks and plenty of scenic locations. There are a few good coffee shops, and a couple decent restaurants. I find the restaurants pretty disappointing overall, but there are a few decent places. Fresh tuna is readily available for $1 to $2 dollars per pound. There are plenty of sushi locations on the cheap if you like that. This is a Japanese vacation site, so it is cool to live in a place where people take a vacation. The weather is always warm, but you don't get any change of seasons, and sometimes it is incredibly hot.

The negatives of teaching in Saipan are plenty as well. The government is very unstable. To date I've always gotten my paycheck on time, but there is a steady drumbeat of fear on the economic survival of the island. It is wildly mismanaged, and the system doesn't work anymore. The economy absolutely stinks right now. The unemployment rate is probably fifty percent and up. The private sector wages are abysmal, generally the $3.05 minimum wage or there around. There is a giant, bloated government bureaucracy, and the funds to sustain it are diminishing as our infamous garment factories are exiting stage left with great alacrity and fewer Japanese folks vacation here with fewer flights from Japan.

The kids are seriously lacking in intellectual curiosity, and motivation takes up a lot of your time as a teacher. Often times the parents are sitting home on welfare, and the kids get that kind of modeling. There is no shame about welfare as it is so common. "We accept food stamps" is pretty much the CNMI motto. If you don't motivate the students, the work won't get done, and you also grow tired of making them care about anything. Classes are overcrowded. Thirty per classroom is common in the high school, and I've heard those numbers go higher in the middle schools. You get no preparation time. We had a prep period once in my four years, but that is going away next year, and I don't expect it back anytime soon. This is ridiculous and annoying to people used to teaching in the states.

The facilities are falling apart -- especially in the older schools -- which make up most of the schools. There are a few newer schools, and I teach at one of these, where the facilities are better. There are no janitors to clean the classrooms. I have the kids do it -- especially if they break class rules. Teachers are often encouraged to paint the room and wax the floors on their own dime, which I find outrageous, but I did fund the painting part. Textbooks are often limited, and the libraries are a bit lacking, but getting better. PE facilities tend to be very poor, and virtually don't exist at two of the three high schools. There is no stipend for doing things like coaching (though there really is only basketball and volleyball, and sometimes paddling) or being class adviser or yearbook or all of those things.

Because summer never ends, the ant population never really diminishes, so ants will be getting around and about most anywhere. There is a growing rat problem on the island as well, and that leads to produce prices in a place with endless summer often being ridiculous. There is a lot of teenage pregnancy, and abortion is illegal as per the CNMI constitution. There is a habit of chewing this stuff called betelnut, which provides a buzz for the chewer when mixed with cigarettes, and the juice will be spit out most anywhere. It is extremely gross. It is illegal in schools, but it is a constant battle to stop it.

Retail prices here are outrageous, and power and gas are the highest in America. At least with the gas prices you won't be driving so far, so it evens out versus the mainland. We have a U.S. post office, so I just don't buy anything here. I just use the net. The power system is not only expensive, but it is unreliable. This seems to depend on where you live. I've never lived in an apartment where the power would go out too much, but in some places it could be a daily experience. It seems to be getting better since they raised the power rates. We are also prone to typhoons, but I've not experienced a terrible one, knock on wood, since I've been here. There were two minor ones during my stay.

Overall, the pros outweigh the cons for me, or I wouldn't still be here, but my days here are definitely coming close to ending. I never thought I'd be here four years, but I will be here for a fifth, and I expect final, year next year.


The Saipan Blogger said...

You forgot to mention the bikini girls at Managaha...and the chicken nuggets at Java Joe's.

Jeffrey C. Turbitt said...

I've mentioned the bikini girls before when I blasted Jesus Camacho, but I'm married now, so it isn't worth the dirty look. The chicken nuggets are good. Had some yesterday.

Melissa said...

Don't you mean "We Accept Food StamP?" It's like there is only a single food stamp on the whole island... for everyone....

Brad said...

Jeff, thanks for the highlights to the pros and cons. I definately think the pros outweigh the cons for me since my wife will be able to get her citizenship taken care of while there and I'll be able to scuba dive during my time off.

There are no classes on Saturdays, right? That's one thing I don't like about teaching in Korea....the 6 day work weeks.

What about out-of-class work? I don't mean personal lesson preparation time....I mean, does the school make you stay late often or come in on the weekends for special staff meetings and such? That happens a lot at the public schools here in Korea.

Still, I've been teaching here for 5 years (4 more than I expected)so it's not so bad.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

So what was the deleted post about??
lemme know....please

Jeffrey C. Turbitt said...

Blog spam. Apparently some Italian thinks I'm doing great work and ciao!

somebody's mom said...

So, would my motivated high schooler find a decent Calculus class on the island? How about AP classes? Anything? Where do motivated students go to school? Or do they homeschool....

Anonymous said...

So here I am a "considerer" of moving to saipan. My name is Lacey Nerdig. Do you know what island the kagman elementary is on? That is the school that has my resume. I was at a job fair in montana, missoula specifically and was recruited to teach there. It sounds from your blog like you enjoy it. Did you move out there on your own? I would be a single woman moving out there and wonder if it would be hard. You mention its easy to travel from the island which is good. That along with the two year commitment frightens me a bit. If I teach over seas I would want it to be somewhere where I could travel from without having to spend all of my income. Did you have student loans? Did they reduce them for teaching there? Please respond when you can, my email is if you feel like writing me an email with some information on the place.

1nce A Week Writer said...

Also in other news... More on the Saipanda issue go to

Saipan Newbie said...

Okay- I used to be "somebody's mom". Now I'm here. I've learned that Calculus is taught at Marianas High School, Marianas Baptist Academy, and the college (sometimes). My white kids are in private schools, and they are an ethnic minority. They get teased because they don't eat with chopsticks at lunch. As for the other stuff-- good produce is insanely hard to find, and expensive, and Saipan truly has the most beautiful natural enviroment of anywhere I've ever seen. I can watch the ocean at sunset from my patio. It never gets old. This place is not for everybody, but for us, it is becoming an amazing adventure we will never forget.

Jeff said...

It has its nice points for sure.

Chelo @ Home and Bahay said...

Hello Jeff! I realize this post is 4 years old but I wanted to thank you anyway. My husband and I are possibly going to Saipan if he accepts a position there.

He really found it helpful to read about the pros and cons :)