AP teacher sells fruit after being laid off, former students raise funds to help

Venkatasubbaiah, who has been teaching for 15 years, recently lost his job at Narayana School for not meeting new admission targets.
Venkatasubbaiah selling bananas in Nellore
Venkatasubbaiah selling bananas in Nellore
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Venkatasubbaiah has taught Telugu to high school students for nearly 15 years. Even when the lockdown began, he had continued teaching his students at the Narayana School in Nellore, through online classes. For the past three weeks, however, he has been selling bananas on a pushcart, having lost his job during the pandemic. 

On hearing about his situation, scores of his former students launched a campaign to help him out. Around 150 students whom Venkatasubbaiah had taught five to six years ago raised Rs 86,300 for their teacher. 

“Selling bananas is a temporary job. If so many former students from years back wanted to help me, I must have made an impact as a teacher. I want to go back to teaching eventually, even if it pays less,” says Venkatasubbaiah. 

When the COVID-19 lockdown began, Venkatasubbaiah says that online classes began at Narayana School from March 29. On May 14, a few days before classes came to an end, the school management held a meeting online with Venkatasubbaiah and five of his colleagues. They were told that they need not continue to work anymore, as their “performance had been unsatisfactory.” 

However, Venkatasubbaiah’s employers were not referring to his teaching abilities, but his ability to bring in new admissions to the school during the pandemic. “They told us there was no need to work anymore, that we were of no use as we were not bringing in admissions. We tried to explain that it had been difficult to go canvassing for admissions during the pandemic as people wouldn’t let us into their houses. But they called us incompetent,” Venkatasubbaiah narrates. 

He and his colleagues were allegedly told that anyone can do their teaching job, that students can even simply read their books on their own and clear the exams. 

The next day, the teachers were removed from work-related group chats. 

“I had financial problems, and medical expenses for my son’s illness. I couldn’t take any more loans because I was already in debt, and my financial situation may not get better anytime soon. The father of a former student whom I had taught back in 2007 helped me out by allowing me to sell his banana produce,” says Venkataasubbaiah, who has two masters degrees in Telugu and Public Administration, apart from a Bachelors in Education. 

Some of his colleagues have returned to their villages after losing their jobs, says Venkatasubbaiah. 

Private school teachers in Andhra Pradesh have alleged that in many schools run as a chain of institutions — including Sri Chaitanya, Narayana and Bhashyam schools which are referred to as ‘corporate schools’ in Telugu states — teachers have not been paid full salaries, or have been removed from their jobs during the lockdown for not meeting new admission or fee collection targets. Many teachers, like Venkatasubbaiah, have been forced to find alternate sources of income, like daily wage labour or selling homemade pickles and snacks. 

Private teachers’ associations have been seeking help from the state government, with private and ‘corporate’ schools leaving them the lurch. “I told my students they shouldn’t be giving me money, that they should be investing in their own careers, but they insisted on helping me. I wish the government would support us by providing some livelihood options, since there are not many teaching jobs available at this time,” Venkatasubbaiah urges. 

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