One of the problems faced by many American public school districts is a chronic shortage of teachers, especially in math, science and special education. Scarce new graduates are quickly snapped up by wealthy schools, while more financially challenged districts find themselves casting far afield to find qualified candidates. Last year Cleveland followed the lead of a few other cities, and hired 50 new teachers fresh from India. They arrived six months ago amid some apprehension from skeptics. But the experiment has, by many accounts, gone rather well. 90.3's Bill Rice reports on their progress.
Bill Rice: After less than year in the United States Aron Nagpal has pulled together the essential routines of daily life. He's learned to make his way around town - either by bus or train, or catching a ride from colleagues to and from work. He's settled into his job as science instructor at Cleveland's John F. Kennedy High School. And he's discovered the West Side Market, which he says beats any of the chain grocers near his high rise apartment in Parma for fresh produce.
Dressed typically American, Nagpal says he misses meals with his wife and two children, who've remained behind in India. But, he says, he eats healthier now than he did back home. He keeps it simple - mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, and chicken dishes he prepares himself.
Aron Nagpal: I cook the curry style, the Indian style... rice, chicken and plenty of green stuff that makes up all the balanced food.
BR: Later, Nagpal reflects on his experience in the U.S. He says he remains upbeat about his job teaching science to high schoolers. It's proven a challenge, but one that he's up to. His assignment has actually gotten tougher since his first weeks teaching 10th grade honors chemistry. A glitch in his certification prompted a switch to 11th and 12th grade physics, an old subject for him, but a whole new group of kids.
AN: They were more disruptive, more disruptive than the other class I had previously.
BR: Nagpal is philosophical about the less-than-pristine behavior of some of his students. He'd heard prior to coming here that the kids might prove troublesome compared to those he taught at private schools in India, where the disruptive students are the minority. Here it's quite the opposite, he says, but given many of their home lives, that's understandable.
AN: The kids don't have upbringing at home. What they get in the school, they aren't able to keep it up at home, and there's no one, it seems to me, to look after their interests.
BR: Many feared that Nagpal and his colleagues weren't prepared for the learning culture of American Urban Schools. In some instances that fear was justified. Sunita Narayanan was hired as a special education teacher, and expected behavior problems. But she wasn't ready for everything.
Sunita Narayanan: One thing I especially wasn't prepared for was how to deal with children with a lot of sexual problems. Because in India that's not something we often come across. Here, some of the kids in class, they are sexually abused and that's not something we were trained or taught to deal with.
BR: But Narayanan says she's learned fast, and credits school administrators - and the teachers that acted as mentors to the foreign newcomers - for making her transition to American-style teaching a smooth one. All of the Indian teachers have undergone special classroom management training, and some have had to attend accent reduction classes. District officials say they're happy with the results. For the first time in years they can boast that math and science classes are properly staffed. And, says Human Resources Director Carol Hauser, the culture shock wasn't that dramatic.
Carol Hauser: I believe the Indian teachers had the same kind of shock as many of our new teachers have. And that is that they - for th other new teachers they're in a school setting - and all of a sudden they're alone in front of these 25 children, and you don't know what's going to happen and how you're going to respond to each situation. So I think the kind of shock was similar.
BR: Another shock for some, Hauser says, was the amount taken out of the teachers pay paycheck every two weeks.
CH: I don't believe that the teachers were prepared for the amount of taxes they would have to pay in the United States. And there's a fee for their placement here that they pay to the recruiter. So I think when they put that alongside their taxes and other deductibles like medical insurance, they were surprised at how much of their paycheck didn't go home with them.
BR: Several teachers said when they signed on they were unaware of the monthly fees they would pay as part of their 3-year contract with the Teacher Placement Group, a New York-based recruiter. That caused some discontent for a time. But Hauser says the fees - which cover a range of expenses and continuing services - are well-stipulated in their contracts. And many of the teachers we spoke with, including Sunita Narayanan, say the deal was fair and above board.
SN: The sub-agent - through whom the TPC recruited us, he was very clear right from the beginning. It says right in the contract - this amount you will have to pay to TPG at the end of each year.
BR: Narayanan keeps her expenses low, sharing an apartment downtown with colleagues and remaining car-less for now. Some of her compatriots have moved out to the suburbs. Others have begun to bring their families over. As the school year nears its end, Narayanan looks back with satisfaction.
SN: It's been a great experience, it's really been a wonderful experience.
BR: And she - along with her housemates, physics teacher Aron Nagpal, and many of the 48 out of 50 remaining Indian teachers - will be here when it all starts up again in the fall. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN News.