In past years the Cleveland Municipal School District has struggled to come up with enough math, science and special education instructors to fill its classrooms. But district officials have now discovered it's really not all that tough - as long as you're willing to travel halfway around the world. That's what they did last spring, and this fall Cleveland welcomed a group of new hires recruited from India. 90.3 WCPN's Bill Rice caught up with some of them shortly after their arrival in September, and has this report.
Bill Rice- Barely a week into classes at Cleveland's John F. Kennedy High School, Aron Nagpal traverses up and down the rows of his honors chemistry class dispensing one-on-one assistance in the principles of metric conversion. Nagpal feels he's already making progress with his new pupils, an encouraging sign for one of America's newest public school teachers.
Nagpal is one of 49 teachers just arrived from India to fill open positions at Cleveland Municipal Schools. The class has a little catching up to do, since Nagpal and his Indian colleagues arrived later than expected due to processing delays at immigration, and missed the first few days of the school year. For that reason, he says, it's been all business, with very little time for getting to know each other.
Aron Nagpal- I put them through hard tasks straight away in the beginning. So I'm going pretty fast to complete the syllabus. Sometime when I get time AI will have better introduction on a personal level. Then of course they will have good opinion about me also.
BR- One daunting challenge is the language barrier. Many, but not all, of these new arrivals have come equipped with a good command of English; some of those that have still speak in thick eastern accents that can be difficult for students to understand. Most of these chemistry students say they have little experience with foreign teachers, and are finding they have to pay extra attention in Nagpals class. Danielle Wier says it's tough, but she's coping.
Danielle Wier- When we don't understand what he says he say he'll repeat it, and when he repeats it the second time it's easier for me to understand what he said the first time. So I just have him repeat everything he says so I can understand what he's talking about.
BR- LaQoinya Brown also has some difficulty with Nagpal's accent, but she likes the class, and her teacher.
LaQoinya Brown- You just have to get used to his language. You have to listen to it, just like he listens to us, because he has to learn our language also. So it's like a 50-50 process.
BR- But Cleveland students pose their own set of challenges to Nagpal. Back home, he says, where he taught mostly in private institutions, students are a lot more competitive than they are here.
AN- Indian students are starved for their academics. Here they're satisfied. They're more than satisfied, I would say. So a teacher has to dig in deeper, has to go to each student and ask him the problems. Because, you know, you go to a doctor and the patient doesn't respond you cannot treat them. Same here. They won't respond unless you provoke them in some manner.
BR- But Nagpal welcomes the change in venue, and has sacrificed a lot to come to the U.S. He's left a wife and two children back in his hometown of Chandigarth, near New Dehli. Many of the new arrivals tell a similar story. At a reception for the teachers held in early September, new recruit Anita Menen says her desire for a cultural change prompted her to apply for her new job in Cleveland, but leaving her family behind was a hard decision.
Anita Menen- I have left behind my husband and my son, who is in the seventh grade. And of course I feel homesick. But probably I will get into my routine and forget about it.
BR- Do you expect them to follow you?
AM- I don't know, I haven't decided about that. Probably will think about after a year and make that decision.
BR- All of the Indian teachers have signed three-year contracts, although they may opt out at any time should they wish to return to India. By most accounts they're being well taken care of. The district has showered them with friendly encouragement, and they have support from the Indian community here as well. Latha Srinivassan is with the Federations of India Community Associations of Northeast Ohio.
Latha Srinivassan- We have a robust group of people in FICA who cannot wait to meet these teachers and help them in any way we can, to help them with resources, to help them understand the differences between teaching in India versus teaching here in Cleveland, just to help them with moral support, encouragement, and also just to give them a slice of being back home.
BR- Srinivassan says she worries about how well some of the teachers will adjust, and that the realities of inner city American schools may prove frustrating. But she's convinced her compatriots have a lot to offer, and optimistic that the experience will ultimately be good for most of them.
LS- It's going to be an uphill battle for them, but I do think that in the end that they will succeed, and most importantly, I really, honestly believe they will improve the school system in Cleveland City Schools.
BR- That's the hope of many of the teachers as well. Teaching methods are different in India, they say, and while schools back home will benefit from their American experience, they feel they have something unique to offer students here. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN News.