SG, 50 is from India and teaches high school Math in [redacted], Georgia, population 70,000. He tells me about life in small town USA, his passion for a mentally stressful job like teaching and the respect he gets and the prejudices he faces from people he interacts with on a daily basis. Here’s the transcript of my face to face interview with him.
Heart: How did you come to the States as a teacher?
SG: Its a company called GTRR for which I work. Now its called KRG (Knowledge Resource Group). I was interviewed in Hyderabad (India) for this role. We have other centers around India like in Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata where they screen for candidates. I went through a consultancy called RK Consultancy for my first round of interviews. And then RK forwarded my resume to GTRR and they did a second round of interview.
Heart: So, where all do these teachers from India get placed? Just the States or World wide?
SG: I’m not exactly sure of the entire list, but, our teachers have gone to Philippines and Australia too.
Heart: What’s the subject you teach?
SG: I’m a math teacher in a high school. There’s a great need for Math, Science and Special education teachers in America. These are the three categories of teachers that come here.
Heart: How long have you guys been here?
SG: 10 years since 2007. We came here when our older one was 5 years old. Now he’s 15, rising 11th (grader).
Heart: What’s the demographic makeup of your town? Do you have any Indians?
SG: There are a lot of African Americans where we live. We have a small Indian community. We have 15 teachers who came like me.
Heart: How’s the poverty rate?
SG: Not much. The place is not small at the same time its not that big. One of the town’s biggest employers is Miller Coors, a beer brewing company. P&G is another one.
Heart: How’s life?
SG: Running. (sic) We’re always busy, just like everyone else. But our life is not that complicated. We don’t have an Indian grocery store or anything. The rating of our school was great and so we accepted the offer to come here.
Heart: Have you experienced racism?
SG: I guess the place is just like anywhere else. They accept us, they’re helpful generally when you run into them.
Heart: Its really interesting to talk to a teacher from the Indian community. Most of my friends and people I meet are business men, or doctors and for the most part work in Information technology.
SG: That’s what I hear. They ask, “Oh, so even teachers come from India to teach kids here?” That’s a big question mark for them.
Heart: What visa are you guys on?
Heart: Do they fast track your Green card processing?
SG: No, actually, its very slow. Although we’re eligible for EB2 processing for Greencards, our consulting companies don’t prefer doing that. By the way, are you guys Brahmins (One of the social classes in India)?
Heart: Yes, we are.
SG: I could tell. (Laughs)
Heart: How do you do your Indian grocery (lentils and other dry goods) shopping?
SG: Atlanta is 180 miles from where we live and Tallahassee is 80 miles south. But we prefer Atlanta because we can come to the temple here. There is no Indian temple in Tallahassee. Two birds at one shot. (Laughs)
Heart: Tell me anything.
SG: Teaching is great. There’s a lot of respect to those of us in it. Because we (Indians) are so hardworking, the kids also show us a lot of respect. Atleast a lot of them.
Heart: Does your wife work?
SG: She’s a medical records analyst in a hospital.
Heart: Was she trained here or did she come to the US as a trained person?
SG: No, mam. It’s a long story. She came here on the dependant visa, H4. She worked at a gas station for a very long time. And thanks to Obama, when he gave EADs (Employment Authorization Card) to all the H4 visa holders, she started applying to different places. She was interviewed at this hospital, 3 or 4 rounds before she finally got the job. She is an MBA from India. By the way which county do you guys live in?
SG: Until two years ago, Fulton county was taking teachers from India. Now, they don’t anymore.
Heart: Interesting. We see a couple of Indian teachers in special education. so where are all the other 14 of your teacher friends work at?
SG: They are in different schools. Middle and high, both. We know a few doctors too. We know a couple of IT specialists, but they don’t hang out with us often. And their work is contract based and so its difficult to form long term friendships with them. There are a lot of IT needs for companies like P&G, the Marine Base and the Airforce and the Airport. And when we meet these IT guys in Walmart or somewhere else, we try to make friends with them, but 4 months later they’re gone. We have 15 teachers and 15 doctors in our social group. We gather every Saturday and chant Vishnu Sahasra Naamam at someone’s house. That’s an occasion to meet.
Heart: That’s great for having a sense of community. So do you do any private tutoring?
SG: We don’t have the time to do anything after school. Especially for us Indian teachers. The job itself is mentally very stressful.
Heart: How do you grade kids?
SG: You show me your work and your get your grades accordingly. You have to submit on time, otherwise even if its perfect, you only get a 70 from me. That’s it, those are my rules.
There was a guy from our teacher’s group called Vinod and his Principal had demanded him to give a passing grade to one of Vinod’s students. And he quit the job because he didn’t want to do the wrong thing and left for India.
Heart: Oh wow. Were you a teacher back in India?
SG: I was a lecturer in a Degree (Undergrad) college. And I used to have my own college. Its Gitanjali women’s college in Warangal. You can even Google it. Of course, we had to come out of it because it was difficult to juggle both India and the States. Being a sleeping partner is not that easy and its high risk. But, its doing very well now. That was my dream, you know.
Heart: Who knows you might establish a university here in the States? So, do you have any plans to go back to India?
SG: (Laughs) Not yet. Our younger one is in 2nd grade. And the problem is not with us. My kids can’t be good students in India. They might initially struggle with the lifestyle, but eventually they might adapt. But education is totally a different thing. The Indian education system is very different. You might be able to come here from India and settled down well into the education system. But if you go there, you’ll be a zero.
Heart: What’s the biggest difference in education system from India and America?
SG: There’s a lot of exposure for kids to many different things in America, which is missing in India. They get exposed to so many different aspects of real life and scholastics, its good for the child. They are not afraid of asking questions, think for themselves and have an individualistic approach to problems. If they don’t like something, they can say no. Even if you are the teacher, they tell you they don’t want to do this assignment. They never shy from expressing they opinions.
But, in India, we learn a lot of content. We learn a subject really deeply. But here, if we work on a problem, we also have to think of the application of the solution instead of just finding a solution. For example, if you’re given a topic, you’ve to write two or three pages about it, you get some depth on the subject. But in India, parents, teachers and society, hide the actual knowledge and understanding of the student. We only have a standard answer for any given question instead of allowing the student to answer it in his own understanding. If you want your child to be an Engineer, you’ll only expose him to Math and Science. There’s a downside to that. If lets say, you want your child to become a doctor, his initial foundation is going to be in subjects related to that and if he doesn’t get a good score to get into Medical school, the child is stuck, because he hasn’t been exposed to any other area of education early on. Here, everyone does all the courses even through Under Grad and they can go into masters in an area which they want to specialize in. Whenever you decide to change the course of your career, you take the credits in the subject related to that.
That’s why our government of Telangana (a southern state in India) is planning to revamp the educational system into what they call a credit system. You can accumulate all the credits you want based on the subject you choose. If you take a math course, you get a credit. You are not stuck in a course where for 3 or 4 years, you only study Math or Science. If you finish 24 credits, you can graduate from High school. If you finish 36 credits, you are done with your Under grad school, 4 years of college.
So, take my example. I did my masters, and my specialization was in Math. But if you want to be a computer engineer in India, you’ve to complete your Master of Science or Master of Computer Applications. But, here, all you have to do is take credits related to computers from the University and you can get a job working with computers.
In India, even before the child is actually born, parents think of what they want their children to be. He will be an engineer or she will be a doctor. (Laughs)
Heart: Your son is a rising 11th grader. How do you guys handle the pressures of his life?
SG: There’s a program called “Move On Ready” which allows students starting from 10th to take classes in a college near you. His entire semester course happens online. So, he has already finished a semester. And he has started his second semester. If you get a good score in SAT, you can even attend classes in a good school. He was mad at us for forcing him to come to Atlanta for visiting the temple today. He wants to go to the game tomorrow at the school, and he has a ton of homework and we made him sit for 3 hours to get here early Saturday morning. (Laughs) But we forced him to come with us because visiting the temple is equally important. You know.
Heart: Does he like Math?
SG: Oh yeah. (Laughs)
Heart: Can I ask you how much you get paid?
SG: Sure, a little over 60,000 dollars. But compared to my friends in the Information technology field its meager. Most of the teachers I work with get somewhere in the 50,000s. If you’re teaching 5th grade, you might get something like 40,000 dollars. Depends on your qualifications and your experience. These are the only two things that matter. If you’ve have a graduation degree, but less experienced, you can only make around 45,000 dollars. Teaching is a tough job. And sometimes, I buy my own supplies. But it depends on what you want to do for your children, no one expects you to get your own supplies but that’s something you want to do for them sometimes. I want to talk about racism, that you had asked about earlier. No one’s openly racist or anything, but I can get a sense that they don’t want me here. Because I can sense some sort of a jealousy on our education, our property, our salaries and our cars. For example, I earn more than 60,000 dollars a year, but most of the other teachers earn around 45,000 dollars. So they compare and they ask me why I earn more? They don’t take into account my experience and my qualifications. They just think, “I’m a teacher, you’re a teacher.” So, we should all be equal. But, some of the “teachers” haven’t even finished their teaching certificate course. So, they don’t even make 1500 dollars a month. They are part of the TAP (Teacher Advancement Program) program. That’s where they get trained as teachers. After taxes, they take home about 1000 dollars a month. If they take days off, they lose some more pay. But they just compare my paycheck and theirs. Most of the Indian teachers don’t take a single day off. Out of 180 working days, we are there almost 175 days. But there’re a lot of others who take 4 or 5 days off monthly. They don’t take all these into consideration when they’re comparing paychecks.
They compare the way we dress. We dress smartly, we don’t want to wear round T shirts and jeans to work. That’s just not something we do. They jealousy about that too. (sic). They used old local cars, whereas we used international cars like, Toyota Camry or Lexus. And they’ve only one car at home. We usually have two cars and our spouse is working too. Sometimes, the son can also have a car of his own. Sometimes, it gets very hard. Even from the students, its very hard to tolerate jealousy.
Heart: So, do the children feel like they’re entitled to good grades?
SG: I don’t give them what they want if they don’t deserve it. Of course, they demand you to give them a certain grade. But I tell them, “You don’t deserve, I won’t give. Show it on paper and then demand me.” (sic) For anything that they can’t produce, they need the administrator’s support. Of course, most times, the administrators don’t support Indian teachers. I feel like the school administrators are also scared in some way. If they’ve to take any action on a student that I’m having trouble with, I’ll have to produce perfect documentation. But Indians, don’t do perfect documentation. We just want to focus on our teaching. The paper work can get out of hand and its long hard work to get just one student disciplined. We don’t want to expose the misbehavior of the student in front of the parent or the school because we don’t have the perfect documentation. We just use simple words, the student is disobedient or something and its not enough to deserve punishment.
They focus a lot on these shallow things and not on the content of the subject or what’s more important for the student. The kids don’t want to do anything, all they want is a good grade. The 9th and 10th graders are the toughest grades to teach. If you want to be a teacher in a high school in America, you just have to shut your ears and eyes and get into your classroom. The kids keep throwing a lot of profanity on you constantly. You can’t save your self respect in situations like these. You have 25 children in a classroom and you can’t expect everyone to behave perfectly well. Some kids are rude, some have just returned from jail, some bring knives to school. Who knows if someone’s murdered someone and is sitting in your class now? There’s a current student of mine, and she’s just returned from being in detention system for 3 or 4 years.
Heart: Do you know why?
SG: Drugs, or stealing or I don’t know, it can be anything. And that’s why I tell my kids, there are cameras everywhere in Walmart and other places. Don’t steal, if you need anything ask me. (Laughs) Or most times they fight a lot.
When they use profanity, all you can do is write them up. In India, you can beat the shit of that guy. You do it at school and then even at home, he’ll get a good dose of that medicine. (Laughs) Here, all I can do is documentation. And when parents come, they are surprised that their child has used profanity. (Laughs) If you have the administrator’s support, they will talk to the parents to tell them that their child is at fault.
If you want teach, you can’t survive the stress for long. By evening, I am so stressed out, that I can’t do anything else.
Heart: What’s the problem, does it start at home? Are they from broken families?
SG: A lot of them are children to single parents. Parents with criminal background. They bring their boyfriend or girlfriend problems to class. On guy was like, “Someone’s talking to my girlfriend, and I don’t like that” and he’s using violence against the other kid in the hallway.
Bottom line is, if they would focus on their education, there wouldn’t been a need for teachers to come from India.
Note: Before you rate this episode, please consider if you would’ve been so open and authentic about your own life. Earlier episodes available at The Anonymous Manifesto.