Teacher likens US exchange programme to ‘pimp with prostitutes’
A Jamaican educator who is set to return from the J-1 Teacher Exchange Programme is bemoaning aspects of his experience, likening it to a pimp with prostitutes.
“How I see the programme… there is a guy who wrote the book about being a pimp and how a pimp treats his lady. After five years, the pimp gets rid of his lady. For me that’s how I see it. I was one of those ladies who came,” the teacher told the Jamaica Observer. “The sponsors earn at least US$10,000 annually for our labour. I don’t know how it works but the district pays them annually for our harlotry, if you make. They bring you here, you work and they are like the pimp. They collect off your head. The districts can pay them because we don’t get what a regular American teacher gets. It costs the district far less to have us in the classroom than a regular American and they get more out of us than a regular American.”
In addition, the teacher said Jamaicans are placed in the worst districts, with the worst schools and no access to any form of reprieve when faced with difficult situations.
“I have been in classrooms where Americans walk out and never come back but I have to deal with those children. I have been in classrooms where students threaten me and other Jamaicans and nothing is done. The same week a student threatened me and an American, and in less than 10 seconds that student was removed from the American’s class. I looked at that student every single day. You are pegged to a school district [and] you cannot leave the district after two years of being in the district,” the educator shared.
The teacher added: “I’ve been away for five years. I came here with a programme sponsor who is horrible. The programme does not look for the benefit of the teachers. Based on my observation we were brought here to do the jobs that regular Americans wouldn’t do for little and nothing. The pay you get isn’t to a standard. You don’t get health benefits. I have to rely on a lot of home remedies when my child is ill because you cannot walk into a hospital, you don’t have that health coverage. They do not look for your best interest.”
The teacher also spoke of intimidation and vindication experienced by sponsors when he and other colleagues tried to apply for the no-objection statement to change their status from a J-1 visa to an H-1B.
“Two main sponsors work through Jamaica. I am with the worse one. Teachers affiliated with the other sponsor applied for the no-objection letter and the sponsors weren’t bothered. My sponsor went out to withdraw the sponsorship and demand that you leave the country immediately. Based on my view, and my view only, they use the exchange programme in order to get us here as low-income earners. Before I came here they told me ‘look, you’re not coming here to save, you’re not coming here to work and send money back to Jamaica. You’re coming here to work and spend money here’. If I am looking tacky because I am trying to save they will terminate the programme. So they are not looking out for your best interest at all,” the educator said.
In relation to his decision to go though with the programme, the teacher told the Sunday Observer that he chose to be part of the programme because he wanted to give his child something new and he wanted a collaboration experience pertaining special education, which is his focus in education.
“In Jamaica you don’t really get that special education experience as you do when you come here. You get to have meetings where you collaborate and create Individual Education Programmes (IEP), then you implement that IEP in the classroom. You do not really get that in Jamaica. While in Jamaica the only time I have ever been called up for an IEP is when someone from the ministry walks in and says I need to see the IEP. Apart from that it is not really used, it is not really implemented, but you are taught in college that you prepare it just in case the ministry walks in. But here, that is your daily life. You will get fired if you do not have it. That’s how the students get services and that’s how the school gets money from the Federal Government,” he said.
The educator cautioned Jamaican teachers to not use the programme if they are seeking money, rather, it is best suited if a new experience is desired.
“If you are at that part of your career where you’ve experienced everything and you want something different — yes, go ahead. If you are at that part of your career where you’re stagnant and want something new — yes, go ahead. If you are at that part of your career where you are just seeking money you cannot do the J-1 programme because in Jamaica you’re looking at USD, but when you are in the US, you are spending US dollars and in order for you to have a semblance of a comfortable life you have to live in low-income communities. You are living with your students and these communities are not the best communities to live in because shot fire regularly in these communities. But you live in low-income communities because the rent is cheap,” he said.
The teacher added: “You are getting US$1,200 or US$1,100 weekly and of that money you may have to pay US$1,200 or US$1,100 for your rent. So to have a comfortable life you have to live somewhere where the rent is cheaper because you have to be able to afford car payments. You have to maintain an insurance, which the J-1 programme requires, and you don’t have a say when that insurance is taken from your salary. When those deductions are taken from your salary at the end of the month you don’t really have anything else, so you have to look in these low-income communities to live. You also have to go and get a non-dependable car. I’m in South Carolina and in South Carolina you do not get transportation. It’s not like in Jamaica where you can roll up and get a taxi. Yes, you could call for a taxi but the amount you spend for a week, your salary won’t cover that.”
Further, another aspect of the experience which has made things difficult is trying to obtain a no-objection statement from Jamaica to change his status from J-1 to H-1B.
“They took more than five months to reply to me and the process tells you that they’re going to take up to 90 days. They took up to 150 days to reply to me. You have to get that no-objection statement before you could apply for the waiver, before you can apply for the H1-B. I haven’t heard anything from Ministry of Finance and in the process of calling around and talking to people I had to communicate with student loan and for student loan to check student loan system and send a letter to the Ministry of Finance, it takes up to 14 days. The reason mine was slowed is because I was a guarantor. My sister replaced me as guarantor and I thought okay, now that I am replaced, can the letter be sent to the ministry? We were told it might take up to 14 days for the letter to be sent and it won’t be sent until the ministry has requested it. They are not moving with our interest,” he said.
Subsequently, the educator has made plans to return in order to not run afoul of the law.
“As the letter showed you I have to return and I have to return by the end of June or mess any possibility up. We (family) have booked our flights,” he said.
The pending return has also left the educator anxious.
“We are anxious simply because of my child. He does not know anything as it relates to Jamaica. He came here pretty young, most of his school life is done here. Jamaica is different as it relates to schooling. In Jamaica you take a taxi to get to school. Here we had the car, we drove him. We don’t know what to expect. We have been monitoring the news and the news doesn’t sound pleasing from our perspective. There’s no job coming home to. I am trying to collaborate and reach out to persons I know but the country is just waking up per se. We are just looking and I am putting out fielders to see what could happen,” he said.
Moreover, while there are sore points in his experience, the teacher said overall there were positives.
“The experience is rewarding as I can speak to how an IEP meeting should happen, can write an IEP in my sleep, I know what’s legal and what isn’t. If you’re going to go, do your research. There are good sponsors and there are bad sponsors,” he said.
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