What made you immigrate to the United States?
I worked as a math teacher at Hyderabad Public School (HPS) Begumpet. After my son got admission into the school, I went onto the corporate college, which was a little far from our house. Then, I happened to see an advertisement in The Hindu, which said that U.S. schools needed math teachers. I was very intrigued by the opportunity – it would help me grow professionally as an international math teacher and it would also help create better opportunities for my children. So, I took a bold step – I applied for the position, got selected and finally entered the United States in 2007.
Who met you when you arrived and what did you do that first day?
We did not have any close friends or family in the U.S. However, since I got my H–1B through a company called Global Teachers Research & Resources, Inc., the company sent a car to pick me up. I was then given accommodation in a guest house, where around 2–3 other teachers had also come from different parts of the world. We then went to various schools in Georgia for interviews. After I got a job, I moved into my own place.
When did your family join you in the U.S.?
It was a complex orchestration. I had my H–1B visa in February, but given that the U.S. academic year starts in August, there was no point of coming to the U.S. before that. So, I waited for my daughter to complete her tenth grade in India. Once she finished tenth grade around April, we applied for their visas. However, even though all of us had our visas, we still came here one at a time. First, I came here by myself on June 14 for my interviews at various schools. Then my family joined me after a month, by the third week of July. I still remember a sequence of three days that marked the start of our new life – on the first day, I got the formal offer as a math teacher; the next day my family arrived in the U.S.; and then on the very next day it was my son’s birthday!
What was your experience as a teacher in the U.S., compared to your experience in India?
My first teaching assignment was with a Title I school where the students came from economically challenged families. It was a huge culture shock for me. Back in HPS, students were from middle to upper–middle class families that tended to prioritize academic performance. In the Title I school, students did not have the same focus on academics and often lacked discipline. They did not treat their teachers or even their books with much respect. In the first year, I was really questioning my decision to come to the U.S. However, over time, as I completed some of the required training courses, I came to appreciate the differences in the student population. Many of them had to balance school with work. Some were foster kids who saw school as a break from their difficult life and looked to their teachers more for love and affection than for academic instruction. This led me to realize that I had to adjust to them just as much as they had to adjust to me. I came to appreciate the purpose behind the decision these schools took to seek out excellent teachers from across the world – teachers who would be able to spark a love for learning among these children. Most importantly, I recognized that I had to take those first steps by reaching and connecting with the students, before they would be willing to adjust to my teaching style.
How did your experience as a teacher change over time?
After I got my green card in 2014, we moved to a different school, where I had students from more diverse family backgrounds. I soon got into my rhythm and was very successful in shaping the students’ love for mathematics and helping them realize their academic goals, just as I had back in HPS. For the past several years, I have focused on teaching gifted students advanced mathematics – AP Calculus, and Statistics. Today, I continue to enjoy my teaching and I am always thrilled to see my students progress and continue to be successful in college and beyond. It is particularly pleasing to see how many students have made it into the Governor’s Honors Program. All these experiences make me feel that I have fulfilled my mission as a math teacher.
What advice would you give to new immigrants arriving in the U.S. today?
One must not enter the U.S. with preconceived ideas about oneself or the country. Confidence is always the key – there is nothing wrong in believing that one can achieve the impossible with hard work. But don’t come to this country with a chip on your shoulder - recognize that everyone always has something they need to learn as they transition into this country. Therefore, if you want to truly fit in with this country, you have to understand its strengths and weaknesses (as well as your own) and adjust to the society around you. As long as you follow these steps, you will do well in the U.S.
* The contributor of this story has asked that their name be withheld.