100: An Indian Teaches American-Style in Polynesia

100: An Indian Teaches American-Style in Polynesia

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

An Indian Teaches American-Style in Polynesia

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.


This is a story of my transformation from a student to an office executive to a teacher with many wonderful experiences in a short span of time!

I was born and brought up in India. I have travelled with my parents and was educated in different cities and towns of India as my father was in the air force and moved from one station to another.

My first teaching assignment was when I was just seventeen years old, while taking my first year Bachelor’s degree course in Science (Chemistry, Physics and Math). A tenth-grade boy approached me for tutoring, and initially I hesitated to commit, but my grandmother inspired me to take up the challenge.

Tutoring another high school chemistry student during my second year program was my second teaching assignment, which we successfully completed, as that student was very consistent and forced me to be consistent too! During my higher education courses, I continued tutoring high school students.

After my graduation, I joined the masters program for science in Chemistry but I had to discontinue that after almost two years to take a job in Dubai due to the attraction of a white-collar job with an immediate income to start my married life. After moving to Dubai in the Middle East, I worked with a group of companies continuously for ten years in administration and accounts. At the same time I continued tutoring high school students in Chemistry and Math, part-time.

When my wife Beena got the offer to teach in American Samoa I readily agreed because I liked to teach and wanted a change from the monotonous and high pressure office work.

I started working at Leone High School in the beginning of second semester in 2003-4 and it was hard to cope. There were a bunch of good students in each class but unfortunately I had many spoiled ones too who gave me a lot of headaches. Those days I even thought to return to my previous job. But as a last attempt I started experimenting with different approaches and teaching methods for managing the large classes. It was effective and I was tempted to continue.

Next I decided to do the certification courses and after that there was never an end. I attended all the workshops that were available.

For my current teaching practices, I heavily rely on my experiences from my high school education. While I teach I recall what happened in my high school classrooms. I remember the good teachers and the bad ones. I mostly do not remember the mediocre ones.

I remember the good ones because they were the ones who either had good relationships with us as students or who taught us with utmost sincerity and dedication even if they didn’t have an outstanding relationship with us. I remember the bad ones too because either they were very brutal or totally mean and full of vengeance against adolescent behavior. The mediocre ones were not good or bad enough to remember. Now while I teach, whenever I take a step to do something in my class, I compare the situation with my own former classes. That way I am able to predict almost 80% of the psychology of the current students and plan my classes accordingly. I have experienced success in this.

David is an example of this. David came to my class when he was a freshman. He walked into my Physical Science class three years ago. I noticed first that he was very much a village-lifestyle oriented boy. His language was poor. But I found that he was an enthusiastic kid who was willing to participate and learn. I used to give extra science reading and pronunciation practice, as I had other students also who were poor in language, but not as bad as David was. When I encouraged him to read, he readily picked up that challenge. That made him understand the science concepts much better than before and he started getting improved scores in the subject. I even discussed his reading/language problem with his English teacher and she also gave extra care to him for his improvement in reading and speaking skills.

I found that David was not ready to give up, even when other kids teased him while he read. He tried harder and eventually improved his reading skills and he now as a senior speaks well and he gave a speech in English while he ran for the student body president post! He was chosen! He received better scores in science and had better grades than what he was getting in the beginning. And now he is taking Physics in my class as he can read and interpret Physics concepts very well.

As David has his hair trimmed like President Obama and is the student body president, students gave him the nickname “Obama.” He used to get annoyed in the beginning but now he likes to be called that and even every employee in the school calls him “Obama!”

We may be located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but we are still an American territory with American traditions. Every Thanksgiving period we have an annual school and PTA-organized turkey run (a distance of around five miles) to have a community get-together and fun activities. Professional runners, various community members, teachers as advisors to different classes, power walking teachers, and joggers take part.

Even though I monitored and helped at various water stations I was not participating in the run. But three years ago some of my students challenged me in various ways to participate in the turkey run. I thought I would heed my students’ request even though I was not that confident. (I used to take part regularly in long distance running events in the track and field programs back in my school and colleges.)

I decided to use my previous knowledge in running and trained for a couple of weeks and on the turkey day run in 2006, I could beat many of my students, to their surprise. It was fun and the association with them made us closer. I gave them tips for endurance and training and I saw many of them beat me in the next year. I am a regular participant now!

~Murali Gopal
2009 American Samoa State Teacher of the Year
Science teacher, grades 9-12

Editor’s note: American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States in the South Pacific Ocean, located about 2,700 miles from Hawaii. The population of about 65,000 lives in a land area a little larger than Washington, D.C.

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