Amrita: A Teacher with Balance

Intalage reached out to several teachers it has placed in US schools to learn more about their lives, their teaching styles, and what their time with Intalage has been like. 8th-grade math and special education teacher Amrita was gracious enough to talk with us and offer her insights into the classroom.

How did you find out about Intalage?

I was visiting North Carolina when I heard about a chance to work in the US through my family friend. He knew Intalage's owners. I went and talked to them, and here I am.

What made you want to work with them?

Nasreen was extremely approachable. She had an end-to-end solution for bringing me over. She was the first person who told me exactly how the process of coming to America worked. Everyone else I spoke to, at other companies, were all vague and iffy. But Nasreen told me, “If you can become qualified in special education, there is a lot of hope for getting you to the US.” She was right.

What grade(s) did you teach? What subject(s)?

8th-grade special education and math. There are many children with hidden disabilities, so I always say to look beyond what you see. You never know what a person is going through. I used to be a teacher for meditation and yoga as well in India, so I believe people need to know how to manage their minds.

What did you learn about yourself while teaching in the US? What was hard about the process? (i.e., new culture, confusing system, difficult students, etc.)

I learned a lot through relocation. Culturally, everything was so new … it was information overload. The school system too was certainly different. But I discovered I was capable of adapting.

What was fun about it?

The activities and celebrations were so fun. Class moms would just come in and hang up decorations sometimes, things like that. That element of looseness or joy in the classroom was very new to me, but I like it a lot. It helps make a comfortable, positive environment.

How did it make you a better teacher?

It's very well-structured here in the US, more systematic. They understand how to treat special education students, for instance, to give them the support and care they need. This system definitely helped widen my horizons, because India, by contrast, has no well-defined special education program. Working here has helped me see how to effectively teach special education students.

In what way is the US educational system different from the one back home? Are there similarities?

Discipline and respect is part of the Indian education system. There is a greater respect for elders there, which certainly applies to teachers. As a student, we would always stand when the teacher entered. You greet the teacher whenever he or she passes by. You would never talk or slide around in your chair. The discipline is greater. This rigidity can certainly be toned down—there is always a balance that's needed. India has a system of not retaining students … it's pass/fail there. This can create certain problems, but it does mean students tend to try hard because they don't want to fail, they don't want to seem like they couldn't do it in other people's eyes.

In the US, many students are nonchalant about failing grades. They know they'll move on to the next grade even if they fail. And they may say they didn't try to learn because it was hard. Since they don't have to push to succeed, it can create a feeling of indifference. Expectations for behavior are more casual here.

Of course it is scary to fail. Maturity is needed to understand failure, and it's often hard for a young student to understand the meaning of failure and how it doesn't make you a bad person. You can't glorify it, of course, but it's not the end of the world. Kids need to learn that.

What do you do differently now as a teacher, after having worked in the US?

General classroom management. I approach students much differently now. I can handle more situations, and I have more confidence. At first because of the cultural differences, I didn't know what was acceptable, what I could do as a teacher. I've definitely adapted now.

Do you have any stories of working with an especially receptive or nice student that you look fondly on?

Recently there was this child who was inattentive during class and who didn't do his homework. But he loved painting and drawing. Whatever talent a child has, I've learned to make an effort and connect my teaching to it. So I framed the importance of doing homework as developing a certain quality of perseverance in yourself. I told him if he wants to be an artist, someone may ask him to make a painting with a deadline, say by tomorrow. The homework I assigned is helping him learn how to finish things on time. To practice following through on things is a skill useful even to an artist.

The next day, he came into the classroom calling my name: he'd finished all the work. It's your self-image that really defines who you are. It determines how you see yourself, so I try to help students have a self-image that validates their ability to do things, so they can accomplish what they need to do. There is a quality of brilliance in each student I want to bring out. Healthy competition with oneself is important. The number of people you actually beat doesn't matter, but no matter what you need to put in your 100% and feel accomplished. That's what's important.

School is really about building qualities as a human being, not just learning individual subjects like physics and math. That's what I try to teach.

What qualities or tools do you think students need in today's world to succeed?

How to manage your mind. It's easy to be disturbed by events, or politics, or other people making fun of you. It makes you not try and put in that 100%. Try to respond instead of react. You can do it if you practice. Anger and reactivity come from seeing an intention in someone where there might be no intention at all. You assume the other person meant to hurt you, when in reality they didn't intend that. This psychological balance is important for success.

Also, don't work to receive happiness. You cultivate happiness on your own.

What role do you think one's cultural or personal background plays in education?

Family background and upbringing really impacts students' behavior. I was shocked to learn what kind of homes some children come from, but then it helped me understand why they might behave a certain way or do things differently from the rest.

With respect to my own upbringing, I think some of the strictness of the Indian classroom, as well as the culture, has helped me be resilient. It taught me to treat others with respect, always, and not to react impulsively and say whatever I want to say. I don't want to offend others, and I try and take things in good stride, which definitely helped me acclimate to America. Life is really very short, so I want to respect everyone while I'm alive. I value that.

What would you say to a teacher who was considering working with Intalage?

Your “why” must be very clear. This reason will fuel your experience in the new country. There are 7 or 8 people I know who got inspired and went with Intalage, too.

My daughter was the one who wanted to come to the US. We were in Dubai for a while and she was sick of it. She was seeking an independent environment, so she wanted to be here. At the time I was recently divorced and wanted to start life afresh, so Intalage seemed like a good idea. My daughter's in high school here now, and it was totally worth it. She wants to be casting director. Despite a pretty traditional Indian upbringing, she's very Western in how she looks at things. We call her “The Iron Baby” because she's young, but very perceptive. She doesn't miss a thing.

Do you have a message for the specific students you worked with?

Persevere. Stay connected to yourself. There's definitely an intrusion of the media in people's lives now, so it's easy to lose yourself with all the technology available. Stay connected to yourself, inside.

What was the nicest thing a student said to you while you were teaching in the US?

In India, I taught social studies in a high school. The kids there hated it, so I had them debate. I asked them how they felt about a topic and encouraged discussion instead of just lecturing to them. At the end of the class, many of them said, “You've made this our favorite subject.”

In the US, a student told me that when I smile, everything becomes easier for him. That's really good to hear. I think Charlie Chaplin said, “You need power only to hurt and harm. For everything else, love works.” Now, I can feel that to be true.

Sajida: A Teacher With Patience

Intalage reached out to several teachers it has placed in US schools to learn more about their lives, their teaching styles, and what their time with Intalage has been like. High school math teacher Sajida was gracious enough to talk with us and offer her insights into the classroom.

How did you find out about Intalage?

While I was in India, I received the President's Award for teaching. It helped me get noticed by my school director, who put me in touch with Intalage.

It was the first time leaving my family. Pretty unorthodox circumstances for me, since I grew up in a very traditional household. At first, my family did not believe that I could go to the US to teach; engineers and doctors are usually the ones who can travel easily. Even my extended family didn't think I could do it because of the finances required to travel and live on my own.

My mom helped out with getting my family on board, though. She's always encouraged me to be a pioneer. We decided that I would find a husband before I left for the US, so I got married in May 2008 and left for America in July.

On the night of my wedding, I got the call from Intalage saying I was accepted to the program. I told my husband, and he was in disbelief, like, “How is this possible?” I was really excited but worried, too, because of my family. Surprisingly, my mother-in-law thought my going was a good idea, so she also helped get everyone to agree.

What made you want to work with them?

I searched and spoke to different companies that would help me go to the US to teach. There was one that was going to send me to the Middle East, but I had a bad feeling that something was wrong with the situation, so I dropped out. I felt like some organizations were cheating me: asking for $100,000 before I even started teaching, or wanting 15% of my salary. I figured what I earn as my salary should be mine.

Intalage was different. They never took my money. I had a good feeling about them from the start, so I just trusted them.

What grade(s) did you teach? What subject(s)?

In India, I taught 8th, 9th, and 10th grade math. In the US, in 2008, I started off with 11th and 12th grade Honors Algebra, as well as 10th grade Geometry. Now I teach 11th and 12th-grade AP Statistics and 11th-grade Advanced Algebra.

In what way is the US educational system different from the one back home? Are there similarities? What do you do differently now as a teacher, after having worked in the US?

My first year in America was rough, to be frank. In India, the teacher is considered almost a god, so it was very different to see how students here acted towards teachers. In the US, a teacher is equal to the student. At first I was insulted when a child would ask me a question like, “Why am I teaching this topic?” The principal at my first school helped me understand: students do that here, it's just harmless curiosity.

I had one girl who would fall asleep in my class all the time. It was an early class, but still, it was frustrating. I tried many different things to reach out to her, and then eventually I shared my own story with her, like “this is how I struggled,” so she finally opened up to me. It turned out she was a pole dancer. I didn't even know what that was, but she explained, and I learned her mom made her do pole dancing for money. I was shocked and wanted to do everything I could to help her. I started tutoring her during lunch and after class. She said she felt safe in the classroom and actually wanted to come to the extra lessons. Kids need to be shown trust if they're going to trust you.

I share my thoughts, and the kids share theirs. When I talk about my own experiences growing up in an Indian school, sometimes the kids are amazed. Like I really couldn't talk back to the teacher, we had to stand every time the teacher entered a room, we had to greet him every time we saw him. To not do that would have been extremely rude. *Laughs* Sometimes my students say they wouldn't want to go to school in India.

My mom never had the chance to learn English or math, for instance, so she wanted me to do both. I went to a strict Christian school, a convent, and studied those subjects. It was unusual both because I wasn't a Christian, and also since women don't often study math in India. Usually they study science or get ready to become a housewife.

What did you learn about yourself while teaching in the US?

I learned so much. I used to think kids should be expected to know everything by 10th grade. My expectations were different back then, so I treated students differently. I regret the way I taught this one student in India, who I struggled with. He never learned, he did poorly at math, and failed. I didn't help him as much as I could have because I thought he was weak. I feel sorry about that. Being in the US changed me, so now I know that an 8th grader who isn't doing well in math isn't weak. He isn't being taught correctly, or he's not connecting to the material.

What was hard about the process?

The start of my life in the US was really tough. I brought my family with me of course, but in 2013, I got divorced. I'm still the pioneer in my house; I was the first one in my family to do that, to be a woman and divorce my husband. But that means it's just the kids and me. One child is in first grade, and one is in kindergarten. The third is 3 ½ years old, so he's not yet in school.

People say a woman can't do it. People in my family, even. They got their answer, though, because they thought I would not survive. My actions showed them I was capable.

Also, I plan to stay in the US: it's a very welcoming culture. I want to learn, and keep learning.

What was fun about it? How did it make you a better teacher?

In India, math is normally done with just paper and pencils and that’s all I was accustomed to. Technology and computers are not associated with it whatsoever; that's usually saved for computer class back home. Creativity, especially with regard to integrating technology, has made me a better teacher in the US. Even using simple Excel sheets or a calculator have given me a new appreciation for the subject. For the past 5 or 6 years, I've been getting more and more into classroom technology. Kahoot!, for example, or Quizlet, let me practice with students more easily and accurately, given his or her needs. I can even make a simple animated cartoon to illustrate math problems.

Statistics as a subject can be very dry. Students will often wonder, “Why learn this?” and because they don't care, their grades are low. I really wanted to change that, so this year I tried teaching differently. We were studying correlation and scatterplots, and I had the kids make their own projects about it. They picked out their own topics, formulated their own hypotheses and conclusions. One student compared the cost of a car versus its age. Another studied the price of land versus the area he lived in.

Self-teaching is good for kids. It helps relate subject matter to the child's own life, so the knowledge feels useful. And it worked: they were actually excited about completing their projects. As a result, that process I tried with them is actually now used in other schools and taught to other teachers.

What qualities or tools do you think students need in today's world to succeed?

Willingness to learn and interest. Some students are not willing to get interested in subjects. They want to understand right away, and when they don't, they give up. You need patience.

Do you have any stories of working with an especially receptive or nice student that you look fondly on?

Last year, I had one 11th-grade student who was fearless. At the start of the year she went right up to me and said, “I don't like math, so I don't want to do anything in your class.” I said, “OK, you can make your own choices.” I gave her some time and adjusted things to her pace. I wrote down the steps for what we were studying and put them on her desk. The first day, she threw it away. The next day I did the same thing, broke everything down for her on paper, and she threw it away again. Third day, same thing. But the fourth day: she kept it and actually did the homework. Her mom came in the following morning and said, “How did you do this? How did you get her to do her homework?” Even the principal was stunned, since the student was so adamant about not learning math. She used to believe she wasn't good at it, but I changed her mind.

I have to say I'm a little proud of that. It's a real motivation for me to keep teaching. The student changed her schedule this year just to be in my class, which is the best compliment I could ever receive as an educator.

What would you say to a teacher who was considering working with Intalage?

Go ahead. You are in the safest hands. Though you might not meet Mrs. Haque personally, I know you'll be safe with her. With other companies, it was just painful. Lots of problems.

Intalage gives great training too, preparing you to come to a new country. In India, they helped tell me what America was like. Teachers who'd gone and come back through Intalage helped me get ready, so I felt okay about leaving. I was definitely more prepared than I thought I'd be. Even though I had a problem with my accent at first, I was patient and things got better with time and practice.

Do you have a message for the specific students you worked with?

Math is not hard. Seriously—keep an open mind and practice. Math is just like basketball or some other sport. It just takes patience.

In the classroom, I believe it's important to behave how you behave with your own kids. They're still children, after all. And you never give up on your children.

Take cursing, for instance. So many of my students cursed, it was like second nature to them. I could have started off being mad, punishing everyone, but instead we made a bar graph to find out how many times students cursed in the classroom. It ended up being pretty fun. Students liked counting and keeping track. I had this one student, every time he opened his mouth, he would curse. It was such a habit by this point that he didn't even mean it; it's how he grew up. He had the highest number but I felt that this helped him notice and become more aware of what he said.

What was the nicest thing a student said to you while you were teaching in the US?

A student once told me that I break down math problems into easy steps. That I write it out and make it like a story.

What Language is the Best Language for Your Child?

Happy New Year!!! This blog post is all about languages. How many of you always say you're going to learn a new language as a new year's resolution but never do? Well this is your chance to do it and include your child! Read below!

Deciding which language is best for your child to learn can be a complicated decision. Researchers believe that learning a second language comes with benefits, especially for young learners. Some researchers claim that new neuro-pathways are developed in the brain in order to learn the new language, and various studies have shown that individuals who speak more than one language are less likely to develop neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. In addition to the added mental health benefit, a second language will allow your child to be more competitive for better jobs down the line.

Here are two important things to keep in mind!

  1. Mandarin and Spanish are Hot: By focusing on creating a love of learning and great learning environments, a child will best be served. That said, it's hard to go wrong with Mandarin or Spanish! Both languages have many speakers in the U.S. and across the globe. It is estimated that there are currently 34 million Spanish speakers in the U.S. Furthermore, since Spanish is a phonetic language with many similarities to English, it can be easier for children to learn. And perhaps more important, there is an abundance of learning materials for both the Mandarin Chinese and Spanish languages.
  2. Don’t Force the Issue: It's important to note that forcing a child who is not interested in learning a second language may backfire. If a child generally likes school and is learning at a good pace, then forcing that child to learn a language may be a little risky. Your number one goal where education is concerned should be to encourage a love of learning. However, sometimes forcing a child to learn a second language can interfere with that. So before pushing a second language, ensure that the child in question is onboard. Involve your child in the language selection process; children respond best when they feel that they are an active participant in their own lives.

Ultimately, the best language for a child to learn is one that he or she has a natural interest in learning. You may feel that having your child learn a new language is the best for his or her future career, but fostering a love of learning should always be the number one priority. A child that loves learning will achieve far more in school and life than a child whose love of learning was crushed, but speaks a “little French.”

What Skills Should Children Have for the Global Economy?

The global economy has changed and so has how we think about education. It is, of course, difficult to predict the future, but it is quite clear that the marketplace has become global in nature and more competitive. This means that flexibility in approach and thinking is becoming increasingly important. Here are some things your child should be able to do in order to be competitive for the global economy!

Apply Information in a Flexible and Creative Way
In the past, a great deal of what was deemed to be successful educational outcomes depended on the ability of students to memorize and regurgitate facts. There will always be a need for children to know certain information. But in the future, being able to apply what is learned in a flexible and creative way will become more important. Solutions come from creativity and flexible thinking, and so expect them to take on an even higher level of importance. 

Be Able to Adapt
Another important skill for the global economy is adaptability. Being able to quickly adapt to new realities is of paramount importance. As the global marketplace changes quickly, workers will need to be able to adjust to a faster pace of change than past generations. A key contributing factor to this is our rapidly evolving technology. We are rapidly becoming a tech-obsessed world and will likely become even more tech focused in the next few decades. Do your child a favor and make sure that they are tech savvy.

Be Social
Dealing with people from different cultures around the world has never played a greater role in the economy than it does today. People are moving to different countries for work, and this means that your child will likely find themselves not just working with someone from the other side of the country, but also from the other side of the world. An inability to deal with, relate to, and respect people from different cultures and backgrounds will kill your child's career before it even starts. 

At the heart of all three of these factors is change. The leaders of tomorrow will be the ones that are most comfortable with change and who can adapt quickly. Helping children become comfortable with our evolving world is one of the key steps that teachers and parents can take to ensure that children are both happy and successful in the future.